Game Preview: Kansas State

As Saturday's showdown in Lawrence draws ever closer, Kevin Flaherty breaks down which team has the upper hand on offense, defense and the all-important intangibles.

The Kansas State-Kansas game ended last year like most of the recent games have — a lopsided Wildcat victory complete with much smack talk.  Wildcat fans finished the game chanting “Same Old  Jayhawks” and their players showed the type of confidence that comes with knowing you own a team. But that was 2003, and Kansas State has lost a lot of talent since its inaugural BCS bowl game last year. This year’s game is set for Homecoming at Memorial Stadium, and the early feeling is that it might be a little bit closer than previous games.

Offensive Advantage

Both teamsare breaking in new starting quarterbacks. The Jayhawks have Adam Barmann, a tall passer with a strong arm and good mobility. Barmann was able to get some experience last season and looks to be improving his decision-making for 2004.  Although Barmann made some great plays, he did have a few “rookie mistakes.” If he can eliminate those, Kansas should be able to move the ball fairly well against the Wildcat D.

Kansas State’s new quarterback should be Dylan Meier. He has been lauded through camp as a good leader and strong decision-maker. But can he hit on the deep ball? Kansas State enjoys utilizing the option and
power running game and throwing downfield to complement. It is not unusual to see a Kansas State quarterback average 15-20 yards per completion. If he doesn’t work out, speedy option quarterback Alan Webb is waiting in the wings.

Darren Sproles might be the nation’s best back and is probably the toughest college football player to play tag with. He is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Behind him, the backs are talented but unproven. Davin Dennis appears to be an emerging star at wide receiver, where the Wildcats have speed and talent throughout a deep class. Tight end should be set, with returning star and former top player in Kansas, Rashad Norwood, getting the snaps. The offensive line, like Kansas’, lacks depth and could see playing time from incoming freshmen

Defensive Advantage: Kansas State

Kansas continues to try and improve on a sometimes-porous defense. The Wildcats lost a number of talented playmakers, but they are used to losing a lot of talent on defense with minimal changes in the defense’s success.  Key players returning to the Wildcat D will be Kevin Huntley and Jermaine Berry on the defensive line. Berry could contend for Big 12 honors. Possibly the biggest defensive playmaker the Wildcats have is USC-transfer Marvin Simmons at linebacker, where he will be joined by physical Ted Sims. Cedrick Williams will compete for the title of Big 12’s best cover corner and should lead a secondary that may choke out some passing games.

Intangibles: Kansas State

Kansas State just seems to have a spell on the Jayhawks. Although Nebraska has a longer winning streak against the Jayhawks, Kansas seems to be more afraid of their in-state rivals, as most of the recent games
haven’t been close. Last year’s game looked like it might be different, but then Whittemore got hurt and the ‘Cats exploded. There is no doubt Mangino is reviving the program, but KU may still be a year or two away from winning this one.

Any Given Saturday

The longer Kansas stays in this game, the better chance it has of overcoming that fear and making some big plays. The defense will have to eliminate the big passing play and bottle up Sproles to make it happen. But, that may prove too difficult to accomplish. Special teams could also play a factor. If the Jayhawks can control field position and get to work with a shorter field, they have a chance.


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