The folks from Bring on the Cats joined me to talk about what to expect from Kansas State and OSU tomorrow night.
1. Be honest, how scared are you right now (in general, not about OSU)?
Every single game terrifies me right now. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We could have Colorado on the schedule, and I’d invent crazy scenarios in which the Buffaloes could win.
2. What does Kansas State do better this year than it did last year?
There are two things K-State has improved upon. First is its defensive play. Tom Hayes’ defense is in the top 15 in scoring defense and rushing defense, and is 31st in total defense. We’re still playing somewhat of a bend-but-don’t-break scheme, but this year the Wildcats are much more likely to make stops before their opponent reaches the red zone. They’re still forcing a lot of turnovers, too.
Second is the passing game. During the offseason at BOTC, we talked a lot about what this team needed to do to improve. One thing that was mentioned again and again was Collin Klein’s passing numbers. He averaged right around 150 yards passing per game last year. We thought that if he could add 25-50 yards to that average, K-State would be a very strong offense.
After facing Texas Tech, Klein is up to 204 passing yards per game this season. By showing a passing ability that opposing defenses have to respect this season, K-State has been able to keep its opponents off balance, and the results speak for themselves.
3. Finish this sentence: if OSU ____________ they will upset K-State on Saturday.
To start with, Oklahoma State needs to win the turnover battle on Saturday. K-State is +16 this season in turnover margin, which is good for fourth in the country. Given that they’ve played eight games, K-State has been, on average, +2 in turnover margin every game this season.
After that, the Pokes have to be able to slow down Klein. If Klein can keep the Cowboys’ defense off balance by mixing up the run and the pass, then Oklahoma State is going to have to play very well on offense to keep up (which they’re obviously capable of doing).
4. Your offense has torched everything in its path (including a statistically-great Tech squad), what can a Big 12 defense do to slow it down?
It’s a lot more difficult this year than it was last year, because last year you could basically stop K-State if you could take away the running game. And by take away the running game, I mean commit anything less than 10 men to the box.
But this year, a couple things have changed. First, K-State’s offensive line is doing a great job of protecting Klein on passing plays, giving him time to make his reads and find open receivers. Second, Klein has improved at standing in the pocket and making those reads.
And finally, we have three receivers — Chris Harper, Tramaine Thompson, and Tyler Lockett — who can get open consistently.
To stop K-State, you have to be able to do one of two things. First, if you have a stout front seven and can stop the Wildcats’ rushing attack without committing extra defenders to the box, you have a much better chance of blanketing the field and covering the receivers.
Second, if you have stud athletes at cornerback who can consistently matchup with K-State’s receivers, then you can load the box to stop the run and trust your corners on an island.
5. More important aspect of the offense: run or pass?
That’s a hard question to answer this year. I’ll say pass because it’s the new dimension that has opened up the field and kept opposing defenses off balance.
6. K-State runs 63 plays a game but ran 90 (!) last year in Stillwater — which tempo do we see on Saturday?
My hope is that it’s more like 63. One of our writers, Panjandrum, has compiled a bunch of numbers and found that, on a yards-per-play and points-per-play basis, K-State has a better offense than Oregon. But the Wildcats don’t move at a nuclear tempo, so they don’t put up the ridiculous numbers Oregon does.
Especially with Joseph Randle and Wes Lunt on the other side of the field, Bill Snyder and Klein will be content to read the defense, adjust the play call if necessary, and snap the ball with less than five seconds on the play clock every single play, if necessary.
Of course, if it turns into a game like last year where neither defense could stop the opposing offense, then all bets are off.
7. Which unit has been the best on defense this season?
It’s a close call, because all three units have contributed to K-State’s defensive improvement in their own ways. But I think the linebackers have been the most impressive. Future pro Arthur Brown anchors the unit from the middle, and his pick six against Texas Tech put the final touch on that win. Brown also has comparable stats to supposed Heisman Trophy contender Manti Te’o.
And Tre Walker and Jarrell Childs have been solid at linebacker, while Justin Tuggle has proven a capable pass rusher.
8. Score prediction time
It’s always hard to pick against the defending champion, and the Cowboys have surprised me a little this year, but I think 2012 is K-State’s turn. It won’t be easy, but K-State moves to 9-0 with a 38-24 win over the Pokes.
If K-State gets the win and eventually wins the Big 12 this year, I have to say that I love the idea of Oklahoma State and K-State being the two schools to win the Big 12 after it moved to 10 teams, when every pundit in the land said that nobody other than Texas and Oklahoma would ever win the conference again.