December 27, 2006

The Game Up Close: K-State vs. Rutgers

HOUSTON -- Few teams have a better opportunity this bowl season than Kansas State. The Wildcats were essentially the last Big 12 Conference team picked for a bowl game, but a bid to the Texas Bowl carried an opportunity to play a 10-win Rutgers team along with it. The Scarlet Knights have been one of the nation's biggest stories all season long; can the Wildcats still some of RU's thunder by knocking them off in Houston?

The Game Up Close: Kansas State (7-5) vs. No. 16 Rutgers (10-2)

Thursday, Dec. 18, 7:00 p.m. kickoff
Reliant Stadium, Houston, Texas
NFL Network

Rutgers rush offense vs. Kansas State rush defense
The numbers:
KSU rush defense: Allowing 143.4 yards per game, No. 70 overall
RU rush offense: Averaging 177.6 yards per game, No. 18 overall

The breakdown: Figuring out how to slow Rutgers' offense isn't a problem, it's actually getting the job done that is the tricky part. The Scarlet Knights lean heavily on running back Ray Rice, who has burned his opposition all season long by running for 1,624 yards and 19 touchdowns while averaging better than five yards per carry. Wildcat defensive coordinator Raheem Morris compared the task of slowing Rice to that of containing NFL All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson, which says all you need to know about the respect K-State has for Rutgers' tailback. Senior fullback Brian Leonard also represents a true threat after averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns during the regular season. The Wildcats have been inconsistent at stopping the run all season long and were shredded on the ground in the regular season finale at Kansas. To make matters worse defensive tackle Quintin Echols, K-State's best run stuffer in the middle, suffered an injury during bowl prep, meaning fellow tackles Steven Cline and Blake Seiler, among others, will have to step up their play considerably. K-State will likely throw everything it's got at Rice, but it doesn't figure to be enough.

Kansas State rush offense vs. Rutgers rush defense
The numbers:
KSU rush offense: Averaging 122.2 yards per game, No. 80 overall
RU rush defense: Allowing 106.8 yards per game, No. 26 overall

The breakdown: A number of things led to K-State getting its offense rolling over the final half of the 2006 season, and perhaps nothing was more important than the improved play of Greg Wafford and the Wildcat offensive line. That unit allowed tailbacks Leon Patton and James Johnson to shine, helping both to multiple 100-yard performances and breakout seasons in both players' Big 12 Conference debut campaigns. Johnson is a consistent and patient runner, while Patton adds the ability to make big plays at any time. With that said, both backs are versatile, meaning Johnson has big-play capabilities as well while Patton can also handle a considerable amount of carries. Rutgers' front, although undersized, will leave Wafford and company with its hands full, however. The Scarlet Knights have at least five players with 10.5 tackles for loss, including both its defensive tackles in Ramel Meekins and Eric Foster, who have combined for 27 stops behind the line of scrimmage. K-State is going to have a hard time winning this battle, but it's important that Johnson and Patton help keep this aggressive defense honest.

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