Grantland logo

QB Curve: Jake Waters, Shiniest Bauble on K-State’s Island of Misfit Toys

Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different college signal-caller in the spotlight. This week: Kansas State’s late bloomer, Jake Waters.

Quarterbacks: There are a lot of them! Each week, QB Curve will keep you up to speed on the game’s most important position by putting a different college signal-caller in the spotlight and putting the rest of the field in perspective.

QB of the Week: Kansas State’s Jake Waters

Typecasting — The Late Bloomer: Kansas State is in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and back in the top 10 this week in both major polls, which means a fresh round of paeans for college football’s Island of Misfit Toys can’t be far behind. As always, the story of the Wildcats’ bootstrappy success writes itself: Of the 50 players listed on the projected depth chart for this weekend’s trip to no. 6 TCU,1 36 arrived in Manhattan as walk-ons (16), junior-college transfers (11), or two-star prospects (9) who were largely ignored by other schools and recruiting sites. Somehow, that ostensibly outmanned group has already managed to beat Oklahoma (K-State’s second win over OU in three years) and Texas (fourth in five) and push Auburn to the brink in its only loss. No matter how many times writers, reporters, and talking heads indulge their Bill Snyder fetishes over the years — and the story has been essentially the same now for the better part of two decades — the notion that anyone can sustain a top-shelf program almost entirely with castoffs, late bloomers, and journeymen still defies belief.


1. Since this week’s selection committee poll is not out yet, rankings in this file reflect the latest AP poll.

In most other contexts, Jake Waters might be accurately described as another undersize, under-recruited underdog who found his niche. By K-State standards, though, Waters was actually in high demand: After leading Iowa Western Community College to the juco national championship in 2012, he was heavily pursued by Penn State to fill a yawning vacancy atop the Nittany Lions’ depth chart.2 Instead, he chose Manhattan, where he subsequently spent most of the 2013 season splitting time with a glorified tailback, Daniel Sams, who saw significant time off the bench in every game. Although Waters always took the first snap, it wasn’t until late November that he really began to distance himself as the full-time starter. He didn’t lock down the job for good until putting the torch to Michigan in a lopsided, 31-14 bowl win.


2. According to 247Sports.com, the only player on Kansas State’s roster who carried higher marks from the major recruiting sites than Waters — a borderline three-star/four-star prospect, depending on which site you consult — is another juco transfer, backup defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, a consensus four-star who was once committed to Nebraska.

With Sams out of the picture in 2014, Waters has refashioned himself as the heir apparent to K-State’s last great quarterback, Collin Klein, who parlayed a similar combination of uncanny efficiency and underrated athleticism into a third-place finish in the 2012 Heisman vote. At 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Waters can’t begin to approximate Klein’s Himalayan presence in the pocket or between the tackles, and he’s not going to raise any eyebrows among NFL scouts. But Waters does have the Wildcats in position to replicate their 2012 run to the Big 12 title, and he has the tools to do everything the offense asks to get them there.

At His Best: The first rule of judging Kansas State’s offense is to remember that K-State is the tortoise on a track full of hares. While the rest of the Big 12 has long been the province of up-tempo attacks that deliberately push the pace, the Wildcats have doubled down on their retro reputation by running significantly fewer plays this year than any other team in the conference, despite also leading the league in time of possession.3 Slower pace equals fewer plays, fewer possessions, and many fewer opportunities to keep pace with the likes of Bryce Petty, Trevone Boykin, and Clint Trickett in terms of the raw yardage and touchdown numbers that still tend to launch statistical bandwagons. Kansas State doesn’t play that kind of game. But when Waters has put the ball in the air, he’s been alarmingly consistent:


3. According to my math, K-State averages one offensive play for every 28.7 seconds of possession time, the most lopsided time-to-snap ratio in the Big 12 by a full three seconds per play. Only three other Power 5 offenses — Michigan (29.8), Wisconsin (29.5), and Boston College (29.0) — have been slower this season.

jake-waters-passing-chart-tri

Aside from the 290-yard spike against the worst defense in the conference, Waters has passed for somewhere between 200 and 250 yards in every game, generally on somewhere between 22 and 32 attempts with a completion percentage between 60 and 70 percent. It’s no coincidence his stat line against Oklahoma State last Saturday was virtually indistinguishable from his stat line against Stephen F. Austin in the season opener, or that neither varied much from his solid afternoon against Oklahoma. (Or that Kansas State leads the Big 12 in third-down conversions, which you probably could have guessed.) He hits his marks. More important, for this offense, in five conference games he’s yet to throw an interception.

