Texas vs. Kansas State: Let's Get Physical

Very few of the Texas players would concede that Saturday's slugfest between No. 13 Texas and No. 14 Kansas State is an elimination game. Clearly, the loser is out of the national title hunt and would contend with Auburn for the dubious distinction of college football's biggest disappointment of the early season.

But with Royal-Memorial Stadium serving as the backdrop for ESPN GameDay, the victor of this high profile match would be thrust back into the Top 10 with revitalized championship hopes -- for another week, at least.

COMING OFF A LOSS

With Ell Roberson on the sideline, Kansas State fell to Marshall, 27-20, just before it’s bye week before Texas. It was the Wildcats' first home loss since falling to the Longhorns, 17-14, on Oct. 19 last season.

"They’re going to be pissed off," Texas QB Chance Mock said. "They’ve had two weeks to get ready for us and I think that will make it twice as hard on us. With K-State losing to Marshall, I don’t think people realize how much tougher that makes it on us. The good thing is we got them coming to our place and I think we’re starting to click a little bit."

In the Marshall loss, QB Jeff Schwinn was responsible for three turnovers (2 INT, 1 fumble) while diminutive RB Darren Sproles rushed for just 77 yards on 14 carries. Marshall returned Schwinn’s fumble for an 84-yard TD and rushed for 210 yards.

Kansas State is the Big 12’s best road team with a 20-8 mark (Texas is third at 15-9) and has a 10-2 record following a bye week. Since none of us likes those trends, Kansas State is 2-3 when making its Big 12 debut on enemy soil while Texas has not lost a conference home opener since 1967.

"I think Kansas State is going to play Texas as hard as they can regardless of what happened before the game," Mack Brown said. "Obviously, they scheduled the open date right before our game for a reason. I think we’re going to see a great effort out of them, but we would have seen the great effort if they were undefeated. I’m sure they’ll respond like our guys (after Arkansas). People have been hard on them for two weeks. You never want to have an open date after you lose. It means you’ve been beat up for two weeks instead of one."

KANSAS STATE OFFENSE

QB Roberson returned to practice during K-State’s off-week and is expected to make his first start since injuring his non-throwing wrist three weeks ago. The only question is whether the senior will emerge rusty or refreshed following the layoff. Texas, of course, is preparing for his best shot.

"He’s a seasoned quarterback," Brown said. "He’s well taught. He can beat you with the quarterback draw, the quarterback option, the counter, he can beat you scrambling, he can beat you sprinting out, with boots and nakeds, and then he can beat you with his arm. He’s a guy that can give us as big a challenge as we’ll have the rest of the year."

In short, K-State comes at you hard and fast from multiple sets intended to exploit its speed at QB and at RB. Both Roberson and Sproles eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground during 2002, marking the first time KSU has produced two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

"The problem with them is you have to stop them from running right at your face," Brown said, "and then you have to stop them from running sideways. And then you have to be able to use the guys that you’re using to help stop the option to make sure you play pass."

Backup senior QB Schwinn is naturally a drop back passer but is ill suited (relative to Roberson) to facilitate K-State’s power running attack. But even with Schwinn behind center for virtually half of the young season, the Wildcats check in this week with the Big 12’s second-best rushing offense (218.8 ypg, NCAA No. 10) while Texas’ ground game is not far behind at 213.5 ypg (NCAA No. 12).

"They’ll do it with a fullback and with Ell in the backfield so it’s like an I-formation out of one back," Brown said, "and then they’ll run the option attack with Sproles and get him in space for sweep, an option or a screen. Then they’ll go back and run the traditional I power attack. They get a lot of free yards out of the option and we’re trying to do more of those type things."

Roberson is the only player in Wildcat history to rush for more than 2,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000 yards. Had the senior appeared in the NCAA mandated 75 percent of the games to qualify for statistical consideration, his 83.7 rushing ypg would lead the nation. Prior to his injury against McNeese State on Sept. 6, Roberson rushed for 251 yards and passed for 502 yards in nine quarters of play.

