Bill Snyder is searching for a full-time starter at running back, and the Kansas State coach is willing to rotate players in and out of the backfield until he finds one. He also wants more out of his offensive line.
Those concerns are like giant question marks hanging over K-State’s offense as the season approaches Saturday. Charles Jones is listed as the top running back, but will he start against Stephen F. Austin? How much will senior DeMarcus Robinson play? Could we also see sophomore Jarvis Leverett? And how will those running backs mesh with a group of blockers that is replacing two tackles?
No one knows what to expect when the Wildcats run the ball Saturday. Even Jones says he is taking a “wait and see” approach to the first game.
But one thing is for certain: They will run the ball.
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“If I had to pick the first play, I would probably run it,” receiver Deante Burton said. “We should run it. We are are a running team. That sets the tempo for the game. You bust a big run on somebody and it gets everyone going.”
The Wildcats will look different in the running game without John Hubert. The second-leading rusher in school history dominated K-State’s backfield for three straight years. Now the only running back on the roster with rushing stats to his name is Robinson — 11 carries for 45 yards.
A committee of running backs could be in store until someone wins the lion’s share of playing time.
“We would probably rather have just one guy do it,” Snyder said. “That may or may not pan out. ... We might have pause and reason to utilize two guys. Is it better that way? It could be. Off the top of my head, though, my preference would be to go with one guy.”
With quarterback Jake Waters back as a senior and star playmaker Tyler Lockett leading a deep group of receivers, it seems like a good time for K-State to emphasize its passing game. It likely will, but don’t expect the Wildcats to give up on the run. Even if things start slowly in the rushing department, they will stick with it. They can’t afford not to.
K-State finished with more passing yards (2,921) than rushing yards (2,314) a year ago, and Lockett was the team’s best offensive weapon. But he couldn’t celebrate after his top two games. While he caught 13 passes for 237 yards against Texas, the Longhorns won by holding Hubert to 41 yards on 12 carries. When Lockett caught 12 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma, the Sooners won by holding Hubert to 17 yards on nine carries.
That taught the Wildcats the value of a balanced offense. They haven’t forgotten.
“We are still going to be diverse and we are still going to run the ball first,” Waters said. “We are going to use the quarterback run game and the attachment game. We are going to do everything we did last year, with a few new things added in.”
Stephen F. Austin at No. 20 Kansas State
WHEN: 6:10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
TV/RADIO: No TV (webcast at K-StateHD.tv); WHB (810 AM)
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NEW STARTERS: Saturday will mark the starting debut for several new starters, including Will Davis at linebacker, Jordan Willis at defensive end, Danzel McDaniel at cornerback, Matt Kleinsorge and Drew Liddle on the offensive line and Mitch Lochbihler at punter.
OFF THE DEPTH CHART: Some notable names were left off K-State’s first depth chart, but that doesn’t mean they won’t play against Stephen F. Austin. Bill Snyder said there was a decent chance late-arriving junior-college transfers Terrell Clinkscales, A.J. Allen, D’Vonta Derricott and Isaiah Riddle could all see limited action.
BEATING THE HEAT: Temperatures are expected to top 90 degrees on Saturday, so K-State is providing First Aid centers, cooling towers and towels for fans. In addition, fans are permitted to bring a one-liter bottle of commercial-brand water that has not been opened and is not frozen into the stadium. Fans may refill their bottles at water fountains located behind sections 2 and 8 on the West side of the stadium and sections 23 and 25 on the East side.