K-State’s season is halfway over, and at 2-4 the team’s start has been disappointing to say the least. However, a bye week followed by a couple easier games against West Virginia and Iowa State are just what this squad needs to get its season back on track and into a bowl. West Virginia is up first, so let’s get to our preview of the game.
When West Virginia Has The Ball
The Mountaineers have seen three quarterbacks this year, although the controversy hasn’t garnered as much media play as K-State’s revolving door of Daniel Sams and Jake Waters. Clint Trickett came in the fifth game of the year, and powered West Virginia to an upset of Oklahoma State. Starting quarterback Ford Childress suffered a torn pectoral muscle to miss the game, and Trickett came in to put on the team’s best offensive performance of the year.
West Virginia’s M.O. has been to sling the ball downfield this season – a complete departure from last year’s “throw it behind the line and let our playmakers make plays” approach. Trickett is only averaging 5.9 yards/attempt, but he’s only completing 49 percent of his passes. He’s still lobbing the ball downfield, and WVU’s top three receivers are each averaging more than ten yards per reception.
West Virginia has an infuriatingly inconsistent pass game, and fans shouldn’t expect it to gain much traction on Saturday. K-State’s secondary has come together recently after looking lost early in the season. Additionally, Kip Daily should be back. Daily was the conference’s player of the week earlier in the season, but was knocked out of the Baylor game after a cheap shot by receiver Corey Coleman (Coleman was subsequently suspended from the first half of the Iowa State game). Aside from two plays in which the unit was absolutely burned for long touchdown throws, the Wildcats used solid coverage (and a couple key drops by Baylor) to mostly keep the Bears’ passing attack in check.
Blake Slaughter will need to channel a little bit of Arthur Brown – the player he replaced at middle linebacker – this afternoon as West Virginia’s run game has found surprising success this year. West Virginia’s top two running backs are both averaging over five yards per rush, and the team as a whole is averaging 5.3 yards (not counting quarterback statistics). With 164 yards rushing per contest for the team, expect a lot of ground game being used to set up the play action pass. West Virginia will use these opportunities to sling the ball downfield, so it’s important players stay home and don’t bite on play fakes.
When K-State Has The Ball
All reports indicate an expected return from receivers Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett. Lockett was healthy enough to be on the field during pre-game warm ups against Baylor, fielding punts and tricking the Bears into believing he was healthy. His hamstring injury still kept him out of the game, but if he was good enough to run around two weeks ago, he should be good and ready on Saturday.
Predicting a starting quarterback has required some serious tea leaf work up to this point, but it looks like Daniel Sams may have won over the starting job with his play the last two weeks. Expect to see John Hubert get a few more carries as last year’s star running back has largely taken a backseat to Sams to-date, but is ready to help relieve some of the pounding Sams has been taking. Averaging 28.5 carries per game the past two contest, Sams left the Baylor game briefly with a shoulder injury and wasn’t built to carry teams like Collin Klein was.
K-State is a ten point favorite, and if the Wildcats take a big lead into the fourth quarter Waters could see the team through to the end of the game. What’ll be interesting is if Bill Snyder puts in Waters to ice the game, but keeps throwing downfield if the passing game is working. This is a team in need of a morale boost after three Big 12 losses that it had a shot to win. If Snyder can get a 25-point win in Manhattan to instill some confidence in a team that must finish the season 4-2 to qualify for the postseason, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
K-State got its first punt block since 2009 against Baylor, and the return of the dynamic duo of Thompson and Lockett portend good things for the return game. Jack Cantele hasn’t been given many opportunities this year, but he’s been perfect from less than 40 yards and Mark Krause is making me happy in predicting he could actually provide an upgrade over Ryan Doerr. This team has been plagued by penalties and turnovers – something most pundits expected as K-State played almost flawlessly last year and the law of large numbers meant the program had to come down to earth sometime. However, this is a young team that’s demonstrated solid growth with every outing, and given a bye to correct its deficiencies, I see a solid 35-18 win out of K-State on Saturday.