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Kicking the Tires: KU

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K-State needs a game to get well after a disappointing 3-4 start. KU should be that game.

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

For all our disappointment with K-State’s 3-4 start this year, our fine friends down the Kaw are enduring a different kind of disappointment. In a year in which KU was supposed to take a modest step forward, the Jayhawks have regressed to the point where it’s reasonable to ask if this is the worst KU team ever. The answer to that is “probably not,” but we’ll point out here for posterity that based on overall and conference winning percentage the last eight years, KU is comfortably in the running with the mid-to-late 1980s K-State squads that were deemed Futility U.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Alex Delton, 25-48-1, 320 yards, 6.7 yards/attempt, 1 TD, 80.0 yards/game

Jesse Ertz, 55-100-3, 930 yards, 9.3 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 186.0 yards/game

Rushing: Alex Barnes, 69 carries, 414 yards, 6.0 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 59.1 yards/game

Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 14 receptions, 325 yards, 23.2 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 46.4 yards/game

KU

Passing: Peyton Bender, 129-237-9, 1,429 yards, 6.0 yards/attempt, 8 TDs, 204.1 yards/game

Rushing: Khalil Herbert, 74 carries, 511 yards, 6.9 yards/carry, 4 TDs, 85.2 yards/game

Receiving: Steven Sims, Jr., 23 receptions, 404 yards, 17.6 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 57.7 yards/game

Those leading individual numbers for KU aren’t inept, which you probably didn’t expect given that they haven’t scored a point in two weeks. So while KU isn’t likely to get much going on offense, they have some individual weapons that our defense can’t sleep on.

KU’s leading tackler is linebacker Joe Dineen, Jr., with an impressive 88 total stops. Preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year Dorance Armstrong, Jr., hasn’t had as big a year as hoped, but has 43 total tackles and 7.0 tackles for loss. Mike Lee, who knocked Alex Barnes out of last year’s game, leads the way with two interceptions.

Advanced Stats

K-State Offense vs. KU Defense

As Jeff put it when he sent me the charts this week, that’s more like it. It’s good to see us on the right side of these charts for once.

KU is in the bottom quartile by defensive Rushing Success Rate, and near it in IsoPPP. Whoever plays quarterback, I beg, implore, plead and grovel to Dana Dimel to please run the damn ball down their throats. The Wildcats aren’t terribly successful on a play-to-play basis, but they’ve been able to break some big runs on occasion.

Once again, K-State is not terribly efficient throwing the ball, but they are … wait for it … a top-20 team by explosiveness. KU is near the bottom at preventing explosive plays through the air, which makes it that much more important to establish the ground game tomorrow. If K-State picks up yardage on the ground and creates conflict for KU’s linebackers and safeties, Isaiah Zuber, Byron Pringle and Dalton Schoen may find room to work deep in the KU secondary.

K-State Defense vs. KU Offense

K-State’s S&P+ numbers are middling against the run, but the Wildcats front six have mostly done a good job of limiting opposing rushing attacks and forcing opposing quarterbacks to beat them consistently. Against Kenny Hill and Baker Mayfield, that didn’t work as well. But against Peyton Bender, it should be more successful.

Bender is throwing more than one interception per game on average, and K-State has mostly kept everything in front of them lately. It’s unlikely Bender will be able to move KU consistently through the air. Chunk yardage on big plays is also a bad bet, both given K-State’s defensive philosophy and if KU is unable to move the ball on the ground to create hesitation and conflict.

In special teams, KU kicker Liam Jones kicks touchbacks less than 50 percent of the time. Maybe this is finally the week that DJ Reed gets a chance to return a kick again. And KU is in the bottom 30 nationally by punt and kickoff success rate. Please, sweet 2-lb-six-ounce baby Jesus, let us have a big special teams play.

Conclusion

This is the point where I should probably throw out warnings about taking teams lightly, and rivalry games, and throwing out the records, and all that. But that’s the coaches’ job. If K-State comes out flat and has defensive breakdowns early that lead to points for KU, then that speaks to much bigger problems with the program than we’ve seen to this point. Inability to motivate a 3-4 team to put a beating on the in-state rival would be squarely on the coaches and senior leadership.

There’s still a lot to play for this season. With Oklahoma, TCU and Texas out of the way, and with Ertz getting healthy, there’s at least a chance K-State can win four or even five games to finish the year on a positive note. To this point, I’ve maintained that I don’t see anything major broken with the program, and I maintain that stance. But if the Wildcats come out flat and can’t put away KU early, then we enter new territory where motivation and focus are issues.

So the big questions for this week: Will the coaches commit to personnel packages that emphasize our strengths? Does the defense shut down KU’s inept offense and force some turnovers? Will K-State win in a laugher to gain confidence for crucial games against Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Iowa State?

Wildcats 42, Jayhawks 10