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Kansas State Football: Let’s Take a Step Back and Appreciate This Team

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Things aren’t as expected for the 2020 season, but right now that seems to be a very good thing.

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

As I was looking over the hilariously bad (in terms of KU) film from last weekend I was struck by how different this Kansas State offense is from the offensive unit I thought we were getting in the off-season. Seriously, at this point in the season, the only thing I was right about is Briley Moore being a stud.

If I gave you these stats through the first five games in August, what would you think the Wildcats record would be?

Skylar Thompson: 40/64 - 626 yards - 4 TDs - Out for Season with Injury

Jacardia Wright: 6 carries - 17 yards - 0 TDs

Malik Knowles: 3 receptions - 42 yards - 0 TDs

Joshua Youngblood: 3 returns, 18 yard average, 0 TDs - 0 receptions - Transfer

The three players I anticipated leading the skill positions at Kansas State have contributed exactly zero touchdowns. Skylar is out for the season after sustaining an injury in the third game, Wright has barely played, Knowles is in a season-long funk, and Youngblood is no longer on the team. Yet, the Wildcat’s are somehow 4-1 and ranked 16th heading into the West Virginia game.

To take things a step further, Kaitori Leveston has struggled so much at left tackle that the coaching staff has flipped Christian Duffie from starting right tackle to starting left tackle. I’m not sure any of the coaching staff’s preseason plans have come to fruition, and yet, the Wildcats are crushing preseason predictions.

When Klieman was named head coach, I thought he was an exceptional hire, and I was in the minority (and rightfully so, I totally get the trepidation), but I didn’t think he would be this impressive. He’s held this thing together through some genuinely unique and trying circumstances, and the program has come out better on the other side.

When the Wildcats line up to play on Saturday, a true freshman will be handing the ball off (and throwing the ball to) another true freshman. The offensive line will feature one senior. A junior and a sophomore lead the receiving group. I know we’re in the middle of the season, but the future is incredibly bright in Manhattan, Kansas, both short term and long term, and recruiting will only improve.

I tend to focus on the offense because that’s what I have an easier time understanding, but I would be remiss if I didn’t marvel at the defense as well.

The only certainty going into the season was at the linebacker positions with Elijah Sullivan and Justin Hughes providing much-needed leadership, but outside of those two guys and Wyatt Hubert at defensive end, I wasn’t sure what to think. Throw in the fact that Joe Klanderman was taking over a defense for the first time in his coaching career and I was less than optimistic.

After the Arkansas State game, my pessimism looked justified. Then Klanderman got to work and got things fixed.

This is the depth chart for the secondary against Arkansas State.

Nickel Back

Will Jones

Ross Elder

Corner Back

AJ Parker

Justin Gardner

Strong Safety

Wayne Jones

Brock Monty

or

Tyrone Lewis

Free Safety

Jahron McPherson

Ryan Hennington

Corner Back

Kiondre Thomas

or

Lance Robinson

This is the depth chart for the secondary heading into the West Virginia game.

Nickel Back

AJ Parker

Will Jones II

Corner Back

Justin Gardner

Tee Denson

Strong Safety

Jahron McPherson

Wayne Jones

Free Safety

Ross Elder

Hunter Henry

or

Aamaris Brown

Corner Back

Ekow Boye-Dee

Kiondre Thomas

In case you missed it, there isn’t a single player in the secondary starting the West Virginia game in the same place they started the Arkansas State game. I’ve never seen a position group be totally revamped during the season. Sure, I’ve seen “next man up” several times, but I’ve never seen a complete reshuffling with key players changing positions mid-season, and for the most part, it has worked.

That’s what I’ve come to appreciate about this coaching staff. They aren’t afraid to put guys on the field. Too often you see coaches go into the the season with a plan, and stick with that plan regardless of outcome. Klanderman’s flexibility has allowed AJ Parker to find his best position and allowed guys like Ross Elder and Ekow Boye-Doe to establish themselves as key cogs in the secondary.

Moving Forward

If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that looking forward is for chumps and suckers. If crazed lizard people from another dimension invaded the planet this afternoon, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

I don’t know what’s going to happen against West Virginia tomorrow, but I do know that I appreciate what I’ve seen out of this squad so far.