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Bring on the Cats Q&A: Defense is the recipe for success at Kansas State

The Wildcats are within striking distance of a conference title, led by the defense.

Oklahoma State v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns find themselves in a survive and advance mindset as they close out the remaining four games of conference play.

After losing to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the margin has disappeared for Texas’s goal of reaching the conference title game, and coming out of the bye they’ll be put to the test immediately. The Kansas State Wildcats currently sit second in the conference, with a legit shot to make a trip to Arlington.

It’s simple, the winner this Saturday in Manhattan will have the upper hand in the race for a berth in the conference championship.

To help us preview the must-win game, we reached out to our friend JT VanGilder (@jtarkman) of Bring on the Cats (@bringonthecats) to shed some light on the resurgent Wildcats.

Burnt Orange Nation: The quarterback situation at Kansas State is still up in the air, with Will Howard filling in admirably while Adrian Martinez comes back from injury. Martinez is still uncertain for the game Saturday and Texas has been preparing for both, so are there significant changes to Collin Klien’s scheme due to the quarterback?

JT VanGilder, Bring on the Cats: With Adrian Martinez at QB, the K-State offense was much more run-based, with lots of option plays in the mix to utilize Adrian’s impressive speed, and maybe some lingering shoulder weakness from his offseason surgery. With Will Howard at QB, the passing game has opened up, especially the deep throws, with significantly less runs for the quarterback. So it really is almost two different offenses depending on QB, and both have been effective.

Collin Klien has shown that he is capable of modifying his scheme to fit the players he has, instead of being stuck in a “system” that the guys need to run. I think that’s part of what hampered Howard the last couple years, because Courtney Messingham’s offense was definitely predicated on having a mobile QB that could run draws and read-options with enough speed to keep defenses honest, and Howard just isn’t a fast guy like that.

BON: This is a battle of the two top running backs in the conference, with Bijan Robinson and Deuce Vaughn jockeying back and forth for the top spot in the Big 12. What has made Vaughn so successful this season, having already faced three of the toughest defenses in the league?

BOTC: Deuce has incredible vision, but he couples that with incredible agility and quickness (and, of course, speed). If the initial hole is open, he can burst through and pick up a ton of yards in a hurry. But if it isn’t, he can quickly back-track or side step and find a different hole, or bounce outside. And of course, one-on-one in the open field he’s a hard man to bring down because he is so shifty. And he can run like that even when banged up a bit, like he was through much of the Iowa State game and the TCU game. But the underappreciated part of Deuce’s game is his strength and toughness. He’s willing to crash into the a-gap a few times in order to help wear down the defense, and has the strength to power into a defensive lineman and still pick up a couple yards.

BON: The Kansas State defense is second in the conference in scoring defense, holding opponents to less than 14 points in four of their seven games this season. What has been the key to their success?

BOTC: Team defense has been the key to K-State’s success this season. Sure, there is talent there as well, and Felix Anudike-Uzomah, for example, is leading the conference in sacks despite fighting through double-teams and uncalled holds on a regular basis. But these guys are assignment-sound and then fly to the ball. So they force the opponent into the zones they want, and then swarm in for the stop. Losing Daniel Green, the Mike LB and defensive captain, during the TCU game was a key part of the Horned Frogs comeback. When they had the week to figure out life without him, they came back out and turned in one of the most impressive defensive performances of the season across all of college football.

BON: What is one storyline you’re watching Saturday?

BOTC: I’m curious to see which QB actually lines up for K-State. If it were me, I’d keep Will Howard in, especially against a Texas defense that has been stout versus the run in conference play. He’s grown by leaps and bounds since his first two seasons in Manhattan, and even had success at times versus the Longhorns last season in a very poorly called game (really, that was the game that got Messingham fired).

I’ll also be watching to see how the K-State defense holds up to the Texas rushing attack, as the Wildcats have struggled at times in the middle of the field to prevent chink running plays. And with Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson (who had nearly 180 yards last year against the Cats) available, it’s going to put a lot of stress on the middle of the K-State defense.

BON: What’s your game prediction?

BOTC: Coming off a historic blowout, it would be easy to predict another strong showing. But this is college football, and even the best teams fluctuate week to week, and the Longhorns have had an extra week to prepare for this one. That said, I still feel very confident in the Wildcats, especially at home in front of a raucous crowd. I’m not going to throw a score out there, because I’m really bad at that, but I feel comfortable predicting K-State wins by at least a touchdown on Saturday in an otherwise tight and hard-fought game.