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An In-Depth Look at the Kansas State Offense

Let’s take a look at the Wildcat offense as the Cowboys welcome Kansas State this weekend

Kansas State v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

When people talk about Kansas State’s offense, the word “simple” is often used. However, although it’s a run-based, time of possession driven offense, it is far from simple. Head coach Bill Snyder and offensive coordinator Dana Dimel are some of the best minds in college football and many coaches today draw from what they do.

When Snyder was offensive coordinator at Iowa, teams like OU and Nebraska were running the wishbone and I-formation. Snyder, being the innovator that he is, decided to zig while others zagged and based his offense solely around the passing game. In today’s Big 12, Snyder is zigging again. While most offenses are pass happy teams that utilize running back RPOs, Snyder is running an offense that resembles the Pop Warner “single-wing” style of old which relies heavily on the running game. And, instead of running back based RPOs, Snyder focuses on the quarterback.

What advantage does running with the quarterback give a team? Well, Mike Gundy talked about this past Monday in his press conference. The quarterback RPOs give a team an “extra guy” advantage in the running game. What he means by “extra guy”, is that they can basically outnumber most defensive coverages by making it to where the unblocked defensive player is one of the farthest guys from the quarterback. See the video below, from when K-State faced Vanderbilt earlier this year, which demonstrates this concept:

You can see in this clip that the only unblocked player is the safety who is about 20 yards away from the quarterback. That’s a lot of ground to cover to make the tackle, even if you have Tyreek Hill-like speed. K-State runs the QB power and everyone is able to make their assigned block, leaving the safety as the only man that can freely make the tackle. It winds up being a solid gain for the Wildcats.

Having an army of dual-threat quarterbacks (which we will talk about more below), solid running backs and an experienced offensive line has the K-State rushing attack ranked third in the Big 12 in terms of rushing yards per game.

So, now that we’ve covered the basic overall scheme of this K-State offense and how they use the “extra guy”, let’s dive in a little deeper into their offense.

QB Run-Pass Option

Since we were already talking about the quarterback running game, why not pick-up from there. The Wildcat’s have had a tough time with QB health this season. Their 2016 starter, Jesse Ertz, has missed the past five games due to a knee injury, and backup, Alex Delton, has experienced concussion-like symptoms in two different games this season. Snyder hasn’t come out and said who will be the starter, but all signs point to 6’2, 210lb redshirt freshman, #10 Skylar Thompson. Thompson got the start last week against West Virginia and has seen action in four games this year.

Thompson is 23-of-42 through the air for 306 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions (both coming last week vs WVU). Similar to Ertz and Delton, he’s an incredibly skilled runner. He’s rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown on the season, and he’s tough to bring down.

Since he is a talented runner, K-State has to use quarterback RPOs to keep the defense from loading up on the run. In the video below, you see Thompson take the snap with #38 Winston Dimel (the OC’s son) at fullback and #3 Dalvin Warmack at running back. He takes a couple of side steps to the right, reads the defense and sees Dimel make a solid block to seal the outside linebacker. With the receivers to the top and bottom of the screen covered, and the safety taking away the route over the middle, Thompson makes the correct read. However, it doesn’t turn into much of a gain for the Wildcats as Thompson tries to bust the run outside instead of taking the for sure 5 or 6 yards cutting upfield.

In the next clip, you see the same formation only reversed (the two receivers and running back/fullback on left side as opposed to right). Dimel and Warmack this time cross in front of Thompson as the guard pulls setting up the QB power. However, instead of keeping it himself, he likes what he sees with #7 Isiah Zuber in single coverage to the top of the screen. Thompson continues to move forward toward the line of scrimmage and fires it in to Zuber who makes the grab for a first down.

Here are a couple of different looks for the QB RPO. The first shows trips to the bottom of the screen and a single receiver split to the top. There is one back in the backfield with Thompson. On the snap, he moves to his left showing run and then throws the ball out to #4 Dominque Heath on the screen.

Here you see him throw it again, this time to his top target, #9 Bryon Pringle. This is another QB power with the right tackle pulling. The power look sucks up the linebackers and creates a passing line for Thompson to hit Pringle in the end zone. Pringle is one of the most athletic players on this K-State team and he’s someone to keep an eye on this Saturday.

Zone Read

The Wildcats also love to go with the zone read. The zone read means that there is “zone” blocking on the offensive line with the quarterback either handing the ball off to the running back or keeping it himself based on his “read” of the defense.

Below you see Thompson handoff to #34 Alex Barnes for the first down.

This is also an RPO as you can see here with Thompson completing the pass to Pringle.

And here’s another example of Barnes getting the ball.


Snyder has always been a big proponent of the “Wildcat” formation. Recently, they’ve used both Barnes, who scores here after getting a solid lead block from Winston Dimel

And Warmack,

Barnes is so dangerous taking these direct snaps. He always does a great job of waiting on his blocks and finding the hole that the offensive line opens up. Here’s a perfect example of that below with another great block from Dimel.

I didn’t think it needed its own section, but they aren’t opposed to running the option with Thompson either. He probably should’ve pitched it here, and it looked like he was completely committed to the pitch, but it still worked out in K-State’s favor.

Drop-back pass

As I mentioned above, Skylar Thompson is known more for running the ball than for throwing it. That being said, he does have a fairly strong arm, and he will go into a straight drop back at times and air it out.

From what I’ve seen, he looks the most comfortable throwing quick routes out of the trips formation. Here are a few examples below.

They also like to work in the quick wide receiver screens.

And he’s completed a few downfield this season.

Since I’ve already shown the passes out of the RPOs, I didn’t want to spend too much time on K-State’s passing game because, well… they are dead last in the Big 12…

Thompson looked extremely solid and poised as both a runner and a passer when he had to step in for Delton against KU and TTU, but against WVU he came back down to earth completing only 50% of his passes and throwing two interceptions.

And both were pretty bad…

In conclusion, Alex Barnes, who’s rushed for 593 yards and five touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry, Dalvin Warmack and #32 Justin Silmon are all talented running backs. In addition, K-State’s offensive line has blocked really well for them this season. But, after watching Thompson last week against WVU, I don’t know if they can be balanced enough to have a successful day against this Cowboy defense. And, yes, I know the defense hasn’t looked great recently, but I expect them to step up against the Wildcats on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not predicting a shut out, but I believe Mason and Co. will do what they do on their side of the ball and put up a fair amount of points, and I don’t think the ‘Cats will be able to keep up.When people talk about Kansas State’s offense, the word “simple” is often used. However, although it’s a run-based, time of possession driven offense, it is far from simple. Head coach Bill Snyder and offensive coordinator Dana Dimel are some of the best minds in college football and many coaches today draw from what they do.