As all of you noticed on Saturday, the inside run game was largely ineffective in achieving the desired goal of moving the ball down the field. I mentioned in my last article, featuring a play action pass, that Kansas State will not abandon the inside run, even if it’s ineffective. The entire offense is built around running between the tackles. The threat of the inside run game, even an ultimately ineffective inside run game, holds linebackers, pulls up safeties, and opens up the passing game.
While the Wildcats won’t abandon the inside run, it sure is nice when it works. If the threat of the inside run is enough to open up the passing game, an effective run is doubly effective. Against Arkansas State, productive inside runs were few and far between, often putting the offense behind schedule.
To better understand why the running game didn’t work, I thought a brief look at an effective inside run would help clear things up down the line.
Sometimes, running the game is more about math than ability. If you have more guys blocking than they have defending the run, good things happen.
There are two frames I want to show you from this successful inside run. The first, above, is the pre-snap still. Kansas State lines up in an I-formation, including a fullback (kind of required for an I-formation), tight end, and two receivers lined up on the weak side of the formation.
Arkansas State counters with their odd man front, including three down linemen, one linebacker lined up on the line of scrimmage, two additional linebackers, and a middle safety.
First, let’s count up the box.
Kansas State has six blockers on the line, plus a seventh in the backfield.
Arkansas State has six defenders in the box, plus a middle safety in reserve.
This is where math comes into play. It’s hard to see, but inside the run defense box, Arkansas State has six defenders. Kansas State has seven blockers with the addition of the fullback.
Like many of you, I’ve been working hard on my elementary school math recently, and after a few weeks of first grade worksheets, I can confidently say that seven is greater than six.
This is a favorable box to run against. Harry Trotter hits a seam in the A gap and grinds out five or six yards.
That’s what you want out of your inside run game.
Kansas State is lined up in a similar formation as the first clip. They have a fullback, tight end and two receivers (this time split). Arkansas State is still in their base 3-man front, but they’ve called in serious reinforcements. Now they have a stand up linebacker on the line over the strong side, an additional linebacker in the box, and a safety (purple circle) creeping down as well.
The Wildcats punched ahead for five yards when they had seven blocking six. Now Arkansas State has committed eight to the box. Once against leaning on math, eight is greater than seven.
I think this run is designed to pop out on the weak side, with the right tackle (#50) washing his guy down the line so the running back can cut behind him and hit the hole on the back side.
Unfortunately, there are too many defenders gumming up the works for anything productive to happen on this play. Even if Trotter manages to hit the hold, the backside linebacker is squeezing and probably makes the tackle.
As you can see, Trotter doesn’t even attempt to hit the back side hole, and instead plows into a mass of bodies and gets dropped for a loss.
The play was doomed before the snap. Skylar Thompson was initially looking at a seven man box, which isn’t ideal, and then Arkansas State turned it into an eight man box with the addition of the late safety. Running this play against an eight man box is rarely going to end in a positive play.
I don’t know how much freedom Skylar has to change the play, but he needed to check out of this a work his 1-on-1 match-up to the weak side. It took everyone a while to get set and for the tight end to motion into the backfield, causing the play clock to run down, and that limits any last second play call adjustments. I’d like to see the offense, in general, operate with more pre-snap tempo.
I’ll refer back to Clemson (because I cover them) and I can almost promise you that Trevor Lawrence checks out of this run play and fires the ball outside on this play. Sometimes it frustrates Clemson fans because teams take Travis Etienne out of the game by loading the box before the snap. I’m not saying Skylar has to check out of every stacked box, but this one is begging for a quick check, rise and fire to Malik Knowles.
Again, Skylar may be instructed to run the play as called. I’m not sure how Messingham/Klieman work this situation, and it’s possible that they wanted to keep things as simple as possible with all the weirdness in camp. At the same time, you’ve got to trust your senior quarterback and your supposed go to receiver to make this play.
If you’re looking for signs of progress in the Oklahoma game, keep an eye on Skylar pre-snap. If it looks like he’s changing plays at the line of scrimmage, progress has been made in practice.