Folks, it’s October 20th and the 17th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats have a prime time showdown with the 8th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs in Fort Worth. Pole position for the Big 12 Championship game is at stake. The Wildcats haven’t played a ranked vs ranked game this late in the season since the 9th-ranked fighting Bill Snyder’s ventured down to Ft. Worth to face the 6th-ranked Horned Frogs on November 18th, 2014 (I won’t mention the outcome of that game in order to maintain the positive vibes of this article).
It’s been a long road, fraught with frustration to make it back to this point, but Chris Klieman and the ‘Cats have a game with Big 12 and national implications this Saturday night. Calling any single game “program defining” is a recipe for disaster, but needless to say, winning this game has short and potential long term implications. In the short term, the route to the Big 12 Championship runs through Manhattan, with both Oklahoma State and Texas slated to make the trip to the Flint Hills this season. In this long term, this is the type of national exposure that makes recruiting a bit easier.
Styles Make Fights - Offense
In MMA, styles make fights, and this is a classic battle between a knockout artist (TCU) and a ground and pound specialist (K-State). The TCU offense is explosive — they’re 3rd in the nation in points per game. Quarterback Max Duggan has 16 touchdown passes and only one interception. Running back Keandre Miller is averaging 6.4 yards a carry and has 8 touchdowns. Leading receiver Quentin Johnson is exactly halfway to a 1000 yard season. The Horned Frogs want to score early, and they want to score often. They’re the knockout artists in this fight. If they land a few bombs early, they’ll look to finish off Wildcats before halftime.
K-State, on the other hand, wants to drag TCU down to the mat, hold them down, and frustrate the free swinging TCU offense. The Horned Frogs can’t score if Wildcats hold onto the ball and squeeze the life out of the game. If K-State stands and tries to match touchdown for touchdown, they’ll lose, and they might get knocked out.
TCU has played in multiple shootouts this season, and they’re currently 6-0. TCU has yet to be in a tough, grinding game where each possession is valuable, and the offense has to be efficient. It’s up to Adrian Martinez and Deuce Vaughn to hold onto the ball and grind out first downs. In this game, if every series of downs makes it to 3rd and short, the offense is doing the job. A sustained, punishing running game, paired with a few clutch 3rd (or 4th) down completions is the path forward. The ‘Cats have to take the Horned Frogs to the mat with their offense and hold them down. You can’t score explosive offensive touchdowns while your defense is on the field, the same way you can’t knock someone out (most of the time) fighting off your back and trying not to get choked out.
Styles Make Fights - Defense
The defense has to make Max Duggan, who has been exceptional this season, earn his yards from the pocket. They have to avoid Duggan breaking containment, prolonging plays, and giving his receivers time to get open at all costs. It’s imperative K-State get pressure, but it needs to be smart pressure. A reckless pass rush off the edge that lets Duggan get to the perimeter is counter productive. The defensive tackles opening up and giving the mobile TCU quarterback a clear run lane is also ill-advised. The need to land jabs with the defense while avoiding a big TCU counter punch against an overly aggressive defense.
The Wildcats need to maintain their aggression while using their brain. Duggan in the pocket with pressure collapsing in on him makes me less antsy than Duggan freelancing on the perimeter while his receivers work downfield. K-State needs to limit the damage TCU can land in one shot. If they pick the defense apart, tip your hat, but Kansas State can’t let them put up big plays, because the offense isn’t built to play in 40 point games.
While Max is the headliner for the Horned Frogs, don’t lose sight of their run game. Part of making them earn it from the pocket is slowing down Keandre Miller. He’s put up three 100-yard rushing games so far, including 142 yards on 17 carries against SMU, 136 yards on 13 carries against Oklahoma, and 104 yards on 22 carries against Oklahoma State. If Sonny Dykes can win this game on the ground, he’ll do that, and K-State’s vaunted pass rush will spend the entire game fighting off blocks. The front has to hold up on early downs so they can get after the quarterback (in a controlled manner) on later downs.
Styles Make Fights - Generate Points
K-State needs to generate points outside the offense in this game. Luckily, that happens to be one of their specialties. The defense is opportunistic, and King Felix is a master of the strip sack. A scoop and score would be reaaal nice. The secondary has been close to a couple pick-6’s this year, but haven’t managed to secure the ball, hopefully they’ve been saving it for Saturday night. Blocking a punt would be awesome. Brooks or Knowles breaking off a long return would go a long way to securing a victory.
The Wildcats have more options when it comes to scoring points in an unconventional manner than any team in the country because of their special teams. This is a game where the defense could limit TCU, the offense could hold onto the ball, and it still might take 30 points to win. I’m not sure the offense alone can get to 30. They’re going to need some help and the defense or special teams could provide that assistance.
This game has the potential to move the needle for Kansas State on a national level. Knock off TCU on the road, at night, with a national audience (wish it was on Fox and not FS1, but such is life) and the buzz around the Klieman’s crew will be inescapable. I know several people on this site that attended K-State in the 90’s. This game has the potential to do for the 2020’s Wildcats what the 1993 victory over Oklahoma did for the 1990’s ‘Cats. I know y’all dream of returning to the glory days of winning 10+ games (almost) every season. I see the potential in this program, to return to that level, but games like these are a must win for that to come to fruition.
Either way, it’s going to be an exciting Saturday night for EMAW. Welcome back to the big time, you’ve been missed. Now go smother the Frogs on Saturday night.