Going into this season, the talk (or at least my talk) was K-State’s lack of depth and overall talent. I saw the Wildcats as a team that would struggle to scratch out six wins. I also saw the Wildcats as a team that would struggle as the attrition of the season wore down the roster.
First the good news.
K-State has managed to scratch out six wins, including a monumental home win over Oklahoma. Based on my preseason predictions, Coach Klieman and company have met, and are in a position to exceed, 2019 expectations. Looking at the talent leaving, the talent coming in, and the talent returning, by all rights this should be a 5-6 win team. The fact that the coaching staff has patched this thing together, and are already sitting at six wins heading into a winnable Texas Tech game should be considered a minor miracle. I get the feeling, however, that this isn’t the case.
Fans are frustrated (or at least the fans I follow and follow me on social media) because the Wildcats have lost the momentum they gathered after knocking off Oklahoma and burying Kansas. I get that. The Texas game was winnable and the West Virginia game, in most peoples mind, should have been a guaranteed victory. The Mountaineers, after all, were sitting at four wins coming into Manhattan. They haven’t looked like a good football team. Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Texas Tech blew them off the field. They struggled to win against Kansas. Things haven’t been great for first year coach Neal Brown in his first season in Morgantown.
Now for some truth.
West Virginia is a deeper, more talented team than K-State. When you look at the recruiting rankings over the last few season, it’s hard to dispute my above statement.
*247 Composite Ratings
Kansas State - 9th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (84)
West Virginia - 6th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (86)
Kansas State - 9th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (83)
West Virginia - 8th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (84)
Kansas State - 10th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (82)
West Virginia - 4th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (83)
Kansas State - 8th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (83)
West Virginia - 4th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (85)
Kansas State - 8th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (82)
West Virginia - 5th in the Big 12 - Average Star Rating (84)
The longer the season goes on, the harder it is for teams that struggle in recruiting to compete. When starters go down, there simply isn’t a “next man up” of similar quality to plug into the lineup. That’s what we’re seeing right now.
It’s no surprise to me that the offense has been up and down, depending on the the players available for each game.
Take the Oklahoma game, for instance.
That’s the healthiest this team has been since the Mississippi State game. Malik Knowles looked like he was close to healthy. James Gilbert’s ankle was holding together. Jordon Brown looked explosive. Sammy Wheeler and Wykeen Gill were both taking significant snaps in spread formations and making important plays. In a perfect world, that’s what the K-State offense would look like every week. Sadly, as we all know, this world is far from perfect.
Against West Virginia, Malik still looked ok, but Gill, who he worked well with the last few games, was out with a concussion. Sammy Wheeler, who was just coming into his own as a big wide receiver/flex tight end, is out with a torn ACL. The wide receiver position, thin coming into the year, was down Gill and Wheeler. The combination routes that worked so well against the Sooners weren’t the same without two of the top four receiving options.
If there was one position on the roster other than wide receiver that couldn’t afford injuries it was running back. The staff did a great job of fixing the running back mess coming into the season by bringing in James Gilbert and Jordon Brown to fix the empty depth chart. Gilbert and Brown are both fighting through ankle injuries right now. Gilbert looked a step slow on Saturday, and Brown still looks about three steps slow. The thing is, Gilbert and Brown on one leg is still better than the other guys on the roster. The Wildcats have a few nice change up/3-4 carry-a-game options, but Trotter and Burns aren’t lead backs (at least not right now).
I see that call for the coaching staff to make “adjustments” and I’m curious what exactly they’re going to adjust to with a squad of freshmen wide receivers and one legged running backs? At some point, hopefully in the near future, the talent gap between starters and reserves will be bridged, and injuries will be easier to handle. That, unfortunately, is not going to happen this year. The fate of the offense, more than anything else, rests in the hands of the training staff and their ability to get Gilbert and Brown healthy. You should see an improvement next week in the receiving group with Gill back in the mix, but the coaches are still searching for a physical underneath receiver to pair with Schoen. I’m not sure there is a viable option on the roster.
I’m afraid that you’re going to see the Wildcats fade down the stretch of the season for the next few years unless they get lucky.
They haven’t been lucky enough this year.