And why wouldn’t they have been? The ranked Wildcats were fresh off a big victory in Austin, while Kansas was fresh off a blowout victory over Florida International. But the Jayhawks played the spoilers, leaving Manhattan with a 30-24 victory and their first road win of the season. Along the way, the Jayhawks exposed what previously had been a solid defense and set K-State rolling down the path to a losing season.
But every year is different, and Kansas State Coach Ron Prince has the
Wildcats aligned within striking distance of a bowl berth.
On offense, the Wildcats are led by junior quarterback Josh Freeman
(6-foot-6 250 pounds). If anything, Freeman’s numbers this
season are proof of the effectiveness of other signal callers in the
conference. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes, is
throwing for 278 yards per game and has a three-to-one
touchdown-to-interception ratio with 15 touchdowns and five
interceptions. But even with all of that, he’s still rated
ninth in the conference in passing efficiency.
Logan Dold (6-0 195), a true freshman out of Garden Plain, has emerged
as the Wildcats’ top rusher following the injury to LaMark
Brown (6-2 225). Dold, who was originally recruited as a defensive
back, leads the team with 295 yards rushing. Prince has said
he’s cautiously optimistic about the return of Brown this
week. When healthy, Brown brings a nice blend of size and speed. The
Wildcats also rely quite a bit on Freeman as a runner. The quarterback
has 286 yards on the ground this year and also serves as a
short-yardage back, rushing for several first downs on third and short,
while putting up 13 touchdowns.
Brandon Banks (5-7 142) is listed as the lightest receiver in the FBS
on the Kansas State Web site, but he’s also been one of the
country’s most effective. He’s second in the
conference with 813 yards and serves as K-State’s big-play
threat. He has seven touchdowns on the year and averages 21 yards per
catch. Deon Murphy (5-10 170) supplies more speed to the equation. He
has 338 yards and four touchdowns on the year, and is always a threat
on a reverse. Aubrey Quarles (5-11 195) and Ernie Pierce (6-4 209) are
nice possession receivers. Pierce had a breakout game against Oklahoma,
catching 11 passes for 176 yards. What’s even more impressive
is that the yardage total was more than Pierce put up in his first 15
games at K-State combined. Tight end Jeron Mastrud (6-6 253) is another
weapon, and has more than 300 yards receiving.
Center Jordan Bedore (6-3 310) is another player that Prince is
cautiously optimistic about. If he can’t go, the Wildcats
will continue to get by with converted defensive lineman Zach Kendall
(6-3 287) at the spot. Brock Unruh (6-6 288) and Eric Benoit (6-4 286)
have been tapped as the starters at guard, while Nick Stringer (6-6
271) will get the nod at right tackle. Edward Prince (6-5 289) and
Alesana Alesana (6-4 304) will continue to rotate at left tackle.
Any problems offensively are miniscule compared to what the Wildcats
have done defensively. The Wildcats will shift from a 3-4, which is the
alignment listed on the depth chart, to a 4-3 at times, but neither
have really helped. K-State is 12th in total defense, 11th in rushing
defense and 10th in scoring defense in the conference.
Some of those problems stem from a defensive line that has struggled to
create consistent pressure. The Wildcats have just 14 sacks in eight
games, with preseason All-Big 12 defensive end Ian Campbell (6-5 255)
getting just 3.5. Neither defensive tackle Daniel Calvin (6-3 310) nor
Brandon Balkcom (6-1 292) has been able to apply pressure up the middle
either. True freshman defensive end Brandon Harold has been a bright
spot, ranking third in the conference with 10.5 tackles for loss. He
adds three more sacks, while Eric Childs, a smallish pass rusher, has
three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Kansas State has gotten up-and-down production from its linebackers.
Ulla Pomele (6-1 228) has been the standout player in the middle,
leading the team with 50 tackles, 6.5 of which were in the backfield.
Alex Hrebec (5-11 238) and Hansen Sekona (6-0 230) rotate at the other
middle linebacker spot. Olu Hall (6-3 230) and Reggie Walker (6-1 247)
are nice athletes on the outside.
Cornerback Joshua Moore (5-11 184) has been another bright spot on a
defense with few of them. The other cornerback spot has been a
revolving door with Blair Irvin (6-0 180) and Ray Cheatham
( ). The Wildcats will start former quarterback
Tysyn Hartman (6-3 204) at the free safety spot, though Chris Carney
(6-1 190), a team captain, will likely see time as well. Courtney Herndon (6-0 211) has given the Wildcats some production against the
run, grabbing 44 tackles, including 4.5 in the backfield.
Brooks Rossman has been a solid kicker, nailing 7-10 field goals and
39-40 extra points. He has plenty of leg, connecting with a 53 yarder
earlier this season. Punter D.J. Fulhage is averaging 38.1 yards per
punt. Kansas State’s coverage units are among the tops in the
conference, while Murphy is one of the country’s most
dangerous return men. Quarles also fields some kicks. Overall, the
Wildcats have scored five touchdowns this year when the opposing team
punts, be it from returns or from blocks.
They may need one of those scores this week to defeat the Jayhawks and
get to a bowl game. If nothing else, the matchup this year, as it was
last year, should be entertaining.
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