I saw the 3-3 Wildcats play Stanford in person a few weeks ago and they’re not a hard team to scout. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to beat. Especially for Texas.
They’re a one dimensional flawed offensive team with a good defense, good special teams and a coaching staff that has knack for opponent specific adjustments, particularly against teams that lose their fundamentals.
They lost a tough battle to West Virginia on the road 17-16 running a clinic on bend-but-don’t-break defense and beat Texas Tech 44-35 at home while scoring two non-offensive touchdowns. That’s so K-State.
Kansas State misses Collin Klein and Jake Waters. They were the QBs for Kansas State between 2011-2014 (The Snyderaissance) when the Cats went 38-14 and were 27-9 in Big 12 league play. Not shabby for recruiting classes with fewer stars than an Adam Sander movie premier.
So far, the 2015/2016 Hubener/Ertz Kansas State edition has been in the Dark Ages. They feature a 9-10 record and a 4-8 record in Big 12 play.
The Purple Wizard can perform magic, but he can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat working with a porcupine and a beanie.
The Wildcat offense has struggled to throw the ball all season. Jesse Ertz and Joe Hubener have compiled a collective passer rating that’s 113th out of 128 FBS schools and they’re completing just under 52% of their throws at a scant 6.3 yards per attempt.
Ertz hurt his shoulder against OU on the first play of the game and Hubener didn’t shine against a shaky Sooner defense. While Ertz appears to be ready for the game in Manhattan, the Wildcats involve their QB a great deal in the running game and he’ll be exposed to more hits. Hubener was at the helm last year in Austin when Texas held K-State to 9 points and 97 yards passing.
The passing game woes aren’t all just bad QB play.
The Kansas State receiving corps is more athlete than receiver. You can see it in their return game, because they’re all dynamic in that context. But doing pass catchery things? Not so much. Heath, Pringle and Burton all look good on the hoof, but there’s no Lockett brother to be found to create 70 yard touchdowns out of marginal throws. They’d be a threat against the “let’s lose our minds and not cover anyone” Texas secondary, but our Iowa State version should limit them.
Similarly, the KSU OL doesn’t excel at pass blocking on throwing downs. They’re not Iowa State bad, but 3rd and 9 isn’t their friend. They’re high energy run blockers and they do a solid job of adjusting to different fronts and making sure that every defender gets a hat. Then they let your second level defenders guess wrong and suddenly Ertz or Jones have a eight yard run. That’s what K-State do.
Kansas State can run the ball very competently when game flow and the chains don’t work against them. Charles Jones is a solid runner (5.0 yards per carry, murdered Texas Tech, but who doesn’t?) and Ertz is athletic enough to hurt our defense if Jefferson and Wheeler play guessing games. Ertz averages 5.4 yards per carry, but if you take out his sack yardage, his per carry average skyrockets to nearly 8 yards per rush.
KSU’s offense isn’t explosive but still converts 43% of their 3rd downs. Their game plan against Texas will be very straightforward – target our run fits at LB and S with zone read, QB runs, counter plays – throw when it’s advantageous and grind the Longhorn defense for four quarters until our mid-season patch job falls apart. They want to expose our position coaching in the back 7.
The good news for Texas is that our DL can win head-to-head match-ups against traditional running plays and their passing game inconsistency can’t pick at our most obvious scabs.
If Texas underperforms, I expect you can take a long, hard look at the linebackers.
The KSU defense has good players at every level, is physical and very well-coached. They also have some average talents out there as well.
DE #75 Jordan Willis is their solitary pass-rushing threat and he has compiled 6 sacks on the year so far. Deceptive first step and long. We can’t block him with a TE or Nickelson.
NT Will Geary is a squatty former-walk on who will give Shack fits. #60 plays his ass off and uses leverage extremely well. He won’t penetrate blindly and get trapped.
Kansas State leading tackler LB Elijah Lee will be offering a linebacking clinic for Texas recruiting fans who think LBing ability is best expressed by a SPARQ score. Lee will do exotic things like read blocks, tackle well and use the sideline in pursuit.
S Dante Barnett is their #2 tackler and he’s a physical safety with range. He played a great game against Stanford when I saw them live.
The Wildcats understand that D’onta Foreman is the key to our offense. It makes a lot of sense to hold him down, put the game on Buechele and see if a young freshman can perform on the road.
Their problem is that Kansas State has very good players at every level, but they also have some JAGS. The other two DL next to Willis and Geary? JAGS. Their cornerbacks? Solid, but both 5-9 and need to be shielded from single man contested ball situations. Because KSU is well-drilled and plays a team concept, they can cover up some issues and still field a good defense, but the more they overload to take away one of our assets, the more they expose their system.
Should make for a fun cat-and-mouse game.
They’re ranked 36 spots above Texas in the Football Outsiders FEI rankings. Their kick returner Pringle has already brought one back and averages 32 yards a return. Heath averages 16 yards per punt return and has scored. The punter is good. The field goal kicker is competent.
Texas has been fine on special teams the last two weeks, but I’d probably take a Kansas State defense/special teams score prop bet if I could get reasonable odds. A tie here is a win for Texas.
The wildcards for this game are Jesse Ertz’s health and whether the more fundamental approach to defense we saw against Iowa State is transferable to a Kansas State offense that will test our soundness between the tackles and between our ears.
Obviously, an early lead from our offense could change the tenor of the game entirely, but a road game with a 11:00 AM kickoff and a 1-6 road record for Strong in his last 7 games in hostile environments doesn’t scream fast start.
Texas has better athletes. We’ll find out if we have better players.