NORMAN — Watching video of Kansas State last week, R.J. Washington had one particular play that stuck in his mind.
Collin Klein took a shotgun snap and turned to hand off the ball.
“Run!” Washington thought as he watched. “Oh, wait.”
Oh, wait is right.
Klein faked the handoff and faked out pretty much every Miami defender. They bit on the run and left a tight end running open down the middle of the field. Klein hit him perfectly in stride for a big gain and a cautionary tale for Washington and the Oklahoma defense heading into Saturday night's showdown.
“They'll run, run, run, and then hit a play action with somebody running wide open down the middle of the field,” the Sooner defensive end said. “They have such a successful running game that it's hard not to be good off play action.”
But now, Klein looks more capable than ever at making teams pay with his arm.
When these teams played a year ago, the Sooners bottled him up and throttled the Wildcats. But beware, Sooners. This run-first, big-brute quarterback has a new weapon in his arsenal that could spell trouble — an accurate arm.
Last season, he completed only 57.3 percent of his pass attempts. That ranked dead last among starting quarterbacks in the pass-happy Big 12.
His completion percentage this season: 72.9 percent.
No doubt some of that is due to K-State only having played not-so-great opponents — Missouri State, Miami and North Texas — but against three similar non-conference foes a year ago, Klein had a completion percentage of only 59.6 percent.
The Wildcats aren't throwing it more this season, but Klein is throwing it better.
Much, much better.
That was what he hoped for when he spent the offseason working religiously on his passing skills. The truth is, the quarterback position is still somewhat new to him. He didn't start playing football until ninth grade, and after a redshirt year at K-State, he actually switched to wide receiver for a year.
His father, Doug, is a former quarterback coach — his first full-time job was at Kent State where he worked alongside a defensive ends coach named Bob Stoops — but Klein had never broken down his passing skills like he did this year. No aspect escaped scrutiny. Reads. Arm angle. Footwork. Release point.
His throwing motion still isn't the prettiest, but it's proven effective.
Against Miami, he scorched the Hurricanes for 84 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries and 210 yards and one touchdown on 9-of-11 passing. That pass to the wide-open tight end went for 58 yards, Klein's longest pass this season.
(The tight end, by the way, was Deer Creek High product Zach Trujillo.)
Granted, we're not talking about the Miami of old. This isn't the program that won championships in bunches and struck fear into opponents. But the Hurricanes still have plenty of capable players.
And Klein had his way with them.
Here's how good a day he was having: Wildcat coach Bill Snyder allowed Klein to attempt a no-look, behind-the back pass. Didn't work — Klein fumbled, and a receiver had to corral the ball for a big loss — but the fact that the straight-as-an-arrow coach even let his quarterback try it was significant. It shows how much he believes in Klein.
“Collin is a young fella that works diligently every single day of his life to improve everything,” Snyder said. “When it's relative to football, it's not just trying to improve his passing game. He tries to improve his management of the game, tries to improve his understanding of the offensive and defensive schemes as well as his execution in the running game and passing game.
“He tries to do it all.”
As talk swirls about Klein becoming a Heisman Trophy contender and these Wildcats being the best team under Bill Snyder, it's obvious that their quarterback drives them.
This past Saturday, K-State found itself in a closer-than-expected game against North Texas. After the Mean Green scored a touchdown to start the second half and pulled to within a point, the Wildcats could've panicked.
Or at the very least, they could've gone to their strength and run the ball.
Instead, Klein threw the ball on the first three plays of the next drive. All told, he completed 4 of 5 passes for 68 yards on the drive, including a 21-yard touchdown.
“He's throwing it well,” Bob Stoops said, “which isn't surprising as he progresses and gets older.”
Washington said, “With experience, you're going to get better. With added confidence, you're going to make throws that you might not have made.
“It's a big test.”
One of the last times OU faced a bruising running quarterback who had enough skill in his passing game to hurt defenses was the national championship game against Florida. Gators quarterback Tim Tebow rushed for 109 yards that night but threw for the game-winning touchdown.
Tebow is now in the Big Apple, but as the video and the statistics warn, the Sooners best be ready on Saturday.
The Tebow of the Little Apple is coming to town.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.