Breakdown: Kale Pick's pick simply a poor decision
Welcome back to "Breakdown," where we'll look at a KU play each week and try to go a little more in-depth into why it did or didn't work.
After North Dakota State's stunning 6-3 victory over the Jayhawks, we're going to look back at the play that killed KU's best scoring chance Saturday. For this blog, I have consulted a Div. II offensive assistant coach, someone we'll just call "Coach."
Here is the replay of KU quarterback Kale Pick's interception in the third quarter. You can click back to this video as you read later in the blog if you need to.
Right before the snap, KU shifts its receivers to a bunched formation on the near side.
Sometimes, these shifts can help the offensive coordinator and/or quarterback diagnose what coverage the opposition is playing. Coach says, in this case, it's hard to get a pre-snap read of NDSU's plans for coverage.
Here, I've diagrammed the approximate routes of KU's receivers.
"It’s actually a pretty good formation down there if a team is going to play you man-to-man," Coach says, "because if you cross your receivers at all, sometimes it causes a natural pick play for you, which helps open up receivers down there. Sometimes also it is helpful in confusing the defense as to which man they’re supposed to be covering."
Coach sees a problem just a few seconds into the play, though.
"The receiver spacing is not good at all," Coach says. "Those receivers need to run their routes a lot harder than they did and therefore, create more space and more space between defenders as well.
"When you get inside the red zone, everything’s compacted down, and so you have to have good spacing with your routes."
As we can see from this slide, KU's Tim Biere (top highlighted) and Daymond Patterson (bottom) are still very close to each other a few seconds into the play. This makes it much easier for NDSU to cover KU's receivers.
"No. 86, he’s not running his route very hard right there, either," Coach says. "The outside receiver (Patterson) doesn’t seem to be running his route very hard.
"Those guys, they just have to push off the ball harder and, like I said, try to create more space between themselves, and therefore, stretch the defense."
Let's go back to the coverage. After a few seconds, Coach identifies this as a basic version of a Cover 4 defense.
What is a Cover 4?
"The two corners have the outside quarters of the field, and the two safeties have the inside quarters of the field," Coach says. "Four guys to cover the four quarters of the field. Obviously, your linebackers or nickel will cover the underneath zones."
With the Cover 4, NDSU will rely on its four defensive linemen to try to get pressure on the quarterback. Also, Coach says, in certain situations, the middle linebacker drops back to help in the zone.
On third and long, the middle linebacker doesn't have to worry as much about a potential running play, so he immediately drops back to help the secondary. Coach says that the Bison do a nice job of defending on this play.
So what are Pick's options?
Coach sees two.
Though it's hard to see, Patterson appears to break free with only a single defender on him.
"(Pick)’s not getting pressured at all. His offensive line is doing a good job. He’s got plenty of time to make a good throw here," Coach says. "You see No. 15 coming open over here to the left of the hash. He was breaking out. If Pick would have been a little bit more patient, maybe that’s going to be the throw, with him breaking to the sideline and all this room to run down here to the sideline."
The other option is the most obvious one when going back to the film.
Take a look at KU back Deshaun Sands out in the flat.
At one point, Sands sticks his hand up, trying to get Pick's attention. He might have even been close enough to even yell to Pick.
Though Coach says that Sands wouldn't be one of Pick's first reads, it would have been his best (and safest) option.
"If (Sands) makes a guy miss — if he makes that corner miss, or if your X receiver (Johnathan Wilson) up there on the top of the screen blocks that corner, you walk into the end zone for a touchdown," Coach says.
"At the very least, he catches the ball, maybe advances it to the 5-yard line, you have a choice of going for it on fourth down or kicking a chip-shot field goal."
Instead, Pick tries to squeeze the ball into heavy traffic in the middle. In fact, it appears Bradley McDougald also was covered well by NDSU's safety — and he didn't even make the interception.
"As a Big 12 quarterback, he’s probably expected to not force this ball into coverage," Coach says. " ... There’s probably two or three guys that can intercept this ball."
NDSU's middle linebacker ends up making the pick, cheating back early when he didn't have to worry about a running play.
Pick explained the interception to Matt Tait after the game.
"I didn’t see that (linebacker)," Pick said. "He was in line with my guard."
Though it's hard to see exactly what Pick was seeing — and whether his guard actually was blocking his vision — Coach says part of the responsibility of having good vision falls on the quarterback.
"If you’re having trouble seeing over your offensive line, then you need to do a better job with your feet in the pocket and do a better job of scanning the field," Coach says.
Though this was a bad mistake by Pick, I'm still in agreement with Tait in thinking that Pick received the hook way too quickly.
After months of competition, Pick was named the starter. That decision have stood for at least a few games instead of a few quarters.
It'll be a shame if this one blemish ends up costing Pick his chance at being starting quarterback at KU.
After earning the job in practice, the sophomore deserves better than that.