Good afternoon Wildcat fans. I just finished watching the replay of Saturday’s game, and I can confirm that K-State wins the replay as well. Rarely do I say this about a college football game but I’m still trying to process what happened on Saturday. It wasn’t just that Kansas State Wildcats won the game, that was always in the realm of possibility, but the manner in which they won is rather shocking.
Don’t get me wrong, I expected the Wildcats to compete in Starkville. The offensive line alone is good enough to keep them in most games. I just didn’t expect them to dominate, and that’s exactly what happened. The game on Saturday was not as close as the 31-24 final score indicates. The only thing that kept the home standing Mississippi St. Bulldogs in the game was three fluke turnovers (two up-backs trying to field punts and a fumble in an int return). Take those mistakes away and the Wildcats probably win by three touchdowns.
My big takeaway from this game is that the defense is way better than I thought. The 4-2-5 matches the personnel perfectly, and the defensive line, while not the biggest or deepest group, compete with an electric intensity. The entire line fought against the mammoth Mississippi State line for four quarters, and while they were occasionally bested, they were never defeated. They had every reason to run out of gas midway through the 3rd quarter after the Bulldogs seemingly had the ball for two weeks, but instead of folding, they got stronger. Also, the Trey Dishon belly rub sack dance is my new go to pick up basketball celebration.
The base 4-2-5 defense helps out the linebacker position because the Wildcats were seemingly short on depth at the position. Da’Quan Patton and Elijah Sullivan were known quantities, but after those two were a bunch of questions. Daniel Green stepped up and answered the depth question on Saturday with a 7-tackle performance. If Green can soak up snaps and remain productive like he did on Saturday, Patton and Sullivan have a much better shot of staying healthy and fresh. It also gives the linebacker position a more certain future moving forward. If Green can consistently churn out these types of performances , linebacker could move from a huge question to a strength.
Finally, the secondary was incredible. I expected them to be good, but man, they were amazing. Denzel Goolsby looked like an All-American, flying around the field to collect 11 tackles and picking off a wayward Tommy Stevens pass to boot. The corners were equally impressive, holding the Bulldogs’s star 6’5” receiver Osirus Mitchell in check for most of the game, even with Walter Neil Jr. on the sidelines injured. Mitchell did manage to sneak past the secondary on the final drive of the 1st half and find the end zone, but he wasn’t able to sustain drives with first down catches. AJ Parker is a burgeoning lock down corner, and Kevion McGee more than held his own in Neil’s stead. Jahron McPherson looks comfortable playing nickel back, and Wayne Jones (despite being a tad bit undisciplined) brings an edge to the defense. This secondary should continue to improve as the season goes along, and should give passing oriented offensives fits.
Skylar Thompson isn’t going to put up huge numbers in this offense because huge numbers simply can’t be accumulated in limited attempts. He can, however, play with efficiency and make two or three great plays a game. That’s just the type of game he had on Saturday. His ability to move around and complete passes while under duress was huge. He may have only competed ten passes on the day, but for the most part, those were ten clutch completions at just the right time. His skill set is a perfect compliment for the offense, and should set the template for quarterback recruiting moving forward.
It looks like were’re going to get the three man rotation all season, and I’m a big fan of the current timeshare. James Gilbert is going to carry the majority of the load, but he doesn’t have to go it alone. The coaching staff can keep him strong throughout the game by throwing a Jordon Brown or Harry Trotter drive into the mix each half. Against the Bulldogs Gilbert had 17 carries, with Brown and Trotter each chipping in with five runs apiece. Last year that split would have been Alex Barnes with 27 carries and everyone else watching on the bench. This is much more sustainable long term and the caliber of running backs attracted to this program should take off after this season. Although Gilbert, Brown, and Trotter look plenty talented enough right now.
Dalton Schoen has a knack for getting open. On occasion he doesn’t have a knack for catching the ball when he’s open, but he gets open none-the-less. That’s what this offense needs. Schoen isn’t an NFL caliber receiver, but he doesn’t need to be, he just needs to block like a madman on the outside during run plays and occasionally sneak out for clutch receptions on play action passes. It may not always be the pretty, but it’s plenty effective. Malik Knowles and Wykeen Gill don’t need to be 5-7 catch a game guys, because again, quantity in the passing game isn’t a huge feature in this offense (if you see a game where Skylar has 30+ throws, it means K-State got down big early) but they need to make the most of their opportunities when the ball comes their way.
Tight End / Fullback
Nick Lenners and Blaise Gammon are both competent blockers and can leak out on pass plays. Gammon, for whatever reason, is still having issues with catching the ball when he’s open, but still has a tantalizing upside as a red zone match up. Lenners, much like Schoen, has a knack for finding an opening in the defense and manages to snag most of his opportunities. Tight end is another position that should take off in recruiting once players see the offense.
I saved the best for last, because this unit will give the Wildcats an opportunity to win most games. That doesn’t mean they will win most games, but it’s hard to blow a team with this sort of line out of a game. When you can hand the ball off and drive the other team backwards, you’ve got a great starting place for the offense. Mississippi State has a big and aggressive defensive line, but the Wildcats limited them to one sack on 18 pass attempts, and that sack came off an immaculately timed blitz from the Bulldog secondary. Chauncey Rivers was named a pre-season All SEC defensive end, and can be a game plan destroyer, but for the most part the line kept him in-check throughout. K-State might not be experienced at the skill positions, but as I mentioned in my preview they are experienced (and good) on the offensive line, and that’s where you want to be solid.
I didn’t know Malik Knowles was that explosive, but man, he hit that hole and there wasn’t even a question. Kick returns are being phased out of the game, and there will be limited opportunities in some games, depending on the kicker, but Knowles appears to be a threat in the return game.
The punt return game, despite the two huge muffs, wasn’t actually that bad. Phillip Brooks looks like a threat to break one this year. The up-backs just need to get out of the way. On both plays, guys were trying to be aggressive and steal yards, but I don’t think you’ll see that in the future. This wasn’t an indication that the Wildcats need a dedicated special teams coach, just two freaky plays.
The second fumble, in part, was due to the Wildcats getting a finger on the punt, making it come up short of Brooks and with wicked side spin. Special teams is all about effort, and the effort was top notch on Saturday.
Blake Lynch doesn’t have the biggest leg, but it’s automatic from inside 40. That’s all I want from a kicker. I am slightly worried about the depth of the kickoffs and the potential for a returns. The coverage team needs to stay on their toes.
Devin Anctil is a National Treasure and must be protected by any means necessary.