With a 6-foot-5, 211-pound quarterback in Joe Hubener taking the snaps for Kansas State this season, the Wildcats’ offense looks much like it did a few years ago when Collin Klein led a bruising quarterback run-heavy scheme that wore down opposing defenses throughout the course of games.
Hubener might not be as dynamic as Klein in other facets of the game, but his downhill, no-fear running style has been the focal point of Kansas State’s offense this season.
He leads the team in carries this season with 168, and has rushed for 598 yards and 13 touchdowns after 11 games.
There is no doubt he presents a challenge to West Virginia's defensive line, a unit that is playing some of its best football of the season in recent weeks.
“Consistently they’ve gotten more active and utilizing their techniques and understanding that they can get to the quarterback. We don’t hear the echoes of everybody saying you can’t rush with three and get to the quarterback. We don’t surrender to that. We’re going to keep pounding away, and they’re getting there and having success with it,” said defensive line coach Bruce Tall.
The Mountaineers are coming off a five-sack performance against Iowa State last week, and will need another outstanding performance this week to slow down Hubener and the Wildcats’ power run attack.
Despite their recent success, the Mountaineers still rank near the bottom of the conference in total sacks, but coach Tall said it hasn’t been for a lack of getting into the backfield. The difference now is, his guys are finishing plays and getting the quarterback to the ground.
“They’re doing a really nice job of finishing and tackling. If you look back early on in the year, it was one of those things where we were being disruptive but we weren’t getting him down. When we looked at the number of sacks we didn’t have early on, it was because we weren’t finishing. Now the guys really understand it, that became unacceptable, and now they’re getting the job done,” he said.
With the 3-3-5 scheme West Virginia runs, the prevailing perception is that it’s tougher to get pressure on the quarterback. While that is sometimes true, bear in mind that the defensive line has to find a balance between getting in the backfield, and maintaining gap control along the line the plug up potential holes in the run game.
“It’s all about situational awareness: Down and distance, certain blocking schemes that come to you. You want to be gap-first, but there’s still no question we still want to be aggressive and attack the line of scrimmage,” Tall said.
“We’re not that 4-3, up the field, run up the field type of team, but we do want to be disruptive and control the line of scrimmage. We’re not looking to get real deep in the backfield on certain run plays. You create different seams, because our second level, we play with three linebackers in the second level. So there will be a big separation if we get too far up the field.”
The only thing somewhat similar to what WVU is about to face this week within the Big 12 is the look the Texas Longhorns roll out. West Virginia was pounded for 277 yards on the ground, but still managed to beat the Longhorns in Morgantown a few weeks ago.
“There will be some similar blocking schemes. So there will be some carry-over in that regard. They’re kind of unique. They’ve got a good scheme. They’ve got a good combination of blocking schemes,” Tall said.
“They understand how to attack defenses. They’ve got a real smart offensive line that knows how to adjust different defenses, and can make adjustments on the move better than most offensive lines.”