Last year, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein should have been included in the Heisman conversation. Outside of Big 12 country, however, he was the forgotten man.
Perhaps it's because he reminds us of Tim Tebow—a solid passer who sacrifices his body every week running up the middle because he carries the weight of his team's BCS championship-game berth hopes on his shoulders.
But Klein isn't Tebow.
When Tebow won the Heisman in 2007, he had passed for almost 3,300 yards that season. Klein is on track to eclipse 2,100 yards at the end of this season. Klein doesn't have a jump pass, nor does he have a promise or tears to share with the world.
What Klein does have is a 6'5", 226-pound frame that runs a 4.62 40-yard dash. He's a big kid, looks heavier than 226 pounds, and when he takes off running, he just doesn't look very fast—until he blows by a linebacker who was drooling over the prospects of a pancake hit.
The biggest attribute Klein has is patience. Klein will stay in the pocket as long as possible looking for an open receiver because he has the wheels and the smarts to get out of trouble and make positive yardage out of a potential sack.
Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George echoed Klein's biggest attribute in a FOXSports.com story:
"Patience. He followed his blocks, and sometimes even when there wasn't a hole he just waited it out. You know, he's not a hard runner. He's a tough runner," Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George said. "He's not going to bruise you around. He's just going to wait, wait, wait."
Methodical, clock-chewing drives with Klein keeping the defense guessing. Is he going to pass? Is he going to run? Three plays are the bread and butter of Collin Klein's brilliance: the play-action pass, the trap and avoiding the sack.
Let's use Kansas State's game against Iowa State to highlight how Klein makes his Heisman-level plays work brilliantly.
Early in the second quarter against Iowa State, Klein faked a handoff to in-motion running back John Hubert. Iowa State was in a 4-3 defense with the weak side linebacker momentarily confused before covering Hubert—the other two linebackers froze to defend the run and contain Klein if he took off running. Klein lobbed the ball 23 yards to receiver Tramaine Thompson.
Perfectly executed play-action passes are difficult to defend, especially when you have a quarterback whose running ability keeps the defense honest—whose running ability means he isn't scared to punch it up the middle.
Midway through the second quarter with the Wildcats down 7-3, Klein—in the shotgun—took the snap on a 1st-and-goal at the Cyclones' 2-yard line. Klein veered left, causing the defense to follow in the same direction and protect the edge, but Klein cut inside off of his left guard, leaving linebacker A.J. Klein too far outside to make the stop. Collin scored the go-ahead touchdown on a trap play.
And that is one of Klein's biggest assets. Instead of scampering off-tackle toward the safety of the sidelines, Klein waits for his guard to pull and then takes it inside.
Klein doesn't need any trick plays to score—he just runs the trap play to perfection. That's not to say he won't run outside, because he does, and that's probably why the back seven try to protect the edge when Klein starts scrambling.
With under a minute left in the second quarter, Klein was facing a 1st-and-5 at Iowa State's 6-yard line. The Wildcats lined up in a three-receiver set, and Klein took the snap and rushed to his left behind running back Angelo Pease. At the last second, Klein turned inside and scored the touchdown. Again, the Cyclones had the edge protected, but Klein's patience in waiting for an opening coupled with his no fear of running inside is what makes his short-yardage plays so successful.
His ability to avoid the sack and break a defense's back in critical third-down situations is also a a Klein trademark. Technically, avoiding a sack is not an actual play, but Klein has done it so often that it should be called "In case nobody's open, run upfield."
With 11:50 left in the third quarter and facing a 3rd-and-6 on his own 20-yard line, Klein lined up in the shotgun with a five-receiver set. It was obvious Kansas State was going to pass despite being deep in its own territory.
Iowa State's defense was in a 4-3 with the linebackers backing off the line to cover the receivers. The four-man rush collapsed the pocket within two seconds, and Klein started to run to his right before cutting back toward the middle of the field and gaining nine yards.
Maybe the Wildcats ought to put another page in their playbook.
Klein's playbook isn't that complicated. Even Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads inferred it's pretty standard stuff, according to a FOXSports.com article.
"Standard Kansas State football game, coached by a legendary coach and quarterbacked by a great, great football player," Rhoads said.
In the meantime, Klein's Wildcats are 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings.
Klein isn't Tebow, but he is a gamer and, like Tebow, a dual-threat quarterback. Tebow had his jump pass and blast to cement his legacy.
Klein has the play-action pass, the trap and his avoiding-the-sack-to-gain-positive-yardage plays that make him special—and a great, great football player.