The first point of order for the Raiders will be stopping Kansas State's running game, which, after a surprisingly slow start, looks to be rounding into form. Everybody is aware of KSU mighty mite Darren Sproles, a Heisman Trophy candidate coming into the season who quickly fell from contention as his team fell from the rankings following upset losses to Fresno State at home and to Kansas in Lawrence, among others. Nevertheless, Sproles is still having a fine season, albeit with less fanfare than expected. The 5-7 senior from Olathe, Kansas is the nation's 10th leading rusher with 853 yards on 170 carries.
Compounding the problem for the Raiders is the KSU quarterback duo of likely starter Dylan Meier and off-the-bench bombardier Allen Webb. Neither of the two throw the ball like Daunte Culpepper, although Meier's passing rating of 136 is 32nd best in the nation. But against a Tech defense that is notoriously susceptible to athletic, running quarterbacks, Meier and Webb may not have to throw for 400 yards to be effective. And as fortune would have it for the Red Raiders, both Kansas State quarterbacks are athletic and mobile.
"They're athletic. They both run," said Tech defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich.
On the season so far, Meier has 131 yards rushing on 57 attempts, while Webb, a transfer from Indiana, has 173 yards on 66 carries. (Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, by way of comparison, has -64 yards on 31 rushes.) More ominously still, he had 147 yards rushing on 34 attempts last week against Nebraska. Meier, who now has a clean bill of health, sat out the Nebraska contest.
When Kansas State does throw the ball, 6-0 sophomore Yamon Figurs of Lakeland, Florida is the most dangerous candidate to receive the rock. He has 22 catches for 359 yards, and is averaging 16.3 yards per reception.
The Raider defense, which last week was brutalized by the University of Texas combo of quarterback Vince Young (158 yards rushing), and running back Cedric Benson (168 yards rushing) simply must do a better job at the point of attack if Tech is to win against the Wildcats. Senior linebacker Mike Smith of Lubbock is the leading tackler with 50 stops, four tackles for a loss, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, and a fumble recovery. He will need considerable help, however, from a defensive line that has generated only 4.5 sacks on the year along with 16.5 tackles for a loss. Adell Duckett, a pre-season All American candidate, leads the way up front with 4.5 tackles for a loss. The secondary, which is number 24 in the nation in pass defense, is led by cornerback Antonio Huffman, and cornerback Khalid Naziruddin and free safety Vincent Meek, who are the team's second and third leading tacklers, respectively.
The other side of the line of scrimmage looks more hopeful for the Red Raiders. Tech enters the Kansas State game with the nation's number three ranked offense overall, the country's best passing attack, its number one receiver, and the country¢s top ranked passer in terms of yardage. Senior Cumbie is the triggerman, and he has thrown for 2,924 yards on the season, hitting on 256 of 399 passes with 13 interceptions and 17 touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Jarrett Hicks has caught 87 of those passes for 436 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Nehemiah Glover has come on of late and now has 52 catches for 567 yards and a touchdown.
KSU head man Bill Snyder claims to be suitably impressed.
"Their quarterback is an awfully fine quarterback who would be good in anybody's system."
"Hicks is a big physical guy that can outmuscle anybody for the football. They have other guys that have great hands and tremendous quickness and catch those short little passes. It's kind of like running the ball except they get it to them on the other side of the line of scrimmage. It is very effective and very efficient."
Effective and efficient would also aptly describe Snyder's defense, which is giving up only 311 yards per game, good for 28th best in the land. Pass defense is an especially strong suit. The Wildcat secondary is currently number 18 in the nation, giving up only 170 yards per game. Ringleaders of the Kansas State defense are linebacker Marvin Simmons who has 43 tackles, five tackles for a loss, an interception and a pass breakup, and hulking (6-8, 265) defensive end Kevin Huntley who has 30 tackles, four tackles for a loss, three sacks, a pass breakup, a fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles.
The Raiders will be trying for the first win in school history in Manhattan.