Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas State’s running game isn’t capable of success in the Big 12 in 2013. Without Collin Klein, there will be too much fall-off for the Wildcats to be competitive. John Hubert isn’t capable of carrying the team on his back, and the season is already loss. File these falsities under claims the media is starting to make that will be proven wrong in 2013.
It’s true Collin Klein can’t be replaced; I don’t expect Daniel Sams or Jake Waters to do the same things he did. However, his departure doesn’t doom the season to failure. I’ve read skepticism before, but the drumbeat really started last week when ESPN rated K-State’s running back unit as second-to-last in the conference. Bleacher Report, giddy about the opportunity to copy ESPN’s opinion, rated the position as one of the Big 12’s five most overrated units this season. So here’s what you need to know in 2013: Jake Waters would allow the unit to be successful. Daniel Sams would make it look good. The lack of depth isn’t the achilles heel the media makes it out to be. And the offensive line will mask any deficiencies.
A Jake Waters offense would be dramatically different than a Collin Klein offense. Waters is an acceptable runner, but if crowned the starter it’ll be because of his pocket passing ability. As much as Klein did at K-State, there’s a reason he wasn’t even invited to an NFL training camp this year – he was not an elite passer. Waters set the NJCAA completion percentage record last year. With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson one year better, plus dangerous tight end Andre McDonald expected to return after sitting out last year, there are some nice, proven weapons for Waters to work with. His abilities should scare defensive coordinators into focusing their attention on the passing game. When safeties are playing deep to provide help, the combination will open up great opportunities for John Hubert and company.
Sams is a different beast than Waters, and we’re well aware that the quarterback competition is a battle of two very different styles. I’m still not sold on Sams’ passing ability – although he did go 5-of-6 for 45 yards while managing the game against Oklahoma State when Klein got injured (K-State was outscored once Klein left the game, however). Yet he’s an extremely dangerous runner who adds another threat to the backfield. Sams may not plow defenders over like Klein did, but he’s quicker. If he can execute the precision pitches that Klein did running the option, there’s no reason Sams can’t run for 700 yards while Hubert hits 1,200 this year.
I do need to acknowledge that ESPN’s Big 12 blogger David Ubben did rank Hubert as his second pick for leading the Big 12 in rushing. However, he was also the writer that said the unit overall was the ninth best in the conference. How does he reconcile the two? By claiming a lack of depth at the position. So let’s break it down; who’s gone and who’s returning:
- Collin Klein: While not a running back, he averaged 4.4 yards/carry and had 920 yards on the season to go along with 23 touchdowns. Once his legs got churning, he was gone and defenses no longer have to account for him.
- Angelo Pease: The primary back-up last year, Pease had 333 yards on 60 carries, but did not record a touchdown.
- Braden Wilson: The fullback did not log a lot of carries, but was a tremendous blocker and drafted in the sixth round by Kansas City. Had six carries for 13 yards in 2012.
- John Hubert: A contender to win the league’s rushing title this year, Hubert led the team with 947 yards last year and averaged exactly five yards per carry – 0.6 more than Klein.
- Daniel Sams: Little known fact; Sams was the team’s fourth leading rusher last year. He averaged 7.3 yards on 32 carries, although his work in garbage time somewhat obscures these statistics. Still, there’s a reason you should expect to see him on the field in some capacity even if Waters is the starting quarterback.
- Robert Rose: The starter during the Spring Game when Hubert was held out, Rose received just four carries last year but looks ready to step up as we discussed during the spring.
- DeMarcus Robinson: The redshirt junior did not see any action his first year of eligibility and had limited playing time in 2012 (six carries in three games). However, he was a four-star recruit coming out of Wichita’s Northwest and ranked the 18th-best running back in the nation. Expect him to get some good looks this year.
- Glenn Gronkowski: The player I’d project to start at fullback this year, Gronkowski is an interesting prospect that lacks elite speed but could be a bullish change-of-pace option in the backfield (admittedly, he must still win the starting spot from Zach Nemechek).
Hubert is often knocked for his lack of speed, but his yards after contact have been tremendous the past two years as he looks impossible to bring down at times. Rose rushed for 141 yards as the starting running back in the Spring Game, one year after earning 84 yards for the Purple Squad. However, the more I consider Robinson, the more he seems able to completely break out this year
The talent is certainly there for Robinson, as he was the Kanas 6A 100m dash champion his senior year. He’s blessed with some major home run speed yet still shows the ability to pound between the tackles. I’m not sure what the story is on him, but there may be other reasons his playing time is lacking (remember Bill Snyder opted for Hubert when he was a sophomore over future NFLer Bryce Brown due to more intangible issues). Robinson didn’t record any carries during the spring game, so something seems to be going on, but he was the first player Rose mentioned in April when discussing the depth of the team. Injuries can be overcome and attitudes can be corrected. If either of these are preventing Robinson from seeing the field, there’s no reason to believe the situation won’t change. Of course, if the issue is ability to block or catch passes out of the backfield, these are two talents Snyder demands of his players.
The Offensive Line
It’s no secret how high I am on the players that man this line. Tavon Rooks is solid. B.J. Finney and Cornelius Lucas have their sights on national awards. Watch out for what Boston Stiverson does during his career in Manhattan. I may have a man crush on Cody Whitehair. The line beasts across the board, and everyone was a starter last year while returning stronger, faster, and more experienced. They’re going to open up holes my 89-year-old grandpa could run through (although, in fairness, the man completed another wheat harvest this summer in the combine and still has more pep in his step than his grandson).
The takeaway here is simple: Hubert, Rose, Sams, Gronkowski, Robinson, and anyone else running the ball should get two yards almost every rush by virtue of having this line blocking for them. The rest is up to them, but there’s enough talent to make it happen. With Big 12 media days approaching, the notion that K-State can’t run the ball this year is going to heat up. Don’t believe the hype – the running game will exceed expectations this year.