After beating ranked opponents in consecutive weeks in convincing fashion, it feels like the Texas Longhorns are poised for a special season. To do that, they’ll have to exorcise yet another of their purple-shaded demons, as the Kansas State Wildcats have derailed exceptional seasons before.
This year’s Wildcats may be a different breed than previous years, as discord among the coaching staff and defensive struggles have been the story as of late, but what should fans expect from K-State in Manhattan? To gain some insight, we welcome in JT VanGlider, editor at Bring on the Cats. You can follow him on Twitter (@jtarkman) and Bring on the Cats (@BringOnTheCats) for more insight.
Burnt Orange Nation: The biggest story of the week has to be the quarterback situation for the Wildcats. As reported by Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle, in the fourth quarter of the loss to West Virginia, head coach Bill Snyder decided to make the switch from Skylar Thompson to Alex Delton without informing offensive coordinator Andre Coleman or quarterback coach Collin Klein. How do you see that type of discord impacting a team known for being fairly drama free over the years?
Bring on the Cats: The team has been dealing with this switching business since camp. And while I think they are getting used to it, that’s not exactly a good thing. It’s like when you get used to the “check engine light” being on in your car and just choose to ignore it.
Publicly, K-State is drama-free because Bill Snyder controls the message out of the Vanier Football Complex like a true dictator. But internally, there have been struggles like this since the end of the 2012 season. The coaches had similar issues trying to sort out a two-QB situation in 2013 before finally figuring out that Jake Waters was the man they needed under center; and it took just as long for the team to get over choosing sides.
I don’t think this team has chosen sides they way they did in 2013, but there is definitely plenty of unease in the locker room over all of this, and switching things like Snyder did on the field Saturday only makes it worse.
BON: From a purely X’s and O’s standpoint, how does the change from Thompson to Delton impact how the Wildcats approach the game as they try to right the ship this season?
BOTC: Thompson is a passing QB that can run if needed. When Thompson is in, there are more designed RB handoffs (even ones disguised as zone-reads, seriously), and more attempt to spread the field vertically. Delton is a running back that can throw okay, as long as he doesn’t have to read through a progression. When he’s in, there is a lot more zone-read, QB draw, and RPO-style plays, with a couple of “Go” route-type plays thrown in.
Ultimately, Snyder is trying to use what he’s got right now to win right now. And he, and many K-State fans, believe that Delton can win “right now”, even if that means holding the program back for the future.
BON: Junior receiver Isaiah Zuber is having a bit of a breakout season, hauling in 24 receptions for 356 yards and three touchdowns, including 144-yard and 133-yard performances in the last two games. In all of last season, Zuber managed 510 yards and four touchdowns. What has changed for Zuber, or the offense, that is allowing his talents to shine?
BOTC: The biggest change for Zuber is that he is the lone guy with high-end talent now. Last season K-State still had Byron Pringle as the primary threat, and a few other ancillary pieces like Dominique Heath (now at App State). Zuber has also benefited from Thompson being the QB, and having the arm strength and skill to hit Zuber on deep routes. Zuber started to break out right at the end of 2017, so having that experience and a true passing QB now has really let him go. Expect a sub-par day from him if Delton starts.
BON: One of Kansas State’s calling cards in years past has been their ability to keep opponents from scoring, while doing just enough offensively to win the game. Through four games, Kansas State is allowing 26.75 points, and gave up 35 to West Virginia last week. What has been the biggest barrier to the Wildcats performing up to their normal defensive standard?
BOTC: The defensive line is probably the biggest issue right now, but pressure on the QB and ability to make stops at or behind the LOS is the real problem. This defense hasn’t been able to prevent “successful” plays on first and second downs, thus creating third-and-short situations that are easy for an offense to handle. And the longer they are on the field, the more breakdowns happen, and/or guys get worn out, so the offense misfiring completely has done the defense no favors.
BON: It’s no secret that Texas has struggled when traveling to Manhattan, carrying a losing streak back to the 2002 season. What makes Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium such a hard place to play?
BOTC: I’ve always just assumed that Texas players have always managed to overlook K-State (and Kansas too), no matter how good (or bad) the teams really are. They see “Kansas” and just assume a pushover. It’s not unique to UT; TCU, Tech, and A&M have all had struggles in Manhattan (and also Lawrence).
But overall, BSFS is rowdy when the team is decent, and the fans are basically on top of the field. The two vertical constructions (the east-side stands and the west-side pressbox) were built as close to the field as possible to not only give fans a better view, but also help keep volume inside the stadium.
BON: What’s your score prediction for Saturday and what is the key to the game for the Wildcats?
BOTC: I don’t predict this to be very pretty for K-State, but it’s still the Texas game and the Wizard is still at the helm.
The key for the Cats will be to get special teams going again. Since the opener, we’ve been missing the long returns that have long defined K-State return units. A ST score would be huge for this team, and may be just what the team overall needs to make this competitive.
Prediction: 27-20 Longhorns