Last week the Cowboys offense got a great lesson in being patient and taking what the crazy 33 stack defense employed by West Virginia would give them. Quarterback Mason Rudolph used extra time in the offseason and summer and the entire offense used extra reps in spring practice and in fall camp, some 15 minutes a day, to work on finding the keys to unlock the Mountaineers mix of pressure packages and extra players in coverage. It is as multiple a defense as the spread offenses are in nature in moving the football.
This week it is back to something they are more used to seeing with four down linemen and cover four as the predominant coverage, but the Kansas State Wildcats can be just as tough a defense to crack as West Virginia. The Wildcats are disciplined and determined not to allow big plays. They will be in their gaps up front and they have made running the ball very difficult. K-State is only allowing 102.3 yards rushing a game and just 3.3 yards per carry.
Now the Wildcats are stingy overall defensively as coordinator Tom Hayes has been around a long time and has forgotten more defense than most of us will ever know. The Cats do give up 260 yards passing and almost eight yards a passing attempt and it would seem that is the place to patiently attack Kansas State meaning the Cowboys array of wide receivers will need to factor in again on Saturday in Manhattan.
You start with James Washington, but it is likely that Hayes and the Wildcats defensive staff follow suit with recent Cowboys opponents and try to take Washington away first.
"I haven't seen James fluctuate as far as his demeanor or mentality," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich answered when asked if Washington was becoming frustrated with the extra attention. "He's very consistent with his temperament and approach to the game. How he practices, his effort level is always the same, so there hasn't been any change that I can see."
In fact, Yurcich says Washington is a driving force in helping the other receivers raise the level of their play.
"He's such a humble guy, I don't know if he thinks about that, but he should have pride in that," Yurcich added. "Those numbers and to be diverse as a receiving core, he should be proud of that. They make each other better in a lot of different ways."
Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was outstanding in last week's 37-20 win over West Virginia in regard to finding the man coverage and taking advantage of that in the short and quick passing game, said the receivers compete on a daily basis on who can catch the most passes, who can make the most big plays, and while he is not a loud boisterous talker it is Washington that drives the competition.
Another receiver that is rising fast in that daily competition and is making plenty of plays on Saturdays is Jalen McCleskey.
"A lot of our players aren't surprised by the limelight or the attention or the statistics and I think McCleskey falls into that category," Yurcich said. "He's always seen himself as a productive player and has anticipated his success. I think his dad has done a great job. He comes from great lineage and an athletic family, so I think he's grounded as well. He's a very mature player. At the same time, he knows he has to grow."
"I think each game adds a different road block to our offense," Rudolph explained when asked how the offense is adapting week-to-week. "We knew we weren't going to be able to blow the top off of West Virginia and so we had to patient and take the dink-and-dunk approach. We were patient with the ball and tried to eliminate turnovers and just kept on chugging. We will very likely have to be patient again this week at Kansas State."
Rudolph revealed that after season's 36-34 win over K-State in Stillwater that just like kicker Ben Grogan, whose letter was publicized, he also received a hand-written note from Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder. It impressed Rudolph, and he is also impressed by the defense that he and his offensive teammates, especially those receivers, will have to find ways to attack.
"They've always been a physical group and that's kind of what (Kansas State coach Bill) Snyder's always been about," Rudolph said. "They're a well-disciplined unit and a good team all-around, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I think it'll be good to get back to facing a defense that lines up in a four down look. It'll be an exciting week of preparation and I'm looking forward to it."
Especially exciting knowing that Kansas State allows well over double the amount of yards passing than they do on the ground. The wide receivers will need to be at their competitive best this Saturday, as they will be the offensive pressure point.