Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Formulas for stopping a Heisman candidate

Two of the top Heisman Trophy candidates, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, were shut down in their own buildings on Saturday. How did it happen?

Kansas State dropped in coverage and limited big plays
Kansas State did not do anything tricky on defense in its 55-14 win over West Virginia. The Wildcats played coverage and tackled. They had a season-low three missed tackles and dropped at least seven defenders in coverage on 42 of Smith’s 43 dropbacks. The extra coverage limited Smith’s deep options and provided less space for West Virginia’s shifty receivers.

Entering the game, West Virginia was one of the top big-play passing offenses in FBS, averaging 7.8 completions of 15 yards or longer per game. Kansas State did not allow one 15-yard completion, the first time since October 2008 that West Virginia failed to complete one such pass.

Kansas State did not allow Smith to beat the Wildcats deep. Smith was 0-for-5 on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air. Smith had completed one pass of this distance in 24 straight games before Saturday.

In his past two games, both losses, Smith has completed just 8.7 percent of his throws 15 yards or longer, with 12 of his 21 incompletions being off-target (overthrown, underthrown or wide). In his first five games of the season, Smith had just eight off-target 15-yard throws.

Without a viable deep game, Smith looked short to his receivers and hoped that one of the nation’s top teams at running after the catch could break some long plays.

West Virginia was averaging 203.8 yards after the catch per game, including 85.5 yards after the catch on screen passes. But against the Wildcats, West Virginia was held to a season-low 117 yards after the catch and 65 yards after the catch on eight screen passes.

Entering the game, Tavon Austin led receivers from AQ schools with 491 yards after the catch. Against Kansas State, Austin gained only 29 yards after the catch, his fewest in a game since the start of 2011.

Manziel Limited Outside of the Pocket
Against LSU, Manziel was held to a season-low 27 yards rushing, including just 25 yards on scrambles. Manziel entered the game leading the SEC in rushing yards (475), touchdowns (7) and first downs (20) when scrambling.

Manziel attempted as many scrambles as normal, but failed to break any long runs. His longest scramble against LSU gained 14 yards. In his first six games, Manziel had 12 15-yard scrambles, including six touchdowns.

With LSU taking away the running lanes, Manziel attempted a career-high 56 passes -- including 49 inside of the pocket, or 16 more than he had ever attempted in the pocket.

Inside of the pocket against LSU, Manziel completed 55.1 percent of his passes and averaged a season-low 5 yards per attempt. Even worse, Manziel threw two interceptions from inside the pocket for the first time this season. Entering the game, Manziel was completing 69.3 percent of his passes inside of the pocket with just two interceptions in 150 attempts.

Olivia Thirlby Jessica Drake

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