After a bit of a hiatus, this week's 5 underlying storylines have made a comeback. Things have been humming along nicely for the Wildcats, but let's take an in-depth look at these underlying storylines heading into Saturday's matchup with the Horned Frogs, which are pretty upbeat, to match the Wildcats' recent success. Also, for what is worth, I promise I did not steal some of these items from Jon Morse's podcast with Sprots Takes with Hotties. You know what they say about great minds...
1. Trevone Boykin's inaccuracy as a passer could give the Wildcats an opening
First off, let me say that I think it's fine and justified for most folks to have TCU, and not K-State, atop any Big 12 power standings. After all, TCU has largely faced the Big 12 gauntlet and K-State has only taken step 1 of 4. TCU is a very, very good team that will be playing at home and this will be a real challenge for the Wildcats.
That said, there is a storyline here that runs contrary to anything you might hear on College Gameday Saturday morning. It bears worth remembering that as recently as this past spring or summer, most Big 12 prognosticators believed that Trevone Boykin would make the move to wide receiver full-time. However, he has instead made the move to full-time passing quarterback. It has been impressive just how quickly TCU's offense has transitioned to ball control offense to an air raid attack, and Boykin deserves much of the credit.
Why then is the title of this article about Trevone Boykin's inaccuracy? Well, that is because he has not been all that accurate this season. He is completing 57 percent of his passes, which is less than his 59.7 percent clip last year and almost exactly the same as his 57.2 percent completion rate as a true freshman.
Much was made about Boykin not having his typical strong game against West Virginia this past Saturday, as he was 12 for 30 for 166 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. However, to consider that analysis as just a single game aberration is pretty inaccurate, in and of itself. In TCU's other 2 Big 12 gauntlent games (Oklahoma and Baylor), Boykin combined to complete just 41 of 85 attempts, a 48.2 percent completion rate. If you throw all 3 of those games together, Boykin has completed just 46.1 percent of his passes.
What does this all mean? Nothing if K-State doesn't execute well on defense. However, if the Wildcats can force similar numbers, it would probably mean they would pull of the road upset. Boykin's yards per attempt and touchdown-to-interception ratios have improved noticeably over his first two seasons, which highlights the need for the WIldcats to prevent the big pass play. If K-State can get Boykin to have an inefficient day, it would allow the Wildcats to force TCU into predictable down and distance situations that could make sustaining success on drives a challenge for TCU.
2. The K-State run game will make or break this game
Against Auburn, in addition to the numerous mistakes that occurred, the Wildcats lost largely due to the offense's inability to run the football. Argubaly, the majority of those mistakes would not have occurred, but for the Wildcats' lack of an effective running game in the red zone. Now that Lockett appears to be playing at near 100 percent, it seems unlikely that TCU will be able to completely shut down the K-State passing attack. However, a passing offense can be inconsistent and if the TCU defense is able to make K-State's running game an afterthought, it's difficult to see the Wildcats coming out on top, absent any huge advantage in turnover margin or special teams play.
So how can K-State put up enough of a threat running the ball to keep TCU honest, move the chains and score touchdowns in the red zone? It would appear that there are a few approaches that might be taken. First, K-State should try to utilize its traditional run game early with some misdirection thrown in. TCU is fast and aggressive on defense. Counter plays might be able to exploit some creases in the run game, similar to when K-State found some second half success running the football against Oklahoma, who probably has the defense most similar to TCU that K-State has played this year.
Another thing that will probably be utilized more this weekend than the past few is the quarterback run game. It's such an integral part of the K-State offense, but Jake Waters' shoulder injury against Oklahoma has led to this part of the playbook being wisely scaled back.
Along with that, against such a tough and physical defense, K-State may look to use the Wildcat formation a decent amount this weekend in order to incorporate the quarterback run game, while both giving Waters a break and in an effort to keep him healthy. That said, the traditional Wildcat plays have had only mild success this season, with even less success against good defenses.
There are a couple wrinkles to the Wildcat that might be worth exploring. First, I think you may see Charles Jones' first pass play out of the package on a POP or jump pass. TCU's defense is not putting up the numbers we've all become accustomed to, but they are still stout and this might be a good time for that option to be utilized. Second, I think playing Joe Hubener in the Wildcat could be worth considering in short yardage situations. Coach Snyder would probably not want to risk his backup quarterback getting hurt (although it would not seem that Ertz is too far behind Hubener), but this seems like a wrinkle that might be successful if utlized on 1 or 2 key plays.
3. Deante Burton is getting closer
K-State will be playing much better defensive backs this weekend then they did against Oklahoma State. However, if the past couple of games are any indication, either Jake Waters has become more confident in Burton's abilities, or else he's just had favorable matchups and/or coverages. This was particularly true against Oklahoma State, where Burton showed some flashes of being a presence in the red zone, with a couple near misses on catches where he landed just out of bounds. He seems to be more adept at getting open on scramble situations, as opposed to standard routes, which may be an indictment on his route running or may speak to some good wide receiver instincts on his part.
TCU and West Virginia may have the ability to slow down Lockett and Sexton, which means that developing a third receiver could be key for K-State. Increasingly, it seems that Deante Burton is stepping into that role, which could pay major dividends for the Wildcats' offense.
4. Terrell Clinkscales is quietly going about the business of improving
It's been refreshing to see that Mr. Clinkscales appears to have worked his way up to a second string position at defensive tackle. The depth at that position has been well-documented on this website, but having someone with his size and ability at the position will be absolutely huge moving forward. Expect Travis Britz and Valentino Coleman to still see the majority of the snaps at this position, but with Will Geary and Clinkscales backing them up, there is strong enough second string depth for the Wildcats to not experience too much of a drop off, in the event of fatigue and injuries to the starters. This will be huge, especially during the stretch run.
5. Same goes for Dylan Schellenberg
Schellenberg has been a bit of a lightning rod for many K-State fans, including myself, at times. However, his improvement over the past couple of weeks has to be acknowledged. Despite Texas and Oklahoma State having some incredible athletes at their disposal, they were only able to put up 7 total points against the K-State defense. While Schellenberg has probably not been the defense's MVP during those wins, he also has not been the glaring weak spot that many Wildcats fans worried he would be.
It's easy to forget that Schellenberg was a first-year (of playing) junior college walk-on, third string safety who got his first meaningful action against TCU last year after injuries to Travis Green (moving him up to second string) and then Ty Zimmerman. That was a position very similar to what Dante Barnett faced at the end of his freshman season against Baylor. Barnett improved light years from the end of 2012 and the start of last season to his Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Defensive MVP performance at the end of the season. One can only hope that Schellenberg will continue to progress along a similar learning and improvement curve.
Safety is a very, very tough position to play. I tend to think that Mr. Schellenberg is upt to the task for playing TCU and West Virginia, although Baylor's receivers and style of play is more worrisome.