KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Accident or design? Can’t or won’t? Either Daniel Sams feels uncomfortable passing the ball, which is bad, or has been told not to throw the rock. Which is worse.
Regardless, know this: If the defensive coordinator preparing for Kansas State all week sees No. 4 come into the game with a menu of only two options — hand off or take off — it doesn’t take much to draw up a game plan. It makes his job infinitely easier.
Which is either curious or frustrating, depending on how much purple one happens to bleed. Because Wildcats coach Bill Snyder has a history — a long, storied, epic, iconic history — of making those coordinators’ prep work a living hell. The Jedi Master knows more about football than five Wikipedias will ever forget, and he has the statue out front to prove it.
And yet, a month into the season, with K-State (2-2) in circle-the-wagons mode with a visit to wounded Oklahoma State up next, Sams, the Wildcats’ 6-foot-2 backup quarterback, still feels like this giant, gifted enigma — a trumpet with the mute left in, a drum kit played daintily with brushes when it ought to be bashed like Keith Moon.
“I mean, it gets old sometimes, just because I know, personally, I can throw the ball,” Sams said of his run-first stigma. “But at the same time, everybody wants a winning quarterback … it doesn’t bother me what anybody says outside the team.”
Fair enough. Still, in four games of change-of-pace work off the bench, the sophomore from Louisiana has attempted only four passes, completing three. Meanwhile, Sams has carried the ball 29 times, averaged a whopping 7.1 yards a pop, and scored three touchdowns on the ground.
And during a 10-point loss at Texas on September 21, it sure didn’t take long for the Longhorns’ linebackers and safeties to shift gears once they saw No. 4 in the fold. Sams ripped off a brilliant 23-yard run on his first carry in Austin — then just 25 yards on his next seven tries. He didn’t attempt a pass, and, after the Wildcats got forced into catch-up mode early in the third quarter, was rarely heard from again.
“It’s probably (coaches) more than anything else,” Snyder told reporters last week when asked about Sams’ reluctance to air it out. “Yes, he can check into pass plays. But he’s going to stay within the offense.”
Reality and perception are sometimes two different beasts. But the perception among much of the faithful in the Flint Hills right now is that Sams is a cell phone set to “silent,” reduced to buzzing when it has the potential to ring off the bloody hook.
They point to the spring game in April — it was a spring game, granted, where no-contact rules make honest evaluation tricky — in which Sams threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns, including a pretty 55-yard rainbow for a score to Torrell Miller.
“His throwing is just overlooked,” Tremaine Thompson told reporters after the Texas loss. “He can throw. He can let it go.”
Quarterback platoons are, by nature, horribly tricky — which is why, as a general rule, coaches avoid them like the plague. It’s a me-first position, the most important offensive player on the field, the sun around which everything else between the white lines evolves.
These are human beings, kids, not video-game sprites. Some guys can handle that load while looking over their shoulder, waiting for that giant cane from the sideline to come and yank them off stage. But many of them can’t.
“Both deserve the opportunity to play,” Snyder told reporters. “And both will get the opportunity to play.”
Both should get the opportunity to throw, too. Until we see Sams for more than a series here or there, until we see Sams cut it loose, it’s hard to get a real read on how much tread the Wildcats still have on the tires.
For weeks, we tempered our evaluations and expectations, deferring to recent, superlative history. K-State is just “saving the good stuff” for league play, some of us said. We won’t have a real idea what the Wildcats are — or what they aren’t — until they visit Austin.
Then Longhorns 31, Wildcats 21 happened, and … oh, snap.
They were not, to paraphrase Dennis Green, what we thought they were but rather, what we’d sort of hoped they hadn’t become. Which is to say, the team that lost to North Dakota State at home. A bunch with defensive issues, physicality questions, and a quarterback platoon that wasn’t fooling anyone. With a trip to Stillwater as the welcome-back gift coming off a bye week.
And the timing, to be frank, could be better. Oklahoma State, the prohibitive preseason league favorite, went into West Virginia last Saturday as a double-digit favorite, and left Morgantown with their collective six-shooters dragging between their legs. Team Gundy wound up stonewalled in a 30-21 setback, missing kicks, dropping passes, and turning the ball over three times.
It was the kind of head-scratching result that could be taken one of two ways. On one hand, the Big 12 race suddenly looks more nuts and open than even the pundits had predicted over the summer. On the other, here come the Cowboys, embarrassed on the road, back home, and looking to get the fan base off of their collective backs.
“They will be angry,” Snyder told reporters Tuesday.
That they will, likely the same kind of angry that Texas trotted out two weeks ago. Which means if the Wildcats are still trying to find an identity offensively at Boone Pickens Stadium, they’re probably going to find themselves in a whole mess of trouble. Again.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com