I wasn’t too far off on what we needed to do to make this easy. However, at the end of the 1st quarter, I had an uneasy feeling that KSU’s blocked punt for a TD in the 4th quarter might end up being the difference in the game. Ruffin McNeill and Colby Whitlock made sure from that point on that this late score would become irrelevant. Leach spotted KSU 7 points by going for it on 4th and 1 from the Tech 29, and predictably failed with yet another vain attempt. It wasn’t helping that Josh Freeman was shredding our secondary like a gay man in a late 80s Milwaukee apartment.
Speaking of 4th and short, I might as well go ahead and cover this right now. If we’re going to continue to attempt these in our own territory, then let’s quit jerking around and playing grabass as my high school coach used to say. Bring in Jake Johnson at TE, Byrnes at Center, Hamby to the other TE, and Colby Whitlock at FB. Line Baron Batch up behind Whitlock and hand him the ball coming from 7 yards deep with a head of steam going downhill. Aim this mass of kinetic energy towards your two best drive blockers, Brandon Carter and Marlon Winn. We're talking some fucking muscle here. We get too cute with plays in which we aren’t good at running (QB sneak) or plays in which we aren’t good at running (stretch play).
Wooderson agrees with me regarding Tech's short yardage package.
Now, back to the 2nd quarter. Our offense was clicking on all cyclinders. Batch and Woods were heavily involved in the game and having success. KSU had scored with ease through our Cover 2 zone on a long drive and short drive, and this thing was setting up to be a track meet. And then, the nickel made its first appearance on a Tech defense since the buffalo nickel was in circulation. McNeill played man under with Cover 2 deep help for a large percentage of the 2nd quarter. Freeman started out 7-8 for 101 yards and a TD through a quarter of play. He would finish the 2nd quarter 1-10 for 11 yards and no TDs. Brian Duncan, Daniel Charbonnet, and Darcel McBath all dropped interceptions. The next 4 KSU drives totaled 21 yards on 15 plays and all ended in punts save for the kneel down at the end of the half. Tech took a 38-14 lead into the locker room and had effectively gameplanned out the KSU running attack. The Cats did come out of the locker room and march down the field on a 15 play, 80 yard drive through more base 4-3 and Cover 2 zone burning 6:15 off the clock, but at this point, the bend but don’t break strategy was playing into our hands. The Tech offense responded with a 4-minute, 9 play, 76 yard drive of their own to stretch the lead back out to 24 and effectively end all threats by KSU. Ryan Hale had a TD catch for God’s sake. Baron Batch hung the 58th point on KSU early in the 4th quarter and Taylor Potts finished out the game.
Before we look too much into this beatdown, let’s look at what KSU has. On offense, I think we all know what Josh Freeman is by now. A really talented player, who will never live up to his potential. When being mauled in press coverage, K-State’s diminutive WR corps is rendered mostly useless. When allowed to catch the ball in the space of zone coverage, they can get open, but are easy to tackle if you close that space quickly. Lamark Brown is an interesting athlete. He’s big and physical, but he’s also a big target and will not be making anyone miss in this conference. Darren Sproles could create on his own, and given the KSU offensive line, Brown will need to as well. They’re decent pass blockers, but were literally tossed around by Whitlock and Brandon Sesay for most of the game. If Brown has a future at the next level, I think it will be at TE. He doesn’t really possess the necessary skillset to be a great RB or WR, but would be hell on wheels drawing coverage from LBs in the middle of the field. I could see him at about the 250-range and being a Chris Cooley-type player. On defense, KSU has two good players. Reggie Walker is a nice ILB and flows to the ball well. Brandon Harold is the best true freshman DL in the conference. KSU fans warned me about this guy before the game and they were right. Harold could play anywhere in the country. He’s 6’6", weighs 270 lbs, and gave Louis Vasquez, Rylan Reed and Stephen Hamby all they could handle and more at times. This young man has a bright future in football ahead of him and definitely earned my vote for the Big 12 All Freshman Team that I don’t vote for. You can build a defense around a guy like this. Crabtree looked like a cat playing with a ball of yarn against the alleged shutdown man Joshua Moore.
I was a big fan of our game plan outside the proverbial bonehead 4th down attempt in our own territory. Leach’s record improves to 26-3 since 2005 when his RBs receive more than 20 touches. The RB position chipped in with 31 touches in this game and both backs made some big plays in almost all of our scoring drives. We leaned on our OL to control the line of scrimmage to create running alleys and provide Harrell sufficient time. By mid-way through the 2nd quarter, this was a game of pitch-and-catch.
