Last week, against a struggling Iowa State team, the Longhorn defense turned in its worst performance of the season.
Save for a few well-timed turnovers, the Texas defense had a miserable time slowing down quarterback Sam Richardson and the Cyclones’ option attack. This week, they’ll face a similar scheme, run by a much better team with a much better quarterback.
Kansas State’s senior quarterback, Jake Waters, has had incredible success running the option for the Wildcats this season, as he leads the team in passing and rushing.
“He reminds me of Russell Wilson,” Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said, comparing him to the Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. “[The] guy is a winner, competitor. You have to be very disciplined on defense because of what he does.”
Under Waters’ leadership, No. 11 Kansas State has risen to the top of the Big 12 standings as the only team that remains unbeaten in conference play.
In Waters’ second year running the Wildcat offense, the junior-college transfer has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,431 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for another 371 yards and seven scores.
Waters and Kansas State’s running backs are at the center of head coach Bill Snyder’s high-powered option offense, but the Wildcats’ capacity in the passing game are what force defenses to respect Waters’ arm. Senior receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton have combined to form one of the more potent wide out combinations in the Big 12 so far this season.
“[Waters] has two tremendous weapons out there with Lockett and Sexton and those guys, they go out and compete each and every game,” senior defensive back Quandre Diggs said. “Just the opportunity to go out and compete against one of the best in the country [is special.]”
Kansas State’s option provides opposing defenses with a unique challenge, as it slows things down at the line of scrimmage. As Waters decides whether to hand the ball off, keep it or utilize the play-action pass, he is often able to freeze the defense, opening things up downfield.
Case in point in last week’s game against Oklahoma, when Waters faked the quarterback draw and lobbed a pop-pass to fullback Glenn Gronkowski for a 62-yard score. Texas will have to be conscious of that possibility again this weekend in order to limit big plays.
“It comes back with discipline, knowing your assignment, what your responsibilities are, situations, and when it pops, it can’t go for 70 yards,” Bedford said.
In particular, the Longhorn defensive backs will have to practice better eye discipline against the Wildcats. Against Iowa State, the Texas secondary often got caught with its eyes in the backfield, leaving receivers open for big gains.
Kansas State’s offense is designed to just do that, so it will take a concerted effort to lock down the Wildcats’ talented receiving corps.
“The quarterback is sitting back there dancing,” junior cornerback Duke Thomas said. “If you’ve got a man, you’ve really got to pay attention to what’s going on.”