Archive for Saturday, November 1, 2003

Kansas State not relying as much on big plays

Roberson throwing more short passes to more receivers for Wildcats in recent weeks

November 1, 2003


— It's an offensive formula that last year served the Kansas State Wildcats well.

But as they are learning this season, bigger is not always better.

While the Big Three of quarterback Ell Roberson, running back Darren Sproles and wide receiver James Terry continue to be the Wildcats' primary weapons, and all three are capable of producing big plays, the Wildcats are discovering that small ball can be just as effective.

With defenses geared toward containing the explosive running tandem of Sproles and Roberson, the Wildcats have stopped turning automatically to the third option -- chucking the ball deep to Terry.

Instead, Roberson has found safety in numbers, effectively spreading the ball throughout his receiving corps.

"You've got to have some variety because of that," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of opposing defenses' obsession with Sproles, who last week against Kansas broke the school career rushing record in just his junior year. "I don't think you can take Darren completely out of the ballgame, but I think you can certainly not let him run all over you.

"If we don't have some other directions to go -- if we're one-dimensional, as the jargon goes -- then you get yourself into trouble."

In the first six games, which included losses at home to Marshall and on the road to Texas, the Wildcats had 32 offensive scoring drives. All but two lasted fewer than 10 plays, with six touchdowns covering 25 or more yards.

In the three games since -- a 38-34 loss at Oklahoma State, followed by blowout victories over Colorado (49-20) and Kansas (42-6) -- seven of 16 scoring drives took 10 or more plays, with all but one requiring at least five. Only one touchdown play went for more than 25 yards.

Also during that three-game stretch, the Wildcats are perfect inside the red zone, producing touchdowns all 13 times they penetrated the opponents' 20-yard line.

"We're just basically taking what the defense gives us now (instead of) going deep every play," said Roberson, who since missing 21/2 games with a broken hand early in the season has steadily worked himself back to top form. "We'll throw a quick pass in there, so as not to put us in a bad situation."

Nobody has benefited more than Roberson, who over the last three games has completed 62 percent of his passes. In his first four, including his return from the injury at Texas, he was connecting at a 40-percent clip.

In those first four games, Roberson did average 22.7 yards per completion as opposed to 14.2 the past three weeks. But after throwing three interceptions at Oklahoma State, he was not been picked off by either Colorado or Kansas.

"The past two games he's kind of knocked the rust off," sophomore receiver Davin Dennis said of Roberson. "If (defenses are) playing six, seven yards off, we're going to shorter routes and driving down the field."

Terry still leads the team with 38 catches for 739 yards and six touchdowns.

But Antoine Polite and Dennis have come on the past two weeks, with Dennis catching a pair of scoring strikes to give him four for the season.

Sproles has 14 catches for 160 yards, with Polite and tight end Brian Casey adding 13 grabs each, followed by Dennis and freshman Jermaine Moreira with 12.

"I think they've gotten a whole lot more confidence as far as catching the ball and doing something with it," Roberson said of his receiving corps.

"It also helped me to get the ball off quick and just let them do their thing."

The Wildcats (6-3 overall, 2-2 Big 12) face Baylor (3-5, 1-3) today at KSU Stadium. The Bears rank 105 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 34.5 points per game.

The Wildcats rank 11th in the nation in scoring offense with an average of 37.9 points per game.

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