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REWATCH: K-State vs. Central Arkansas

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K-State’s offense and special teams shone, while the defense has some wrinkles to iron out.

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

K-State dominated in two phases of last Saturday’s game with Central Arkansas. The Wildcats’ offense averaged 11 yards per play and scored 31 first-half points. Special teams, in particular DJ Reed, accounted for the other first-half touchdown. And the kick return unit should get partial credit for the first score after a 96-yard kickoff return set up the Wildcats at the UCA four-yard line.

The overall numbers on defense don’t look bad, as UCA required 90 (!) plays to amass 421 total yards, good only for 4.7 yards per play. In other words, the Bears picked up a number of meaningless yards between the 20s. And after K-State adjusted to the surprise option looks in the first half, UCA managed only three additional points. That’s not a bad day against a very experienced offense that will almost certainly make some noise in the FCS playoffs this year.

Let’s move on to a few specifics on offense, defense and special teams.

Offense

Ertz was as good as his stat line indicates, though his receivers obviously helped with the yardage totals. Unlike the first half of last year, Ertz looks comfortable throwing the ball and spins it confidently. He was mostly on the money, and when he wasn’t, his throws missed in safe places. We won’t expect 20 yards per attempt all year, but even half that amount would be outstanding.

Usually, averaging 6.0 yards per rushing attempt would be cause for celebration. Instead, most K-State fans complained that the run game looked lackluster. To an extent, that’s a fair criticism, because the total average was aided significantly by fourth quarter runs by Dalvin Warmack (10 and 18 yards) and backup quarterback Skylar Thompson (18 and 30 yards). Take away the 76 yards on those four carries, and the team total is 27 carries for 116 yards (4.3 per carry). I’m not going to worry too much about that, because we know Ertz is a capable runner, and in games where the starters are required in the fourth quarter, those yards will be just as available to Ertz and Barnes as they were to Thompson and Warmack.

Nothing in particular stuck out about the offensive line in this one. Adam Holtorf held his own at center in his first start, and there were no obvious breakdowns. It will probably take these guys a few games to develop the chemistry our zone scheme requires. Good thing they have another tuneup against Charlotte to get reps.

Byron Pringle looks like he’s picked up right where he left off against Texas Christian and Texas A&M last year, posting three receptions for an absurd 121 yards. He had one obvious drop but was otherwise solid. Maybe the best news was everything else that we saw. Even without Dominique Heath and Carlos Strickland, the Wildcats had their biggest passing day since Jake Waters was slinging it. The Isaiahs, Harris and Zuber, are fantastic additions, and walk-on Dalton Schoen got behind the Bears’ secondary for a 70-yard touchdown catch. Assuming Heath comes back healthy, this group looks as deep and lethal as we had hoped.

Quickly, a note about UCA’s supposed defensive alignments. The Bears tended to match K-State’s numbers in the box, but they certainly weren’t overloading as some have claimed. There are times when they had eight or even nine defenders in the box, but that was to match up when K-State had 21 or 22 personnel in the game. Below is a look at the long touchdown passing plays as examples.

2nd quarter, 5:55: K-State 10 personnel, UCA six defenders in box, Ertz pass complete to Pringle for 55 yards (touchdown)

2nd quarter, 0:29: K-State 10 personnel, UCA six defenders in box, Ertz pass complete to Schoen for 70 yards (touchdown)

3rd quarter, 2:57: K-State 21 personnel, UCA seven defenders in box, Ertz pass complete to Harris for 69 yards (touchdown)

That’s actually a good sign. If defenses want to match all blockers even if K-State uses the quarterback to run, then Ertz and the wide receivers can make them pay deep. With those deep hits, running lanes will probably open up for Barnes, Ertz and the rest of the backfield.

Defense

Starting up front and working backward, the K-State defense showed some ability, but also had a number of assignment breakdowns in the first half. Will Geary and Trey Dishon were solid up the middle, UCA got almost nothing running straight ahead. Dishon also had a tackle for loss.

The ends weren’t as productive as K-State would hope. UCA used its surprise option looks to confuse and slow pursuit, and it showed. Reggie Walker tallied only one TFL and no sacks and Tanner Wood had only one solo tackle. On several option plays, UCA put both of them in the no-man’s land of defending nobody between the quarterback and the pitch man.

Both Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby looked good when they were able to get downhill against the UCA run game. Tanking knows his spots and tackles well. Kirby made several nice plays and recorded a sack in the first quarter. But both got lost at times trying to decipher UCA’s pre-snap motion and backfield fakes, making them late to provide support on the perimeter runs. As with most of the defensive issues, if that’s a preparation thing that other teams won’t easily emulate, then it’s not a big issue.

DJ Reed was mostly good in coverage, only picking up a ticky-tack pass interference penalty as his downgrade. Duke Shelley got beat for a touchdown in the second quarter, but had six tackles and a sack. Nickel garners an incomplete grade. Cre Moore started the game there, but Jonathan Durham took over in the second quarter. Durham had a quiet five tackles on the night; Moore was more or less non-existent.

Kendall Adams and Denzel Goolsby were mostly solid on the back end. Adams missed an edge in the first half but was second on the team in tackles, all of them solo stops. Goolsby trailed right behind Adams with seven solo tackles. It helps having sure tacklers on the back end. Goolsby didn’t get a lot of help in his first start, given that he wasn’t prepared for the option looks UCA threw out there. But there were no big breakdowns, even with that disadvantage. As the game slows down, he could become an impact player.

Special Teams

Surprisingly, given everyone’s fascination with the kicking game the last few years, there was little notice given to Mitch Lochbihler’s eight touchbacks on the night. Notably, there was very little wind at the game.

Reed was outstanding in the kickoff and punt return games. Thanks to his returns and UCA’s later reluctance to kick to him, K-State enjoyed a 17-yard edge in average starting field position.