Graham Harrell played his best game of the season finishing 38-51 for 454 yards and 6 TDs with no interceptions. He got away with a couple of throws off his back foot, and missed a wide open Tramain Swindall on a hot route for a TD, but other than that was flawless. Harrell did a much better job of looking off the safeties in this game before he went back to Crabtree. There’s a great camera shot prior to the commercial break after the 29 yard TD showing this. I’ve been critical of Harrell in the past for locking onto his receivers, but he did an outstanding job in this game. His ball distribution might have been the strongest part of his game as he completed passes to 10 different receivers.
Billy Mitchell explained it to me like this one time: Who’s the top American ace from WWI? It’s Eddie Rickenbacker, but nobody’s ever heard of him. He shot down 26 enemy planes. The top German ace? The Red Baron? Everyone has heard of him. That’s because he shot down 80 enemy planes. There’s a level of difference between people and that translates itself into some games.
I agree with Billy to some extent, and I think football is one of those games. There’s a level of difference between The Red Baron Batch and Shannon Woods. Batch doesn’t need perfect blocking to pick up 8 yards. Woods needs everyone sealed or pancaked to get 5. I’m nitpicking here, but the first tough game we play, we’re going to need more of Batch as he’s somewhat of a difference maker. Woods accounted for 19 touches and 98 yards with 28 of that coming on his one reception. Batch picked up 2 fewer yards on the ground on half as many carries and a total of 12 touches for 97 yards and a TD. I thought the best example of the difference between the two was on the shuttle pass to Batch on our first possession of the 2nd quarter that went for 18 yards. With relatively no blocking, the number of KSU defenders with an angle on Batch goes from 3 to 0 in about 2 yards. He runs with his knees higher; therefore, not tripping over arm tackles like Woods is subject to, and plus he’s moving faster, so he creates more arm tackles. And then when he can go no further, he runs someone the fuck over, which I greatly admire. Batch contributed a big play on 5 of our 8 TD scoring drives. Aggregately, they accounted for 31 touches for 195 yards dropping their average over the last three games to 262 yards on 30 touches. I’m not worried about the average drop. The important thing is the 31 touches. Running this offense through the RB position makes it a lot tougher to defend. It wouldn’t surprise me if Leach is undefeated when his RBs receive 30 or more touches. That’s probably because he’s typically ahead in those games.
Billy Mitchell gives two thumbs up to Baron Batch.
Future Star Watch: Jonathan Gray, son of former Red Raider great James Gray, started his 2nd game as a freshman on the varsity for Aledo’s highly ranked 4A team. He finished with 137 yards on 18 carries and a TD. Jonathan is 5’10", weighs 180 lbs, and the elder Gray, claims he’s faster than he ever was and a lot better player than him at the same age. Jonathan had run for over 300 yards in one half of play in his first game on the freshman team. He followed that up with two, 250+ yard performances and 4 TD games on the JV before being moved up to varsity.
Crabtree dominated, Morris broke the game open early and Detron Lewis was solid outside a couple of drops. The story was the other guys. And by other guys, I mean Lyle Leong, Tramain Swindall and Adam James. Leach seems to have adopted a strategy of using Ed Britton between the 20s and the more sure-handed Leong in the red zone. Leong’s stat line for the game: 3 catches for 23 yards and 3 TDs. He’s probably on your college fantasy league waiver wire and should be picked up immediately. I couldn’t tell much difference between Swindall and Lewis in this game as Swindall finished with 4 catches for 65 yards, and didn’t drop as many passes. We finally ran a different play outside of a handoff or deep ball to Crabtree out of the TE/H-Back formation. Since this is becoming a regular part of our gameplan, I’m getting tired of typing that out, due to all the caps and dashes and shit. So from here to the rest of the season, we’ll refer to it as our Bounty Package. Speaking of pirates? Did anyone else enjoy the dirty pirate hooker shots on TV of the chicks we sent? I apologize for that, if one of these women was your wife. Crabtree and Lewis both had some piss poor attempts at blocking.
Overall, this unit was dominant. I thought we were 2 TDs better than KSU in the trenches, and it turns out, we were 4 TDs better. There’s a few nitpicking things I’ll get into, but Harrell stayed clean for the game and had all day to pick apart the various coverages of KSU secondary. They also blew some people off the ball in the run, especially on the right side. It continues to puzzle me that we successfully run screen plays and shuttle passes with absolutely no blocking. Outside of Winn, who’s pretty damn good at it, our OL is just not physically structured to block LBs and safeties out in space. They play the ole’ game with our big luggers and have enough time to get right back in the play. This is a testament to our playcalling when we pick up 15 on one because the reality is we suck at it.
