MANHATTAN, Kan. — The problem is this: Daniel Sams does you no good stuck in park, idling in the driveway. When the Kansas State quarterback is on the sidelines, doing leg raises up and down to keep loose, it’s like owning a Porsche 911, starting her up and revving the engine, over and over, just to hear it purr.
Brother, you’ve got to let that tiger loose.
“You put the ball in Daniel’s hands, and he’s going to make things happen on the ground,” Wildcat wideout Curry Sexton said after his men rolled Louisiana, 48-27, for their first win of the season. “That’s something that’s fun to have.”
Fun. Dangerous. Quick. Explosive. Kansas State’s backup quarterback is a 3-megaton warhead in cleats, just waiting to explode past unsuspecting tacklers.
“I mean, I can’t describe it to you,” coach Bill Snyder said after Sams tallied 63 rushing yards on eight carries and a touchdown in relief of starter Jake Waters. “Watch him and you see (a) very athletic young guy (who) can make people miss. And I think he’s got confidence in the people up front. He knows if they just hang on to the blocks, stay on their blocks, he’ll find a place.”
On his 13-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter, Sams planted right and broke hard left, breaking ankles from here to Atchison. When he came in with 10 minutes left in the contest as the Wildcats were trying to salt away a 41-27 lead, he drew the linebackers up, then executed a near-perfect option-fake lob pass to tight end Zach Trujillo for a 27-yard gain. On his next play, he pulled the same dance move he’d used in the second quarter, only this time zigging and zagging through the right side of the line.
“It kept defenses off-balance,” said Sams, who was beaten out by Waters for the starting job during the tail end of last month’s preseason practices. “And they really don’t know what to expect. They expect me to run … there were a couple times when I checked to some passes, but I just felt good on my feet (Saturday).”
He felt light, too. Funny, isn’t it? When Sams is under center, the read-option works. Just about anything the Wildcats ran via the option game with Collin Klein works.
With Waters under center, tailback John Hubert looks 5-foot-7. With Sams under center (18 rushes, 56 yards, two touchdowns), Hubert looks like Hubert again.
“Well, it’s all about owning it,” said Waters, who completed 21 of 32 throws (good) for 278 yards (also good) but was picked off twice (bad). “It’s all about the team, and if you have that mindset, (splitting time) is easy to handle.
“When I’m out there, it’s my team, and when he’s out there, it’s his team. We both want what’s best for the team.”
What’s best is both of them, between the white lines, mixing and matching, playing to their strengths, and driving defensive coordinators bonkers. The traditional football axiom is that if you use two quarterbacks, it means you don’t have one that’s worth his athletic supporter in the first place.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and Snyder’s biggest offensive quandary in April — in a good way — remains his biggest quandary of September: His two signal-callers are each one half of the perfect answer under center.
The Wildcats are a better running team, by a country mile, with the mobile Sams at the controls, threatening with his legs, picking a hole, making people miss, and turning a sliver of space into a big gain. At the same time, Waters is the man who can best take advantage of your two greatest offensive toys — receivers Tyler Lockett (eight catches, 111 receiving yards) and Tremaine Thompson (two grabs, 46 receiving yards, 188 yards in returns).
In a perfect world, one man fulfills both functions, hands down, the way Klein did for two straight autumns. But Waters, for all his strengths, doesn’t appear to be that.
And strategically, it’s not a dead giveaway, either: Jake can run, a little, as evidenced by his option pitch to Hubert for the tailback’s first score back in the first quarter. Daniel can throw, a little, as evidenced by the aforementioned lob to Trujillo late in the contest.
“I mean, it gets old, sometimes, just because I know, personally, I can throw the ball,” Sams said. “But at the same time, everybody wants a winning quarterback. Whatever we do to win, it doesn’t bother me what anybody says outside the team.”
There are other nits to pick with this bunch, of course, starting with the run defense. A Ragin’ Cajun crew that netted 85 rushing yards at Arkansas last weekend piled up 177 against the Purple. The second half is a wrestling match of wills; you worry about more squads imposing theirs on the ‘Cats, the way North Dakota State did, in crunch times to come.
You worry about Sams, idling on the sidelines, while the K-State offense stalls. Is there a way to get both on the field at the same time?
Do you drag out the Wing-T? The Wishbone? Does Sams have a little “Slash” in him, the acumen to handle multiple skill positions?
Could you snap it to Jake and throw it to Daniel? Or vice versa, just for kicks?
“I mean, he could,” Sexton noted. “He’s so athletic, he could play any position on the field where his height (6-2) and weight (207) would fit … He’s a heck of an athlete. We want Daniel at quarterback because you want to put the ball in his hands. I don’t think we’re going to play him anywhere else. That’s not my call. But I think you’ll see him lined up behind center.”
Pity. Because that much horsepower is terrible, terrible thing to waste.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.