Waters’s workload as a rusher is less predictable, fluctuating from week to week depending on the defense and the game plan. But he has the capacity to serve as a workhorse, as he did in the wins over Iowa State (20 carries for 138 yards) and Texas Tech (17 for 105), or to break the occasional big play, as he did on a 53-yard gain against Oklahoma highlighted by a killer juke in the open field. As ever, a very significant share of the Wildcats’ passing game is based on exploiting the defense’s respect for the quarterback as a threat to run, most notably on the “pop pass,” a run/pass option that K-State introduced last year to frequently devastating effect.

Kansas State has gotten a lot of mileage out of that play, but only because Waters can be trusted to get his fair share if defenses are too slow to react to him as a de facto tailback.

At His Worst: Pro scouts will be justifiably concerned about Waters’s size and arm strength, but the worst that can be said about him as a college quarterback is that he’s too “within the offense.” Translation: He lacks the top-shelf athleticism to make throws in tight windows downfield, or to salvage a good play from a bad one when things start to break down. Because he’s neither a prototypical pocket passer nor a breathtaking scrambler, big plays always come as a mild surprise.

Pop pass notwithstanding, most of Waters’s big plays as a passer involve his best receiver, Tyler Lockett, who has averaged 15 yards per catch over the past two years and been known to make some iffy throws look sensational. Predictably, Waters has been known to occasionally lock in on Lockett, as he did initially on his second interception against Auburn in September.

Once the coverage eliminated Lockett as an option on that play, Waters looked lost and wound up improvising his way into his only really costly decision of the season. TCU cornerback Kevin White, last seen putting handcuffs on dynamic West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White,4 may be more likely to force Waters to look away from Lockett than any cover guy in the Big 12.


4. Yes, they’re both named Kevin White.

To Saturday and Beyond: The upset at Oklahoma was an eye-opener, but Saturday’s trip to Fort Worth is the game that will set Kansas State’s ceiling: The Wildcats could emerge looking like front-runners for a playoff spot, or like leading contenders for the Russell Athletic Bowl. Last week, the Horned Frogs held West Virginia to a season low for total offense and forced five turnovers in a defensively driven, come-from-behind win in Morgantown, pushing TCU into the national lead with 26 takeaways for the season. Waters has to walk a thin line between challenging the Frogs downfield and knowing when to pull back rather than force an uncharacteristic mistake.

If they do get by TCU with their perfect conference record intact, the Wildcats will still face trips to West Virginia and Baylor down the stretch, but will be able to go into both knowing exactly how much is at stake. At this point, though, they already know what to expect from their quarterback. If the playoff push does fall through, it’s highly unlikely Waters will be the reason.

Quick Outs

connor-halliday-injury-triDean Hare/AP Photo

• Only a few days after he was profiled on Grantland, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s college career came to a nasty, abrupt end Saturday when he suffered a broken ankle in the Cougars’ 44-17 loss to USC. A fifth-year senior, Halliday arrived in Pullman in the darkest depths of the Paul Wulff era, but will go out with a battery of Air Raid–fueled passing records earned under Wulff’s successor, Mike Leach, including the single-game NCAA marks for attempts (89, in a 2013 loss at Oregon) and yards (734, in a pinball-worthy loss to Cal earlier this year), as well as the school record for career yards (11,304). Halliday has put the ball in the air more often over the past two years than any other college quarterback, by far, and absorbed the requisite number of hits. Understandably, he is not happy about the one that put him out of commission.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

There’s not really anything to add to that, is there?