Marlon Winn played the best game of his Tech career and was my offensive MVP. His play tailed off some in the 4th quarter, but he was nothing short of dominant for the first 3. Winn is the most physically gifted of all our lineman and well-rounded as far as being pretty good at everything. He’s got the feet to match a speed rusher, the size and strength to stop bull rushers, and plays with his pad level low enough and has a nasty enough demeanor to be an effective run blocker. I loved the way Winn was finishing off run blocks in this game. Most of the big running plays we had were off Winn’s blocks. He was hooking 5 techniques, caving down 3 techs, and mauling LBs. Outstanding game, Mr. Winn, and my hats off to you as I’ve been critical of you in the past. Finish out that 4th quarter strong, and you’ve developed into one of the better young OL talents in this league.
Brandon Carter was our next best lineman. The first thing, the first day they teach you about pass protection as an OL is that if you’re not covered, protect your inside gap first. At times, Carter believes this is indeed a spectator sport and this game found him watching Winn maul a DE, while a LB strolled by untouched into Harrell’s face. To Graham’s credit, he ditched the ball on one occasion and completed a short prayer in the other. Outside that, Carter was just as dominating as Winn, but he’s been around here way too long to be having those kind of mental errors. That being said, with the way Batch and these two guys are playing, it should bode well for Taylor Potts in 2009.
Rylan Reed was solid. He doesn't always get as much push as you would like in the run game, but he’s sufficient at sealing guys off and getting them turned. Reed looks to be gaining some of his mobility back and keeping up with speed rushers better than early in the season.
Louis Vasquez had varying degrees of hell blocking KSU true freshman Brandon Harold. Now, I think this is more of a testament to how good a player Harold is, but Vasquez got absolutely manhandled a couple of times and Harold played him to a standstill the rest of the snaps.
Center is probably my only concern on this unit. Stephen Hamby has great feet, but gets pushed around. Shawn Byrnes is more of a brawler, but has trouble dealing with quickness. My solution for Matt Moore: Play the matchups. I like Hamby against 4 man fronts without a head up NG or small, quick 1 techniques. I like Byrnes against a 3 man front, or big, powerful bull rushers. Hamby is good at working combo blocks or picking up blitzing LBs. Byrnes is better for our mauling style in the run game. It’s a toss up. Lonnie Edwards and Jake Johnson looked impressive in mop up duty.
My hats off to Ruffin McNeill. He called the best game of his Tech career and his 2nd quarter adjustment to 2 deep man under coverage was what ultimately ended up being the difference in this game. After a 1st quarter of playing it safe, Ruff clamped down in the 2nd and KSU couldn’t keep up. Rajon Henley went down with a knee injury early in the 1st quarter and Brandon Sesay took over not missing a beat. Things arguably may have improved. Colby Whitlock played the best game by a Tech defensive player I’ve seen since the Monte Reagor days. I thought a play that exemplified the improvement of this unit was on KSU’s opening scoring drive of the 2nd half. After picking up 9 yards on first down, which was their longest run of the night against our first team unit, KSU called a counter play on 2nd and 1. It resulted in a footrace by Sesay and Whitlock to the RB with a center and a tackle hanging onto both their jerseys. This penetration bubbled the play enough for Brian Duncan to come from his backside LB position to cleanup with the hit of the night for a 2 yard loss. With Whitlock and Sesay controlling the point of attack, watching Brian Duncan flow through trash is becoming a thing of beauty for admirers of good LB play. We gave up a TD later in the drive, but at this point, we had reverted back to our soft zone coverage. At the end of the first half, KSU had 7 attempts for 18 yards running the ball.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Colby Whitlock was my defensive MVP. This guy has transformed into one of the elite DTs of the conference in that 2nd group just behind DeMarcus Granger and Roy Miller. That’s good enough with our offense. Whitlock’s motor never stops and because he understands leverage so well, the release of a combo block by an OL results in a slingshot effect of his 290 lb frame into a RB. He dominated single blocking, and when faced with double teams, held his ground and won a few battles. Whitlock’s a true sideline-to-sideline DT and it’s not unusual for him to make plays near the line of scrimmage on sweep plays going away from him, without having to shoot a gap. He also does the little things like grabbing a pulling guards jersey as they pass by to disrupt timing, or if things aren’t going well, he just hits the blow shit it up button. This results in him barreling his head into the closest mass of bodies with the opposite jersey on in the hopes of just creating general havoc. It works. Outstanding game, Mr. Whitlock.
With Henley out, Brandon Sesay received the bulk of the critical snaps. At 6’6", 275 lbs, Sesay is an impressive athlete in uniform. He’s also starting to impress me with his level of play. Dude can take over a game in short periods of time. Sesay lacks the motor of Whitlock, but his natural strength for having never been through a FBS strength program is something to behold. He’ll stand straight up and get blown off the ball at times, like in the 4th quarter where we had a few guys taking plays off, but we just can’t afford to not have a guy like this on the field for less than 50% of the defensive snaps. Richard Jones wasn’t bad either and made one really nice play in the backfield.
