Kansas State Preview

Kansas State vs. Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl... who'd have thought that this game would match the premiere talents of two of the most recognized names in the country on defense as well as two of the most prolific offenses that are diametrically opposed.

Arizona State passes the ball literally at will while Kansas State runs down their opponents in brutal fashion. To stop the Kansas State run offense, Arizona State puts up Terrell Suggs, the Nagurski and Lombardi award winner while Kansas State offers up Terrence Newman to shut down the prolific Shaun McDonald.

For Kansas State, the year is one of turnaround. From a 6-6 campaign, the Wildcats lost a multitude of talent to the NFL (the most of any Big 12 school with 6 draftees) and returned a great deal of younger players, many that saw action in which the Wildcat offense of 2001 scored 40% less than the previous four seasons on average. This year, the Wildcats more than made up for it, going 10-2 during the regular season with losses only to Colorado and Texas, two top 15 teams by a combined total of 7 points. KSU's victories include current #4 BCS USC, then #21 Iowa State, and of course, Nebraska, a team ASU fell to early in the season.

KSU couldn't have done this without some amazing play and stats. For example, CB Bobby Walker picked off two passes and scored on each of them within a 23 second span. In the game against Eastern Illinois, the KSU offense did not take the field until 3 minutes left in the first quarter – and the Cats still LED 15-13. Terrence Newman, the Thorpe Award winner, has scored a touchdown on offense, defense, and on special teams. Darren Sproles has had 9 games of over 100 yards rushing. Jerad Johnson, a special teams member, has scored 1 touchdown on a blocked punt, making him the 21st player on the team to have scored points. Sophomore Ayo Saba has 35 rushes and 8 touchdowns (means he scores approximately every 4th time he gets the ball.) KSU defense has held 5 teams to less than 100 yards rushing this season, including Nebraska, which was ranked 4th in the nation when KSU played them back on November 16th. All of these special facts have led to one of the most prolific teams ever fielded by Coach Bill Snyder.

In this matchup against two offenses, Kansas State will most certainly run the ball against the Sun Devils, where the Devils have had many problems. Arizona State, hasn't faced this kind of running offense yet, a power running team that ranks 6th in the country amassing over 267 yards per game. The tandem of QB Ell Roberson and RB Darren Sproles provides a dual threat in the backfield that is accentuated with Senior FB Travis Wilson. When these three get together, they average over 6 yards a carry and can each posses the ability to hit holes hard and fast and explode into open territory. For Darren Sproles, he's had 9 games over 100 yards and in each of those games, has had one or more runs of over 30 yards. He's quick and speedy and will challenge the linebackers of ASU. KSU's offensive line has opened large holes and has done well with pass protection, allowing only 18 sacks all year long.

KSU's passing has been somewhat limited, but not invisible as the wildcats have thrown for over 2000 yards between three quarterbacks. QB Ell Roberson didn't start the year, but ended up the #1 QB after guiding the Wildcats to a 27-21 victory over USC. After that, Roberson has been the dual threat everyone has expected him to become. Having thrown for almost 1400 yards, not as elegant as a drop back passer, but then again, he's gotten the job done when needed. KSU's receiving corps should have an easy time with the Sun Devil's secondary as they have been prone to giving up lots of yards. The mismatch by James Terry and Taco Wallace, two of Roberson's favorite targets, should get some good yardage and points. The key is whether Snyder decides to give Marc Dunn, KSU's pure drop back passer, the reigns to cause some damage. Whether or not that happens, should make for some interesting preparation as Marc can throw the ball with deadly accuracy. And lets not forget Jeff Schwinn, the junior QB who also has dual threat capabilities.

For the defense, KSU's front four is by far a tough group, able to rush quickly and keep QB's off guard. In games against KSU's defense, only QB's Chris Simms of Texas and Robert Hodges of CU had good passing games. All other QB's never made 50% completion rates and only Carson Palmer, this year's Heisman winner, threw for more than 200 yards. With Tank Reese leading the charge in the middle, along side Corey White, the Cat's defense has gotten quite a bit of penetration, leading to a lot of hurries and incompletes. With a stifling defense against the running game, the only runner KSU was unable to stop, was Chris Brown of Colorado. The key to this defense, of course, is the threat of the linebacker corps, which is considered by some to be the best in the country. Josh Buhl, the team leader in tackles with 130+ tackles is light, but powerful and very fast. He lines up next to Terry Pierce, arguably the best linebacker in the Big 12 and, if he decides to forego his senior season, would end up a 1st or 2nd round draft pick.

The most notable part of the KSU defense is the secondary, anchored by consensus All American Terrence Newman. He, along with SS Rashad Washington and opposing CB's Randy Jordan and FS Bobby Walker have accounted for 14 INT's against prolific passers, with Bobby Walker grabbing two INT's in a 23 second span against Seneca Wallace – and taking both to the house. Newman has shut down top wide receives including Texas' Roy Williams, Oklahoma State's Rashaud Washington, Missouri's Justin Gauge, and of course, USC's Kareem Kelly holding all to a combined total of 8 receptions for less than 100 yards. Couple that with his 44 tackles and 14 breakups, the matchup of McDonald and Newman should prove quite entertaining.

On special teams, KSU has not had a punt blocked, and while there have been 2 FG and 2 Blocked PAT's, KSU has worked out the wrinkles and has been very consistent in the last 5 games. To that end, KSU's return teams have resulted in 3 punts returned for TD's, and one kickoff returned to the house. KSU has blocked 5 punts and scored two TD's and also blocked 1 PAT for return of 2 points and 1 FG that resulted in a touchdown. Six different players have scored on special teams and it only gets better. KSU's punting has been consistent with Travis Brown averaging close to 40 yards per kick.

There are three keys to the game for the Cats to win this game handily. The first is on defense. KSU must be aggressive and blitz repeatedly to make sure Walters has little or no time to throw the ball. The Cats cannot allow third and longs to be converted, especially underneath. Look for KSU to stop the run easily, but blitz maybe one or two linebackers. Buhl will stay underneath for coverage on the short pass, but also protect against the screen and the draw. When ASU runs, expect nothing.

For the Cats on offense, minimize Suggs by misdirection and traps, don't run away but keep him from taking over. If Roberson or Sproles gets an open lane, expect 10-15 yards each time. I see Suggs getting some pressure on pass plays when means Roberson will have to check into the right mix each time. Other than that, KSU should easily make 200+ yards of rushing and may make 200+ yards of throwing, especially if Roberson gets the matchup he wants.

Finally, KSU special teams need to shine. ASU plays well on special teams, so the Cats are going to have to force ASU to make mistakes. A couple of good runbacks or good special teams play will help keep the momentum and minimize gains made by Walters on offense. Look for at least one punt return to be taken to the house.

My prediction: KSU 49 ASU 20

Sun Devil Source Top Stories