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Giving Props to the Big Boys

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I’m generally the last person to give credit to the offensive line. They don’t really meet my definition of an athlete, and personally, I find it absolutely horrifying that we’re encouraging college kids to expand to 300+ pounds.

However, that’s the way the football world works, so we might as well give credit where credit is due in this flawed enterprise. Zach Hanson, Nick Puetz, B.J. Finney, Colten Freeze and Clyde Aufner, step on up.

The outlook for the K-State offensive line was awfully bleak for Bill Snyder 2.3. The Wildcats lost three seniors who started every game, and oh yeah, they would no longer be blocking for the best running back in the league.

As it turns out, two of K-State’s now starters had never even seen the field in an FBS game before this fall, and only one had ever started a Big 12 football game. Generally, this would not be a recipe for success...but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In week one, we saw things were even worse than we expected as Eastern Kentucky’s scrappy-but-worse-than-David-Eckstein-like defense made K-State’s offensive line look nearly as bad as the Bears did Monday night. Things improved considerably against Kent St., but no one’s ever impressed by what you do against Gary Pinkel’s alma mater.

At last, in game 3, Snyder went to the group of three seniors, a JUCO transfer, and a redshirt freshman that surely worked better than he ever could have expected.

John Hubert had his breakout game, thanks largely to the gigantic holes opened up by the line and fullback Braden Wilson, who you’ll recall I named my Preseason Offensive MVP, largely because I just didn’t have much faith in anyone else on the offense.*

*For that, Collin Klein, or Honey Badger if you prefer, I sincerely apologize. Never again will I judge a quarterback by what his throwing motion looks like. Still, I’m a little terrified of what awaits you if you keep running and throwing the deep ball (or lack of a deep ball, rather) against Oklahoma and the teams not named Iowa State on the schedule in November. 

To understand just how surprisingly good the offensive line has been so far, look no further than one simple numerical comparison: 1,043-1,041. Those are K-State’s rushing totals from 2011 vs. 2010 through five games.

That’s right, the team riding Collin Klein and John Hubert is doing better than the one riding Daniel Thomas, Carson "Molasses" Coffman and (not enough) William Powell.

Of course, there are some caveats to that statistic, most notably that K-State is averaging nearly seven more rush attempts per game this season. It also helps that Collin Klein can occasionally outrun defenders.

On the other hand, this K-State team is even more one-dimensional in its play-calling than last year (70% rushing to 67% rushing after five games) and has considerably fewer passing yards. In fact, it has a quarterback that is a worse passer than Coffman.

Yeah, I said it. Please don't confuse this for me saying that Coffman is a better quarterback, as that is clearly not the case. But since Klein is deservedly the hero of this team so far, allow me to defend such a harsh statement.

It doesn’t help Klein that he doesn’t have an Aubrey Quarles to throw to, but quick warning to those of you who want to argue: Please don’t point to something like the almost-completion on the deep ball last week against Missouri. That’s like saying LeBron James is a champion because he looked great until he made it to the Finals.

I don’t disagree with people who say that K-State’s offense would be considerably more potent if it added a deep threat, but at this point that play call is extremely likely to just wind up being a wasted play.

Bill Snyder says Klein can throw that pass, so I’m not saying it’s impossible, but no matter how good the cast is, you don’t keep watching a mediocre TV show hoping it'll become funny unless you've got nothing better to do and nothing else is on.

Let’s get back to the offensive line real quick before you go enjoy the rest of your Friday. The discipline showed by this unit has been spectacular, and it’s a big part of the reason for the successful ground attack.

As TB showed yesterday, John Hubert knows how to hit the holes if they’re there, but when they’re not, he’s typically not a guy that’s going to make a spectacular play to save bad blocking. The fact that he’s on pace for more than 1,000 yards tells us these linemen (Klein) are doing a hell of a job.

I’m no expert on how guards should pull, or the right way to force a defender outside when you want to run up the middle or vice versa. But Bill Snyder’s play-calling and my own eyes are good enough to tell me that this line can be counted on to get a good push just about any time they need a yard on a quarterback sneak.

Klein has mobility, but he doesn’t have the best pocket presence, so I see it as actually a nice accomplishment for the O-line that he’s only been sacked three times each in the last three games. He has gotten time to throw, though some of his best passes have been on the run.

For the second year in a row, the narrative around Kansas State’s offense is that it’ll run it down your throats and eat up clock, dominating time of possession. The only difference from last year is that this season, the facts aren’t getting in the way.

The best news so far for the big guys up front is their stability in the team’s three biggest wins. Cohesion is crucial up front, and with some much bigger and tougher defenders coming up on the schedule, Kansas State is going to need a solid, confident group of enormous men that have a lot of trust in each other.