McKinner Dixon may struggle in the classroom with long division, but on the football field, he’s a regular Stephen Fucking Hawking at playing DE. I’m continually amazed at the discipline he has brought to this unit. Dixon is just a great football player no matter where you line him up as evidenced by his 5th sack of the season coming from the 3 technique position against a double team. He excels at rudimentary DE skills like staying at home, maintaining your rushing lane, and keeping containment. Dixon’s play has relegated Jake Ratliff to exactly what he should be, depth. No slight against Jake, but the difference between these two is much greater than that of the Batch/Woods separation.
Brandon Williams looked more like McKinner Dixon in this game than Brandon Williams. When he plays with discipline, Williams is a fine player and he made an outstanding play in the backfield to force a Lamark Brown fumble. Williams didn’t make his presence felt with regards to pass rush so much, but we need him to be the player he was in this game more than we need him being the star sacker.
I have a mancrush on Brian Duncan, if you weren’t aware. MLB is a hard position to play flawless for an entire game, and Duncan just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He plays it honest and doesn’t take any shortcuts for the most part. Inside-out, one step behind the ball carrier. OU’s Travis Lewis is the only Big 12 LB I’ve seen playing at Duncan’s level, but I’ve only watched him for about a half. When Duncan does make a mistake, it results in a 4 yard gain instead of a 2 yard gain. Whereas, for the last 10 years, mistakes at MLB have resulted in a 12 yard gain instead of a 6 yard gain, respectively. He’s been the beneficiary of good DT play, but when McNeill succumbs to a formational bonanza and Marlon Williams ends up at MLB, you can tell the difference between the two. Duncan has also proven to be capable in pass coverage and had one go through his hands when he jumped a route. I don’t even think Duncan played as good as he can in this game, and he’s got a tremendous football future with his size and speed combination.
Bront Bird was serviceable and kind of a glue guy. He does a little bit of everything, and does it all pretty decent. Not great, but decent and it prevents him from being a liability like his counterpart. I actually thought Marlon played a little better in this game, but he should be making way more plays than he is given our DL play. He had a heady play of stripping the ball near the goalline to end a KSU drive, but other than that, looked about par for his course. We just simply don’t have any better options at this point as Julius Howard is not the answer. Marlon does one thing fairly well and that’s stay with a TE in man coverage for a sufficient time period. Unfortunately, he mostly ends up in zone chasing a slot receiver.
At CB, Jamar Wall is an All Big 12 talent when playing man coverage with deep help in the middle of the field. When trying to determine the timing of a switch between Marlon Williams or Darcel McBath, he’s very average. I haven’t had to mention Brent Nickerson’s name at the other CB much this season and that’s a compliment. L.A. Reed made a nice pass break up in zone coverage, but I also remember him giving up a bad completion.
I warned that Daniel Charbonnet would be the subject of a deep ball in this game and it didn’t take long for Freeman to pants he and McBath in Cover 2 zone. When allowed to roam free and make plays on the ball with man coverage underneath, they both look like Big 12 caliber starters. One thing these guys have done well is tackle in the open field. As stated earlier, KSU's longest run against the first team unit was 9 yards. Their 2nd longest run were two 6-yard efforts by Brown. Brandon Banks suddenly was stricken with a case of jello arms once he saw the actual size of Anthony Hines.
After looking back over my preview, I think I’m getting a pretty good feel about what this team can do. Although the Big 12 is a pass-happy, spread frenzy league, this game is still won in the trenches. I’m not sure how good KSU was, and at the risk of offending the fine folks of Manhattan, I won’t give you my opinion of them. I’ll put it this way, I’m not looking too much into this win. Tech and Harrell cleared a mental hurdle of playing on the road, and appeared to come out patient and focused and had fun throughout the game. A road win in this conference is a road win and I’ll take it any way we can get it. As I look ahead at the schedule, I only see two teams, OU and Texas, that arguably have better trench personnel on both sides of the ball. I’m a big fan of Russell Okung and company at Okie State, but I still think their DL is a year away. I think we’ll be able to get one more stop than them and the game is in Lubbock. Kansas is missing Anthony Collins and Brandon McAnderson more than anticipated. If Tech can win the games they’ll be favored in, then a loss against UT won’t matter when headed to Norman. I think we’re good enough to play both those teams close. More than anything else, Ruffin McNeill has my attention now. He did a magnificient job at in-game adjustments and also knowing what his personnel could and couldn't handle. Congrats Coach Ruff, this was a big step for you.