You may have noticed some new faces lining up on defense for Kansas State over the weekend against Texas-San Antonio.
Lance Robinson, a freshman from New Orleans, saw action at defensive back. Justin Hughes and Cody Fletcher, a pair of unheralded linebackers not listed on the depth chart, played meaningful snaps. And Eli Walker made his first start at strong safety.
Those moves were anything but one-time personnel changes made during a lopsided victory. All of those players may be needed again this week in a pressure-packed game at West Virginia.
Injuries have already hit the Wildcats hard on defense, and they could be down several key players when they take on the No. 12 Mountaineers and their explosive offense. A tough test just got even more difficult.
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“That’s probably one of the worst teams you could line up short-handed against,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “They’re a very prolific offense, which they’ve proven over time — not just this year, year in and year out — and they have developed a great deal of balance in their offense.”
Here are the K-State defensive players who may not be healthy enough to play this weekend:
- Denzel Goolsby: The junior strong safety from Wichita is expected to miss at least a handful more games while he recovers from an unspecified injury sustained against Mississippi State. He wasn’t even on the sideline for the UTSA game. Walker, who made five tackles against the Roadrunners, is the next man up.
- Elijah Sullivan: K-State has taken things slow with the junior linebacker as he recovered from a preseason knee injury. Though he is arguably the best linebacker on the roster, he came off the bench in the first two games and didn’t play at all against UTSA. Consider him questionable this week. If he is unable to play against the Mountaineers, the Wildcats will need strong efforts from Sam Sizelove, Hughes and Fletcher.
- Kevion McGee: The junior defensive back was a pleasant surprise for the Wildcats when he broke up a team high four passes against South Dakota. But he has rarely played since and didn’t see the field against UTSA. Snyder said he is dealing with an injury and is not sure when he will return. Without him, K-State’s secondary has struggled to find depth.
Those potential absences create new challenges for K-State, which will have its hands full with West Virginia’s offense.
With Heisman Trophy contender Will Grier at quarterback, dynamic playmakers Gary Jennings and David Sills at receiver and Leddie Brown at running back, the Mountaineers are hard for any defense (even at full strength) to stop.
West Virginia is averaging 586 yards and 46 points per game.
The new faces on K-State’s defense will need to mature quickly.
“Being short-handed is not something you envision and something you want,” Snyder said, “but we’re no different than anybody else. If you have somebody that has to step up and play in place of someone they have to be well prepared to do as well as the other one. It’s the next-up thought, probably, but that’s what you do when you coach. You get guys prepared to step into those situations.”