Just who is Ron Prince? We know he's the head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats, but what else do we know about him? Some say his football team is a reflection of the man himself - "hard but stupid" - which we'll get to in a minute.
But who is he really? If we're to believe the KSU athletic office bio, "Ron Prince’s national perception has gone from ‘who’s he’ to being mentioned among the ‘who’s who’ in college football."
Me thinks that may be just a wee bit generous; moreover, you can't trust a school to talk honestly about its own personnel. (After all, we let Bill Little write the Texas news releases.) So let's go to a more reliable source to answer the question 'Who is Ron Prince?'
Intergalactic space emperor?
Whatever Ron Prince is, one thing's certain: Kansas State desperately needs to hire our friend Chum to do their videomaking from here on out.
Earlier today, it was suggested that Kansas State is a reflection of its coach - "hard and stupid." Those aren't my words, but I noted in the comments why the sentiment isn't without justification. I'll weigh in on this momentarily, but the first thing I did when this conversation got underway is turn to my friend TB over at Bring On The Cats. I asked him to respond to the comments about Prince and KSU, which he did with aplomb:
K-State fans are and should still be somewhat skeptical of Prince. In his first year, quarterbacks Allan Evridge, Kevin Lopina and Allen Webb transferred from the program. After his first year, several assistant coaches left for jobs that should not be considered superior to assistant coaching at K-State. There were also wild Internet rumors last year concerning severe mistreatment of Matt Boss, an offensive lineman who quit mid-season. And then there was the preseason "Stepgate," in which media members observed the offensive assistant coaches running steps after an open practice. Fans of rival programs - chiefly Nebraska - have pointed to all this as evidence Prince is a man out-of-control, and one who will run K-State's program into the ground.
The funny thing is, he hasn't. It's too early to make any definitive statement, but I have to wonder about the veracity of some of the rumors of Prince's tyranny. If everyone hated him so much, his assistants would have no interest in doing their jobs well, and I doubt many players would play hard for a coach they don't respect. As the commenter in the roundtable put it, you can't deny K-State plays hard.
So far, K-State fans have little to complain about as far as the results Prince has produced. He took a team that was 9-13 the previous two years and went 7-5 in the regular season and got the Cats back into the postseason. As Longhorn fans know all too well, he also managed to knock off a top five team in the process, and the team showed steady improvement throughout the season. That's not to say everything is purple roses. The loss to KU was unacceptable and cannot be replicated. The effort has to become more consistent, as well. But based on what I've seen so far, I'm more than willing to wait for that to come.
To the criticism at hand: there is no doubt K-State - especially the defense - has played stupid this year. The Cats lead the nation in penalties, and had 16 penalties for 162 yards against Missouri State. That is absolutely unacceptable. Prince has addressed this in the media, but it's a difficult problem to fix. You don't want the defenders to stop playing aggressively, but you also don't want them extending opponent's drives with late hits and pass interference penalties. Some of that is positioning, some of that is thinking.
I also happen to agree that the way to play K-State is to force the offense to build long, sustained drives, but that's also the way to stop any team. The more plays a team has to run, the more likely it is to make a mistake. If we can force Texas to try and score on drives longer than 10 plays, we'll have more options to make a stop or force a turnover. The most encouraging thing Wildcat fans have seen this season is the maturation of Josh Freeman. While he's still a work in progress and forces the ball occasionally, he has shown great signs in terms of improving his patience.
Henry James made a point that is worth discussing: If Texas tries to cover Jordy Nelson (usually K-State's slot receiver) with Scott Derry, Nelson is going to have a field day. Nelson goes about 6'3", 220, and is far too fast for a linebacker. Especially a slow one like Derry.
I'm not stupid - K-State is not the favorite in this game by any stretch. I would say the Cats have, at best, a 30 percent chance to win this game. But I also believe the game will go at least into the third quarter, and quite possibly the fourth, with the outcome still in doubt. If K-State can slow down Jamaal Charles and get some pressure on Colt McCoy, and protect the ball and sustain a few drives with their own offense, they will put themselves in position to win. We know what we're going to see from Texas, and that's great athletes who can and will make great plays. It's on the Wildcats to play within themselves and execute the game plan. Whether or not they will, and if they do, whether or not they'll finish remains to be seen. But that, of course, is why we love watching the games.
TB may be right that Ron Prince is not a dumb man, but the problems (penalties and turnovers) Henry James alludes to are very real indeed. Consider:
Do they have six Robert Killebrews on the team? I haven't seen numbers that ugly since... okay, it hasn't been that long.
Should Texas actually count on the Wildcats coughing up a hundred some yards in penalties? Of course not, but the trend is pretty troubling for KSU. Penalties were a problem last year and remain a problem this year. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc.
This gets at the heart of this game in another manner, as well. Last season, the Longhorns lost in Manhattan in an indescriably painful manner, but it's instructive to remember that the Wildcats won by three points, at home, in a game in which most everything went their way. SMQ, an impartial observer, had this to say in The Eyes of Texas 2007 about last year's loss:
I think that's more or less the bottom line, and though you can credit Ron Prince and his staff for putting everything together for one evening, and though you can shake a stick at Texas' coaches for having a notably poor evening guiding the team - at the end of the day, last year's loss in Manhattan was not an indicator of any kind of larger trend. A broader view of these two teams, coaching staffs, and programs clearly illuminates the very wide gulf between them.
We'll conclude here for now. More on Kansas State throughout the week.