Kansas State Preview: Offense

While Kansas State faced heavy defensive turnover this offseason, the Wildcats returned a bunch of proven production on offense, including a near-1,000-yard rusher and all five offensive linemen. Come inside for more on what the Wildcat offense will bring to Austin on Saturday.

As is so often the case with teams that don't play tough non-conference schedules, it's difficult to get a real read on where the Wildcats are at. Sure, there was the loss to FCS North Dakota State, but it probably isn't stretching the truth to suggest that the Bison — who won that game in the final seconds — would likely be a bowl team if they played in FBS. Since, then, the Wildcats have beaten FBS also-rans Louisiana-Lafayette and Massachusetts by an average of 25.5 points per game, with the latter school just beginning its first full season of FBS play.

But this is Kansas State, and one of Bill Snyder's primary strengths is that he doesn't try to reinvent the wheel on a season-by-season basis. The Wildcats use a detailed process-oriented approach and an offense that relies on a bevy of formations and often the quarterback run game to befuddle opponents. But while the Wildcat offense gives the appearance of being complex, it's more of a "present a lot of looks to be confusing" while "running what works" type of offense. Stack the box, and you'll get a bubble screen to the outside. Slide a guy or two outside and watch the inside get gashed with the run game. It's offensive constraint theory at its best, and Kansas State executes it without running up-tempo.

Naturally, it follows that a defense has to be sound to stop the Wildcats. There aren't any shortcuts.

The Wildcats have started Jake Waters (6-1 210) at quarterback, though Texas should expect to see plenty of Daniel Sams (6-2 207), who might have won the starting job — and still might — if not for a knee scoping in fall camp. The NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year a season ago, Waters passed for more than 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns. So far, he has completed 68.3 percent of his throws for 673 yards and four touchdowns to five interceptions. He isn't a stiff in the running game, either, averaging close to five yards per attempt on his runs. The key with Waters is to make him hold the ball. He can be deadly when he can just sit and pitch to his first few options, but loses effectiveness when those are covered.

But if Waters "isn't a stiff" as a runner, Sams is exemplary in that category. The blazing-fast signal caller has the rare burst and acceleration of a wide receiver, and would likely project as one of the top rushing quarterbacks in the country if he held down the starting job. In fact, despite not starting, Sams is still the Wildcats' second-leading rusher, running for 157 yards on 21 carries, or 7.5 yards per pop, and a team-leading three touchdowns. He can be especially dangerous in the red zone because of his feet and ability to hit a crease, and his decent size. He's gotten more of a workout each week, carrying twice against NDSU, eight times against Louisiana and 11 times against UMass.

Having the quarterback run game also opens things up more for John Hubert (5-7 191). Hubert has good feet and vision, though he isn't big and doesn't really have explosive speed. He's more of a complementary running threat, and he excelled opposite Collin Klein the past two seasons. In the opener, with Waters handling almost all of the quarterback duties, Hubert rushed for just 2.3 yards per carry. And he only ran for 3.1 yards per carry against Louisiana before finally getting off the ground against UMass, rushing 18 times for 118 yards, while catching two more passes for 50 yards and a score. The Wildcats aren't deep at the position, with diminutive Robert Rose (5-4 176) backing up Hubert and carrying the ball just 11 times in the first three games, including no times in the Wildcats' lone close game. He does have 56 yards and a touchdown on those 11 carries. Glenn Gronkowski (6-3 234) is the fullback, which the Wildcats use mostly as a blocker. Still, Glenn, who's the younger brother of star Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, has some receiver skills, as evidenced by his 50-yard touchdown catch against UMass. As a senior in high school, Gronkowski played wide receiver and had more than 750 yards receiving.

Kansas State has two really explosive speed receivers in Tyler Lockett (5-11 175) and Tramaine Thompson (5-8 167), both of whom are probably sub-4.4-second guys in the 40-yard dash, and both of whom excel in space. Lockett leads the team with 16 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown so far this year, including 100-yard games against North Dakota State and Louisiana. Thompson also had a 100-yard game against the Bison, and is averaging an impressive 16.7 yards per catch. Curry Sexton (5-11 183) is the other starter. He's more of a sure-handed guy who does a nice job of catching underneath routes and converting third downs. While the other two receivers are stretching the field, Sexton is averaging just 7.9 yards per catch.

The Wildcats haven't thrown the ball a ton to their tight ends — Kansas State does use some two-tight sets — but the possibility of hitting a big play to those guys exists. Andre McDonald (6-8 278) is a massive blocker at the position, and he's also done a really nice job of creating some big plays when called upon. He has catches for 34 yards, 29 yards, 18 yards (twice), 15 yards (twice) and 13 yards in his career. Zach Trujillo (6-5 256) is more of a receiving threat, and is often brought in as the No. 2. Trujillo has just four catches as a Wildcat … and is averaging 27 yards per catch on those snags (58, 27, 14, 9). The point is that while neither guy will probably put up an eight-catch, 100-yard day, both are capable of hitting the big chunk play if you forget about them.

The Wildcats returned all five starters from an offensive line that blew people off the ball a year ago, though they haven't quite had that impact this year. So far, Kansas State has rushed for 4.9 yards per carry, while allowing four sacks, but against the best defense they faced, North Dakota State, the Wildcats struggled to block Bison defenders and only rushed 23 times for 41 yards. First-team All-Big 12'er Cornelius Lucas (6-9 328) has the best NFL future of the bunch, but he needs to develop as a dominating presence as a run blocker. In pass protection, he's pretty salty. Center B.J. Finney (6-4 303) is a former walk-on and a state champion wrestler, and that understanding of leverage has helped him find a spot on all the top offensive line watch lists. He's probably the Big 12's second-best center, behind Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard. Keenan Taylor (6-4 290) is an athletic right guard, while Cody Whitehair (6-4 309) brings a bit more strength to his left guard spot. Tavon Rooks (6-5 280) was one of the top JUCO tackles in the Class of 2012, and he immediately made his impact felt a year ago.

Jack Cantele (6-0 193) is the younger brother of former Kansas State kicker Anthony. He's made all three of his field goal attempts this year, including one from 42 yards, though he does have a missed extra point. Lockett and Thompson make up the nation's most dangerous return duo. Thompson is averaging 31.7 yards per punt return — that's not a typo — a year after averaging 19.8 yards per punt return. Lockett led the Big 12 in kickoff return average at 32.8 a year ago, in part because Thompson (33.4 yards per return) only had 10 kickoff returns. Lockett also scored two touchdowns. Neither player has been able to break out on kickoff returns yet, but with their history, it might just be a matter of time.


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