"(Roberson is) like a running back, but he’s got the ability to change the game with his arm," Brown added. "He’s their leader. When you’ve got to try to stop both he and Sproles at tailback, it makes it much more difficult when both of them are in the game because you can’t just focus on one."

Sproles is the Big 12’s second-leading rusher with 110.8 ypg (NCAA No. 17). With 2,229 career yards, the 5-7, 170-pound junior needs just 37 yards against Texas to become the second-leading rusher in school history and requires 308 on the season to surpass Eric Hickson’s record.

"People talk about him being a little guy but he plays like a big guy," Brown said. "He’s thick, he’s got really strong legs and he’s really hard to tackle."

DT Rodrique Wright saw Sproles early and often in Texas’ 17-14 win at Manhattan last year. The K-State game is generally considered Wright’s coming out party, even though he would later post a career-best 11 tackles at Nebraska. Sproles rushed for 136 yards on 20 carries against Texas, including a 61-yard burst that set up K-State’s first TD.

"If you blink, Sproles is going to be through that hole," Wright said. "Penetration is going to stop all of that. We all just penetrate, push the lineman back, make that hit in the backfield, that’s what we need."

Senior WR James Terry (6-5, 180) leads the team with 465 yards on 20 receptions. His 93 ypg is just a half-yard off Roy Williams' pace. Freshman Jermaine Moriera is averaging 18.8 yards on 10 grabs to rank second on the team. He has also taken over K-State’s punt and kick return duties

Moving the pile up front is senior Texan C Nick Leckey. With 31 career starts dating back to the 2001 season opener, Leckey is a preseason All-American and on the watch list for both the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award.

The ‘Cats are averaging 39.2 ppg (NCAA No. 11) while Texas leads the nation in scoring with 51.3 ppg.

KANSAS STATE DEFENSE

Kansas State has fielded a Top 5 run defense during seven of the past eight seasons. The unit was uncharacteristically generous against Marshall but is limiting opponents to 92 rushing ypg (second best in Big 12, NCAA No. 19). By comparison, Texas has the nation’s No. 93 run defense (that’s no misprint, friends) surrendering 184 ypg.

"They’re one of the more physical defenses in the country," Mock said. "I think Bill Snyder is just hard on his guys being tough players. They play smashmouth football with their option, and they’re big, strong guys."

The ‘Cats will bring their linebackers and safeties close to the line of scrimmage while typically playing man defense in the secondary. (This is why Roy Williams is smiling this week.)

"It’s gonna be a battle," Williams said. "We beat them last year in their house and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for us. They’re gonna be jacked up and ready to play."

Kansas State will be a Top 10 defensive team by the end of the season, but checks in this week at No. 11 NCAA in total defense at 270.4 ypg. The ’Cats are giving up an average of 178.4 ypg through the air.

"They’re gonna hit you in the mouth and dare you to throw it," Brown said. "It’s just the way they’ve been since Bill got to Kansas State. They just knock your head off and that’s what they’ve always done."

The chief head knocker is outside linebacker (and Texan) Josh Buhl. The senior has started 27 of the last 30 games and tied his career high for tackles for the third straight week with 18 against Marshall. He leads the team in total stops with 77 (46 unassisted). Senior LB (and Texan) Bryan Hickman has 18 consecutive starts and ranks second on the team in tackles (47).

The ‘Cats have an experienced LDE in senior Andrew Shull who was a second-team All-Big 12 selection in 2002.

KSU, of course, sent All-American CB Terrance Newman to the Dallas Cowboys but will counter with senior CB Randy Jordan (started 14 of last 18), SS Rashad Washington (18 straight starts), junior CB Cedrick Williams (earned his first career start against Marshall instead of Louis Lavender) and sophomore FS Jesse Tetuan (seven total starts).

"They’ve got some great DBs," said FL B. J. Johnson, not one to readily praise an opponent’s secondary. "They’ve got pretty good speed. We want to make sure that we’ve got a chance to take advantage of the one-on-one. They play a lot of man and that’s what we like to see."


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