It’s time for another K-State Mailbag.
Before we jump into your questions, let’s catch up on some reading material. Today’s story is on former K-State linebacker Ben Leber returning to his alma mater as a commentator with Fox Sports for Saturday’s game against Texas-El Paso. Also, the Wildcats are off to a tremendous start defending the run, but they could use some work scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Senior linebacker Dakorey Johnson seems poised for big things after one start. And, finally, UTEP football coach Sean Kugler is a big fan of what Bill Snyder has done at K-State.
I also want to share my prediction for Saturday’s game. I’m picking K-State to win 37-14.
Now, onto your questions. Thanks, as always, for asking them.
It will be important, mostly from a confidence standpoint. My biggest question entering this game is how Kansas State responds to an emotional loss. Players have talked all week about getting the bad taste of the Auburn game out of their mouths, but it might not be easy. Texas-El Paso is one of the nation’s top rushing teams, and it held a fourth-quarter lead on Texas Tech. Should K-State win this game? Of course, but UTEP is not an easy team to blow away. Covering the 26-point spread could be difficult, especially with a morning kickoff and a crowd that won’t come close to matching the atmosphere of a nationally televised Thursday game.
Anyway, good offensive execution will be important. Curry Sexton was one of the few offensive players that excelled against Auburn. Tyler Lockett bobbled a touchdown pass, Jake Waters lost three turnovers and the running game produced 40 yards. Offense rules in the Big 12. The Wildcats will want some confidence and momentum in that department heading into the remainder of their schedule.
I voted K-State 20th in my weekly college football rankings for the AP, so I think the Wildcats deserve to be a tad higher. The Wildcats already have a road victory and they did everything but beat Auburn. It’s always strange when the best item on a team’s resume is a loss, but they deserve to be ranked near the bottom of the top 25.
Expectations were simply too high for a group that missed every spring practice, every summer workout and a portion of preseason practices. Do they have the talent to contribute at K-State? Yes, but so did K-State’s returning talent. It’s difficult to walk in off the street and beat them out for playing time. Look at what senior linebacker Dakorey Johnson did in his first start against Auburn. The guy can play. Or look at what junior-college transfer Danzel McDaniel has done after arriving early in the spring.
Bill Snyder has said that K-State’s hyped group of juco transfers will all redshirt if they don’t quickly shoot up the depth chart. If any of them play this season, they will likely need to get on the field against UTEP. Part of me suspects that could happen for defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, but they all have to be considered probable redshirts at this time.
I’m going with Manhattan native Deante Burton. He has seven catches for 75 yards through three games as a possession receiver. Teams have always loaded up against Tyler Lockett, and they might keep a closer eye on Curry Sexton after his big game against Auburn. That could open some more passing lanes for Burton, who has athleticism and size. I think he will edge out Kody Cook in the receiving order.
Two things. First, I think K-State’s opponents have played a big role in this area. Auburn runs tons of zone-read plays and Iowa State has a mobile quarterback. It’s possible defensive coordinator Tom Hayes has gone light on the blitzes, because he has feared over pursuing athletic quarterbacks and running backs. The last thing you want to do against Auburn is get beat on an option while you’re blitzing. Secondly, K-State’s defensive line has found success knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage. That might not have happened with extra pressure.
That being said, K-State has not been a good pass-rushing team. It has five sacks and two quarterback hurries through three games. Those numbers rank seventh in the Big 12.
More than you might think. Yes, Big 12 offenses are most dangerous when they throw the ball. But the conference is also trending toward the run.
Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine abused West Virginia for 242 rushing yards last week. You can’t beat the Sooners without stopping the run. Ditto for Baylor, which is averaging 238 rushing yards. Overall, seven Big 12 teams were averaging 170 yards or more on the ground before Thursday’s action. So stopping the run is a good skill to have. Of course, K-State shut down the run against Aubun and still gave up too many pass plays to win. So it will need a balanced defense to slow down the Big 12’s best offenses.
K-State isn’t the fastest defense around, but it got a whole lot quicker with the additions of Dakorey Johnson and Travis Green.
Johnson brings increased speed and playmaking ability to the middle of K-State’s defense over Will Davis, while Green has a higher upside than Dylan Schellenberg. Those two lineup changes made a huge difference against Auburn. Still, they gave up a lot of deep passes. That could come back to hurt them in the Big 12. Then again, no one in the Big 12 averages 330 rushing yards the way Auburn did. K-State won’t have to stack the box against an opponent like Texas Tech.
If Jake Waters can make quick decisions against UTEP’s blitzes, he should be able to find Tyler Lockett for some big plays. Auburn’s defense draped fast defenders over Lockett and attacked Waters with a number of different blitzes. They didn’t handle the defensive pressure well. But few defenses have the personnel to match K-State’s passing game so well. UTEP will bring blitzes, but it will be hard for the Miners to also blanket Lockett. If they play smart, they should have a big day.