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Kicking the Tires: TCU

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K-State has achieved bowl eligibility and bettered last season’s regular-season record. The Wildcats go for an 8-4 season against TCU on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t quite the drubbing we look forward to every year, but K-State took care of KU without difficulty last week. And did it while playing second- and third-string quarterbacks the entire second half.

The triumph was K-State’s seventh on the season. Picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, the Wildcats will finish no worse than tied for fourth. Beat TCU Saturday and K-State could finish tied for third, although the odds are low that West Virginia loses at home to Baylor.

So about that opponent. TCU was picked to finish second in the preseason poll, but the defense has struggled, Kenny Hill is an inadequate replacement for Trevone Boykin, and there’s no Aaron Green or Kolby Listenbee or Josh Doctson walking down that tunnel.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jesse Ertz, 129-223-4, 57.8%, 1,401 yards, 6.3 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 127.4 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Jones, 106 carries, 562 yards, 5.3 yards/carry, 2 TDs, 51.1 yards/game

Receiving: Dominique Heath, 41 receptions, 413 yards, 10.1 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 37.5 yards/game

TCU

Passing: Kenny Hill, 246-402-13, 61.2%, 3,010 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 15 TDs, 273.6 yards/game

Rushing: Kyle Hicks, 171 carries, 894 yards, 5.2 yards/carry, 12 TDs, 81.3 yards/game

Receiving: Kyle Hicks, 40 receptions, 394 yards, 9.9 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 35.8 yards/game

Don’t tell anyone, but Jesse Ertz is having a downright solid year. His completion percentage has creeped up into the high 50s and his interception rate is below 2 percent. We’d like to see the yards per attempt and touchdowns tick up, but when you complete nearly 60 percent and don’t throw the ball to the other team, you can be effective.

Oh, and he’s also gained 775 net yards. That’s third-best in K-State history for a quarterback, trailing Ell Roberson in 2002 and Collin Klein in 2011.

Hmm, what’s the commonality between 2002 and 2011?

Anyway, on to TCU. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. TCU’s leading rusher is also its leading receiver. Taj Williams is the big-play threat, but TCU has not been nearly as effective taking the top off defenses this year (see below).

Kenny Hill completes a solid percentage, but the yards per attempt are a bit low and he’s thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. Hill is a threat running, with 487 net yards (4.8 yards/carry) and nine touchdowns.

Advanced Stats (as always, thanks to JeffP for the charts)

Despite a 6-5 record, TCU is a top 25 team by S&P+. Fun times. Surprisingly, they’re not the highest-rated five-loss team in the country. That honor goes to Colorado State at 20.

Quietly, K-State has proven one of the most efficient rushing teams in the country, and are now solidly average in the passing department. TCU’s defense is a little better than average by both measures, so K-State should find some success moving the ball.

Can K-State finish drives? The Wildcats are 35th nationally in this metric, while TCU’s defense is 40th. Watch this battle. If TCU can force field goals, then they’ll win a key battle within the war.

As we’re painfully aware, K-State doesn’t create big plays on the ground or in the air. They probably won’t on Saturday, but TCU is shockingly bad at giving up big plays through the air (91st nationally). Maybe Dominique Heath or Byron Pringle can get a cheap touchdown against TCU’s secondary.

TCU’s run game against K-State’s run defense is another area to watch. With Aaron Green gone, K-State should be able to prevent big plays. But can they stuff TCU and make them one-dimensional?

If they do, then they have a good chance. TCU’s passing game is nothing special, and the explosiveness numbers have fallen off a cliff (26th last year to 93rd this year).

So like most teams, TCU will probably move the ball with some success against K-State, but chunk plays are unlikely. Can they finish? You’ll be surprised that this is another battle to watch. K-State is 67th nationally at finishing drives, while TCU is 71st.

Conclusion

It’s a little difficult to believe, but this game is eminently gettable. Advanced stats peg TCU as a 7-10 point favorite, but Vegas is more conservative (TCU -4). Intangibles favor K-State, as TCU has little to play for and the game kicks off at 11 a.m. in front of what will likely be a less-than-rowdy Horned Frog crowd.

This is the kind of game we would’ve expected to find a way to win in 2011. Optimism is scarcer this year, but the difference between the two years is basically two plays at this point. Get this one, and maybe we can start thinking about what next year may bring.

Wildcats 31, Horned Frogs 30