The Kansas State Wildcats come to Austin sitting on a 2-1 record after their opening loss to reigning FCS champion North Dakota State at home and two pretty easy wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and UMass, respectively.
Going Inside the Numbers provides some perspective on just where this Kansas State team is as they ready to drop a seventh consecutive victory on Texas.
|Rk||Team||Off. S&P+||Succ. Rt||Rk||PPP||Rk||S&P||Rk||
|Standard Down S&P||
|Passing Down S&P||Rk|
Aside from the high interception rate from Jake Waters and the emergence of Sams that helped limit the pass attempts in the last game against UMass, Waters has put up impressive passing game numbers against defenses the early stats don't particularly trust -- especially UMass, which was one of the worst teams defensively last season.
The rushing game looks strong behind the experienced Kansas State line, presenting a picture of an offense that is operating at a high level of efficiency, especially on standard downs. The game against North Dakota State is the significant outlier so far, when starting running back John Hubert was held to 23 yards on 10 carries with a 17-yard run in there. Basically, he had one good carry and then gained six yards on the other nine carries. Waters wasn't much better, converting 11 carries into a single yard. He also had an 11-yard run mixed in.
Of course, North Dakota State probably has a better run defense at this point than Texas.
But Hubert wasn't much better against the Ragin' Cajuns, managing only 3.1 yards per carry until breaking out against the Minutemen with 18 carries for 116 yards.
On third downs, the outlier against was the opener, as Kansas State has converted 15-of-25 after a horrendous 2-of-10 mark against NDSU.
It's probably too early to say that Kansas State has an offense that would compare to last season's group or even to say that it is good, but the last two games suggest that either North Dakota State would be extremely competitive in the FBS or that Kansas State isn't quite as good right now as the early numbers suggest.
Based on some of the individual performances of Hubert and the fact that UMass was one of the worst teams in the country last season and has given up more rushing yards than Texas so far, the numbers probably like the Kansas State running game too much overall.
The efficiency of the offense is to a large extent based on the passing game, which was very good through the first two games despite the high interception rate from Waters, aided by some explosive plays, as the Wildcats are tied for 21st nationally with 13 plays of 20 or more yards through the air.
The other caveat here? Throw all these numbers out the window, because the Horns will likely be facing an offense guided primarily by Sams that will have little resemblance to what the Wildcats have been doing for the last several weeks.
So there's that.
|Rk||Team||Def. S&P+||Succ. Rt||Rk||PPP||Rk||S&P||Rk||
|Std. Downs S&P||
|Pass. Downs S&P||Rk|
With nine starters gone from last year's team and major question marks along the defensive line, the Kansas State defense hasn't been a massive disappointment, but it hasn't been particularly good either. The turnover profile is a bit odd, too, in that the Wildcats have four interceptions and zero fumbles recovered or forced.
Against Louisiana-Lafayette, the team struggled some in giving up plays between 10 and 20 yards, but overall have given up seven over 20 yards and only a single play over 40 yards -- even if the group isn't nearly as talented and capable of completely shutting down opponents, it's still coached by Bill Snyder and that means the Wildcats won't have massive coverage breakdowns and they play smart.
The big area for concern entering the season was the defensive line, where Kansas State lost almost all of their contributors, including star defensive end Meshak Williams. So far, the group hasn't been that impressive, resulting in a rush S&P that ranks No. 88 nationally. However, the defense is still forcing negative plays at a high rate, with 21 tackles for loss on the season, led by junior defensive end Ryan Mueller with 4.5. Mueller also has 2.0 sacks and is clearly the most disruptive player along the defensive line at this point.
The defense has also struggled to get off the field, allowing opponents to convert on 48% of their third downs, which ranks 106th nationally and significantly worse than the Texas defense, even.
In the red zone, the Wildcats have been better, stopping opponents from scoring twice in 10 trips and only allowing six touchdowns for a pretty average rank nationally (tied for 57th).
This is probably the weakest Kansas State team Texas has faced since the Ron Prince era, but even that didn't help the Horns in those contests. It's a team that does some things well in creating explosive plays in the passing game, sustaining drives, hawking the ball in the secondary, and avoiding giving up big plays.
If it comes down to a battle of the Wildcat offensive line against the Texas defensive line, that's a match up that doesn't exactly favor the visitors. Throw in the fact that the best wide receivers for Bill Snyder both go about 5'8 or so and Texas shouldn't be dominated on the perimeter in the run game to the extent they were against physical specimens like Dante Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell for Ole Miss.
And if Texas can get a lead and force Kansas State to throw the ball, Waters has that high interception rate and the Kansas State offensive line has given up 21 tackles for loss this season.
The key is winning on first down and creating the type of negative plays that will put Kansas State in obvious passing situations, where they may be explosive, but won't be able to hammer away at the porous Texas run defense.