Some Kansas State football fans probably felt dizzy trying to keep up with all of Courtney Messingham’s substitutions and formation changes during his first drive as offensive coordinator last week.
They came rapidly.
The Wildcats began their 49-14 victory over Nicholls with a spread look of three receivers, one tight end and a running back. But they replaced one of the receivers with a fullback and went with a power-run look on the second play. Then they converted a third down with a passing play that featured three receivers and a tight end lined up in the slot.
As the drive went on, Messingham hit the Colonels with everything from a diamond formation that featured two running backs and a fullback surrounding Skylar Thompson in the shotgun to a goal-line formation that included a tight end and two fullbacks blocking for running back Harry Trotter. In all, the Wildcats used a whopping 20 players on their opening series.
“That’s just what we do,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “It’s like a hockey line change with Coach Mess.”
There is no arguing with the results.
K-State reached the end zone on its first drive of the season by marching 72 yards in 12 plays. And the Wildcats went on to dominate possession time while averaging 7.2 yards per play.
“Trust me, on defense, that’s difficult because you are trying to decide who’s coming in and coming out,” Klieman said. “There’s certain plays that he wants to get in or different personnel, and I think that makes it challenging on a defense when you are not saying, ‘I’m just defending one thing or one group of people.’ Also, we want to get more guys in.”
All those changes kept Nicholls off balance on defense.
The Wildcats played James Gilbert, Jordon Brown and Trotter at running back. They used Malik Knowles, Dalton Schoen, Landry Weber, Chabastin Taylor, Wykeen Gill and Joshua Youngblood at receiver. They tried Adam Harter, Jax Dineen and Nick Lenners at fullback. And they inserted Blaise Gammon and Sammy Wheeler at tight end.
“Each guy has their own little piece of the puzzle that they bring to the team,” Messingham said. “We are going to keep as many guys engaged as we can each week.”
Quarterback and offensive line were the only two positions that stayed the same.
“It’s different, but I would say it helps me recognize what the defense is doing,” Thompson said, “because we are getting in some condensed formations where it kind of tightens people up in the box. We are spreading them out a little bit, as well. We have a variety of ways to attack a defense.”
Don’t expect anything less as the season rolls on. If anything, Messingham was a bit conservative in his first game as K-State’s play-caller.
Much of the pre-snap alignment and misdirection he used so successfully with Klieman at North Dakota State was absent from the Nicholls game plan. That’s not going away.
Neither is K-State’s strategy of constant personnel and formation changes.
“At first, it was hard for me to get used to,” Thompson said, “but the more I have gotten used to it I have realized that I love it.”
A look at some of K-State’s new formations
The Wildcats kept things conservative on the first play of the Klieman era and gave the ball to starting running back James Gilbert for a gain of three yards.
But the triple receivers on the left side forced Nicholls to keep an eye on Thompson as a passing threat. It seemed just as likely.
A few plays later, Messingham showed an entirely different look with three receivers and a tight end running routes with a running back in the backfield.
All the potential pass-catchers on the left side of the formation opened things up for Knowles on the right. Thompson found him for a 10-yard gain.
Messingham got creative on what would have been the 11th play of the drive had it not been wiped out by a face mask penalty. K-State went with two running backs and a fullback in a diamond formation.
The interesting thing about this particular play is that Thompson kept the ball and ran it himself behind a pair of lead blockers. Nicholls figured this one out, but the Wildcats kept the chains moving because of a face mask penalty on the Colonels.
Lastly, K-State reached the end zone on an impressive outside run from Trotter. The Wildcats make it fairly obvious they want to run with two tight ends, two fullbacks and one receiver. But it’s interesting that Youngblood is only wide out.
He’s thought of more for his speed than his blocking ability. But the play worked and K-State scored a touchdown after showing many different looks on their opening drive with Messingham as playcaller.