This really is a good problem to have if you’re Kansas State. The Wildcats have two capable quarterbacks, clearly very different in styles, yet both effective doing what each of them does best.
And while Jake Waters will start again Saturday night against UMass, the gap between the junior college transfer and backup Daniel Sams seems like it could be narrowing some, leaving significant doubt as to who might be under center when Big 12 play begins in less than two weeks at Texas.
Waters is good. He’s really good. He’s made throws I haven’t seen from a K-State quarterback in years and this is a guy with only two big-boy starts under his belt, in a new system. He came into a program with a quarterback already on the roster — one who’s been here three years — and took the starting job.
We heard the competition was close during the spring, summer and fall camps, but nobody really knows just how narrow the gap really was — and we still don’t. But one thing is certain as we keep moving forward, Sams will continue to get opportunities. And with each opportunity, the sophomore is conceivably making the quarterback situation more and more uncertain.
Nobody should doubt Waters’ ability to throw the ball. He’s legit. That 72 percent completion rate is every bit as real as Sams’ ability to make things happen with his feet. And that’s what could cost Waters his job in the end.
We heard for months that these two guys weren’t as different as everyone made them out to be — one’s a passer and one’s a runner. Coaches said they can both run and they can both pass. That is true. I can run and pass too, but I make no guarantees where the ball is going and how long it takes me to get from Point A to Point B.
It’s about doing those two things well and I haven’t seen anything out of Waters on the ground that would make me say he’s an effective runner. Can he move around in the pocket and avoid pressure? Very much so, but he seems very uncertain on designed runs or read-options. He doesn’t look comfortable doing it. And why would he when he could just heave the ball to any spot on the field?
But have you seen Sams run the ball? He changes the game and does it very quickly. As for Sams’ passing ability, he’s only 1 of 2 this season for 27 yards, so we aren’t quite sure yet. He wasn’t very convincing one way or the other last season when he got his chances, despite completing six of his eight tries — mostly on short routes.
So you ask, what’s the problem here? One guy can air it out and the other can run it out, so why not do both? The fear with a two-headed QB is that you can be predictable, depending who’s on the field. Because, if you had one that could do it all, why would you play two?
I just don’t think the K-State defense will allow Waters to keep his job. It’s just not good enough — right now — to get off the field consistently. With Waters in the game, there is virtually no success in the running game, and that’s what keeps the defense off the field, or more importantly, the other team’s offense off the field.
K-State is only averaging 95 yards a game rushing so far. This a team that was fourth in the Big 12 last season in rushing, averaging nearly 200 yards a game. Of the Wildcats’ 190 rushing yards this season, 80 of them belong to Sams — on 10 carries — while running back John Hubert is off to the worst start of his career, averaging less than 3 yards per carry and only 39 yards in the first two games. Waters has 14 yards on 15 carries.
When there’s a quarterback who can run, or at least poses a real threat of running, Hubert has seemed to be at his best — that’s with someone like Collin Klein or Sams. Without a legitimate threat to run the ball, what you’ve seen is what you can expect to see going forward — a team with big-play capability by air, but all bark and no bite on the ground.
Sams gives the Wildcats a chance to do exactly what coach Bill Snyder wants to do — run the ball. It could be done with Waters as well, but not with the Klein playbook.
If you’re K-State, you run the ball to win and Snyder knows that. It keeps the Wildcats’ inexperienced and inconsistent defense off the field and the ball in the Wildcats’ hands. K-State’s slow-moving, grind-it-out possession offense has been the Cats’ best defense the past few years.
As things stand right now, though, this is a team with no real offensive identity. It’s a team with a split personality — something I don’t think K-State can keep up all year, especially against the Big 12.
Unless the Wildcats can find an effective running game with Waters on the field — however that looks — his days as the starter could be numbered. He’s safe another week, but Sams’ footsteps are getting louder and louder as the date with the Longhorns looms.