• Tennessee sophomore Joshua Dobbs made his first start of the season Saturday at South Carolina, and presumably will be making many more after accounting for 467 total yards and five touchdowns in a come-from-behind, 45-42 overtime win. In the fourth quarter, Dobbs led three straight touchdown drives on the Volunteers’ final three possessions of regulation, on which he completed 12 of 17 passes for 154 yards and ran for 31 more. On Monday, he received a standing ovation in class. If Tennessee runs the table in its last three games and makes its first bowl game since 2010, they may as well give him the key to the city.

Reggie Collier “Athlete” of the Week: Boston College’s Tyler Murphy

tyler-murphy-boston-college-triMichael Shroyer/Getty Images

The Reggie Collier “Athlete” All-Stars honor quarterbacks who best embody the “dual threat” ethos of their inspiration, the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

Florida fans will remember Tyler Murphy as the guy who filled in last year after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season with a broken leg. This year, Murphy has resurfaced at BC as a graduate transfer, and appears to be relishing his role as, essentially, the Eagles’ feature tailback. Back in September, Murphy opened a lot of eyes by rushing for 191 yards in an out-of-nowhere, 37-31 upset over USC. In the meantime, he’s accounted for at least 55 yards on the ground in every game (including sacks), and just delivered arguably his best outing of the season in Saturday’s 33-31 win at Virginia Tech: 232 total yards, three total touchdowns, and one perfectly timed dagger of a run to put the score out of reach in the waning minutes.

For the season, Murphy leads the team and leads all quarterbacks nationally with 965 yards rushing (including sacks), and is most responsible for making Boston College bowl-eligible for the second year in a row.

QB Curve Power Hour!

brett-hundley-ucla-triStephen Dunn/Getty Images

Ranking the nation’s best quarterbacks after Week 10.

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Mariota hasn’t budged since taking over the top spot here in Week 2, and now appears to be distancing himself on most other lists after a dominant performance against what supposed to be a dominant Stanford defense. (Last week: 1)

2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State. Prescott has five interceptions in his last three games, a sign he may be trying to do too much, but it’s hard to blame him when arguably no player has done more to make his team a contender. (LW: 2)

3. Jameis Winston, Florida State. Ditto for Winston, who is developing quite a knack for looking ordinary and indispensable in the same breath. (LW: 3)

4. Brett Hundley, UCLA. I don’t know that UCLA’s much-maligned offensive line has been fully repaired, but you can mentally discard all of those complaints about Hundley holding onto the ball too long: Since taking 10 sacks in a loss to Utah, he’s escaped the pocket for 424 yards rushing (including sacks) in the Bruins’ last four games. (LW: 6)

5. Nick Marshall, Auburn. Everything Auburn does offensively revolves around Marshall’s ability to run, but his rapport with receivers Sammie Coates and Duke Williams has turned defending the Tigers into a full-service nightmare. (LW: 7)

6. Everett Golson, Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s “signature win” to date is a close loss to Florida State, and Saturday’s trip to no. 11 Arizona State may be the last chance to do anything about that: Beyond this weekend, none of the Irish’s last three opponents is currently ranked. (LW: 4)

7. Blake Sims, Alabama. Meanwhile, Bama’s “signature win” to date is an uninspiring, 33-23 decision over West Virginia in the first game, but closing against LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn in a span of 21 days presents a timely opportunity to bolster the résumé. (LW: 5)

8. Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty has looked a bit out of sorts since returning from a back injury, but everything is still in front of Baylor, beginning with this weekend’s trip to no. 16 Oklahoma. (LW: 8)

9. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss. Dr. Bo rebounded from a debacle at LSU to play arguably the game of his life against Auburn, and it was still undone by a critical giveaway down the stretch. (LW: NR)

10. Cody Kessler, USC. Kessler continues to rank among the most efficient passers in the nation after a 400-yard, five-touchdown afternoon against Washington State, but the 69-point gap between his efficiency rating against losing teams (207.7) and his rating against winning teams (138.7) goes a long way toward explaining why USC continues to dwell in the “Others Receiving Votes” section of both major polls. (LW: 9)

Waiting: J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), Trevone Boykin (TCU), Shane Carden (East Carolina), Rakeem Cato (Marshall), Connor Cook (Michigan State), Jake Waters (Kansas State)