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Kansas State Football: Danger! Danger!

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Things aren't great right now, and the next stretch is crucial.

Iowa State v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Things aren’t great for Coach Klieman at the moment. No, I’m not talking about whatever he said at his press conference. The less you pay attention press conferences, the better. Trust me, I listen to a bunch of them, and no one has ever talked himself into a contract extension or out of a job at a midweek press conference. I’m talking about his struggle to win Big 12 football games, and there is only 1 solution to this problem. He needs to win a few Big 12 football games, ASAP.

Kleiman's job is not in jeopardy. I want to make that clear from the outset. There is no scenario, outside of a major scandal, where Chris Klieman isn’t the head coach of Kansas State in 2022. There are only a few scenarios (again, outside of a scandal) where he’s not the head coach of Kansas State in 2023. At the same time, I doubt holding onto the job for as long as possible is high up on his list of priorities. He came to Kansas State as a winner and intends to win games in Manhattan.

There are only so many explanations for losing I can make before they turn into excuses. I’m perilously close to that line.

Lose to Oklahoma State - Skylar out.

Lose to Oklahoma - They’ve got top 5 talent.

Lose to Iowa State - Sigh...this is getting old.

The thing is, there are legitimate “reasons” that the Wildcats lost to Iowa State. They’re a good football team with a veteran quarterback, a stud running back and a stingy defense. In a vacuum, losing to this Iowa State team, as distasteful is it might be, isn’t the end of the world. Despite the incredible amount of suck we’re dealing with at the moment, we still don’t live in a vacuum. While a single loss to Iowa State isn’t the end of the world, 8-straight Big 12 losses, while not the end of the world, at least opens one of the seven seals of the coaching apocalypse.

Again, I could give you plenty of reasons for any of the eight games in the streak. Last year should probably be stricken from the record all together, but the games were played, and the games were lost. At some point, college football is a win/loss business. Every losing coach has an excuse for losing.

“We have terrible luck with injuries.”

“The calls went against us.”

“The other team we good.”

I could go on for the rest of the day, but the bottom line is that the list of “reasons” can be valid, and at the same time, inconsequential. Coach KIieman has reached a point in his tenure where valid reasons for losing don’t matter, because he gets paid to win football games. It’s a tough job, but I understand it pays well.

While he’s in no danger of queuing up in the unemployment line, his assistant coaches are now officially on the chopping block. If he wants an offseason of dedicated to building on what he already has in place, it’s imperative that he win at least six games this year, otherwise, he’ll be on the hunt for at least one new coordinator. I doubt that’s how he wants to spend what is shaping up to be his first somewhat normal offseason as a P5 coach.

The next three games may be crucial for Klieman’s long term prospects in Manhattan.

3-0

The team is bowl eligible (the minimum expectation for this year) and playing for a warmer landing spot over the last three games with Baylor, West Virginia and Texas on the docket. Even if the team finishes 6-7 (loses out), there won’t be much external pressure (external pressure that matters at least) to revamp the coaching staff. There won’t be much gained by Klieman either and that could come back to bite him long term, because this team has a few of the hard to come by pieces needed to win eight games, but his staff is safe for another year.

2-1

They’re going to need to pull an upset over the last three games to become bowl eligible. That’s not ideal, but doable. They’re still in decent shape at 2-1, but if I’m ranking teams K-State is capable of beating in order, the next three teams are in the Top 3. Baylor’s offense is rolling, West Virginia’s defense has dominated the Wildcats of late, and Texas, despite their staggering mediocrity, still has the talent across the board that this K-State team will struggle to overcome. At 2-1, there’s a good chance one of the coordinators gets replaced, because there’s a good chance the team doesn’t win six games.

1-2

Best case scenario for 1-2 is firing Messingham (although I don’t think he’s the problem), revamping the offensive position coaches, and hoping enough talent shows up in the portal to make whatever new offense Coach Klieman decides to implement, work. I don’t see them going 2-1 down the stretch if they lose two of the next three games, and if they don’t win six games, changes are required. Remember folks, K-State recruiting has, and always will be, scheme dependent. When you change schemes, often times you end up with a squad of square pegs trying to fill round holes. That’s no excuse for chasing bad money, but it’s something to consider as you lust after new coordinators.

0-3

I don’t see either coordinator surviving if Kansas State loses the next three games, because I don’t see the team winning another game the rest of the season in this scenario. 3-9 means a complete revamp of the coaching staff, and that’s tough with current state of budgetary affairs. Bringing in a new coordinator is expensive, but doable. Bringing in a new staff will require bargain basement hires, and that will make things worse. The only way bringing in a new coordinator works, is if the new coordinator brings a coaching cache big enough to catch the attention of recruits and buy some breathing room for the coach. Bringing in a new staff, that is essentially the old staff with new names, won’t get that done.

The Winning Formula

Honestly guys, I have no idea, and that’s part of the problem. The game plan that knocked off Stanford is no longer in play if the defense continues to implode. Klieman would love to play conservatively on offense, control the tempo, and grind teams down in the 4th quarter with the offensive line. That can’t happen if you give up 75 yard runs on the first drive of the game.

The defense has sprung a leak, and I’m not sure there is an easy solution other than “go out there and be better this week.” You can move the pieces around all you want, but at some point, all you’re doing is shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. This defense is in desperate need of a pass rush on the front end, and better play on the back end. The problem is, those things are usually tied together. The back end of the defense looks better when they’re picking off wobbly, rushed passes. The pass rush looks better when the quarterback is sitting in the pocket, patting the ball, and waiting for something to open up down field. Neither is happening at the moment.

Based on the talent available, the back end of the defense (S/CB) has a better shot at turning this around than the front end. I still like the talent in the Wildcat secondary, but it’s time for the talent to step up and make a few plays. I know these guy are decent at tackling, but maybe breaking up, or picking off, a few passes might help the cause. After watching film, tightening up coverage may be the best way to help the pass rush. At the same time, you can only play tight coverage without the help of a pass rush for a short period of time before the offense starts throwing the ball deep into single coverage. If Klanderman cranks up the pass coverage, the pass rush has to find a way to get home. It’s not the best option, but the current “death by 1,000 cuts” (with the occasional stabbing of vital organs) isn’t getting it done. Time to try something else within the current scheme.

The offense has to find a 3rd playmaker for Skylar. I don’t think the absence of Chabastin Taylor is talked about enough, because he brought something different to the table in the passing game. Without him, you’ve got a roster of slot receivers. Tyrone Howell is the obvious solution to the problem at 6’3”, 200 pounds. His size and strength have helped get him onto the field, now he needs to produce from the boundary position. I look for him to get more playing time as the season progresses. Daniel Imatorbhebhe staying healthy for the fist time in his long career would also help the cause.

Outside of a third playmaker, the offense needs to be close to perfect. You can’t have red zone fumbles or drive killing interceptions, because the defense can’t get off the field. Skylar has to ride edge between being aggressive enough to put up 30+ points, but conservative enough to avoid throwing the ball to the other team. It’s a tough ask, but he’s got to figure it out over the next three games, otherwise, he’s going to end his career on the wrong side of the win/loss ledger.

The next stretch of games will tell the tale for the 2021 K-State team. Win and things chug along to 2022. Lose and it’s going to be a busy offseason for all involved. It’s time to win some ball games.