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Diagnosing K-State’s Long Touchdown Runs

Baylor’s defense again gave up too many long plays yesterday. What’s going on?

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, Baylor gave up lots of big plays again yesterday. Here’s a breakdown of each of the long runs by Alex Barnes, all of which were back-breakers.

Run #1: 55 Yard Run in 1st Q

The snap alignment looks normal. Baylor is playing 3 over 3 to the field, with the potential for MIKE LB Clay Johnston to help against the pass if needed. But the problem here is LB play.

  • But watch the clip again. The weird part is that as soon as the ball is snapped, MIKE LB Clay Johnston (yellow arrow) immediately starts back-peddling into the deep middle of the field, which he frequently does when Baylor is playing “Tampa 2” (2 high safeties, 5 underneath), which is a strong defense on passing downs. But the strange part is that K-State is showing no illusions that this is a passing play. It’s 1st and ten, and the QB immediately sticks the ball in the RB’s belly. Perhaps Johnston is coached to immediately backpedal like this, but I doubt it. This seems, most likely, to be a mental lapse. If Johnston is moving forward and playing the run, he easily fills the gap and at worst this is a 5 yard gain.
  • The next culprit is SAM LB Blake Lynch, circled in blue. Watch him as the ball is snapped. He tentatively stands there, and then takes the outside shoulder of his blocker, but it’s all too late because he is playing too slow. Blake is new to the position and this kind of stuff will take time, but you’d at least like to see him making mistakes “playing fast” instead of playing slow. If Blake trusts his eyes here and attack the ball carrier, this play is likely no more than a 7 yard gain.
  • I also used the red line to point out how CB Raleigh Texada almost made this play, even though he never should have had to. It’s a good contrast against what Lynch did on this play. Texada is playing fast and trusting his eyes.

Run #2: 35 Yard TD Run in 2nd Q

Again, the alignment looks fine. But again, the problem is LB play.

  • This problem is simple: Baylor has 2 LBs who attack the same blocker. MIKE LB Terrel Bernard, a redshirt freshman, zeros in on attacking the inside shoulder of the OL in front of him, while the RB runs through a massive hole that Bernard vacates in the process. There is a small chance that Bernard is responsible for this and that the actual problem lies in Jalen Pitre not “looping around” him and stuffing the hole, but I doubt it.
  • The above error is a great example of how there is no substitute for experience. Very likely, Bernard’s responsibilities on this player were to attack the inside shoulder of the OL, which would force the RB to bounce the ball outside to the waiting arms of Jalen Pitre. But the problem is, the hole was so big that Bernard effectively ignored the RB while trying to fulfill what his duty in the playbook is. LB’s have to play on the fly. Bernard will learn.
  • Both safeties have other responsibilities on this play. Chris Miller is playing 2 over 2 to the field, while true freshman Christian Morgan is playing to the strong side of the formation. Baylor had this weak side of this formation outnumbered with their linebackers, but a mental error was the difference between a run of 0 yards and a touchdown.

Run #3: 48 Yard TD, Opening Play of the 4th Q

You’ll notice a trend here. Again, the problem lies that 2 things need to be done, but only 1 of which is executed. Throw in a missed tackle which could’ve held this play to a 15 or 20 yard gain, and you have another long TD.

  • As evident from the picture above, the catalyst of this touchdown is that both WILL LB, rJR Jordan Williams and the boundary safety, true freshman Christian Morgan, both attack the outside shoulder of the pulling TE. This leaves a wide open hole for the RB to take off the inside shoulder of his blocker. My guess is that Williams should have attacked the inside shoulder of the TE here, either stopping the RB or spilling the ball to the safety Morgan, but it impossible to know. Williams is attacking the blocker’s outside shoulder like he believes that the safety has inside support, but Morgan is on the outside. One of them messed up.
  • Of course, the bad angle by Chris Miller didn’t help, but this play could have been stopped for no-gain if the LB/Safety combination doesn’t make a mental error.

Overall, Baylor fans decried safety play last year, as their missed tackles were painful to watch. But plays generally don’t get to the safeties unless an error has been made up front. As is evident from the three plays above, Baylor’s LBs are still making mental errors that are costing big plays. One of the big questions coming into this year was how Baylor would replace Taylor Young. Young always played fast and had a nose for the football. The early returns on his replacements are not good enough.

I welcome your questions and comments. Thanks for reading!