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October 27, 2011
What to Expect in Manhattan?
This weekend Oklahoma and Kansas State will meet up in Manhattan with the Sooners trying to find their feet again after last weekend's shocking defeat at home, the first time any current Sooner player has known defeat on Owen Field. The Wildcats have been one of college football's biggest surprises thanks to Bill Snyder's always clean style of football with few mistakes, great ball control, and sound special teams. Below we break down the Wildcats and just what the Sooners are looking at based on Kansas State's 41-34 win over Texas Tech on October 15, 2011.
In the passing game, not surprisingly, the Wildcats are fairly rudimentary and again don't rely on tons of option routes and a voluminous route tree in their aerial attack. Against the Red Raiders the Wildcat receivers made plays almost exclusively in one of three ways, go routes, fades, or shallow crosses. In fact, it's a bit unclear if another route was run by anyone other than a running back.
And the man running the vast majority of those routes was sophomore John Hubert who may be the conference's best kept secret. He may not be the home run threat that some Wildcat backs in years past have been but when you talk about a guy who is averaging over five-yards per-carry he clearly has enough quickness to do some damage. Whether it's in traditional power formations or four-wide shotgun sets the Wildcats will run off tackle, off-guard, or whatever the situation may call for. Their ability to run effectively out of every set in their arsenal is almost certainly what makes their ground game so difficult to defend.
As with most well-organized offensive groups it's the offensive line that will always go overlooked. The unit may not have a lengthy list of future NFL guys but their cohesion is worth watching and, at least against Tech, the interior of their line shows flashes of being a dominant group - particularly true freshman center B.J. Finney and senior right guard Colten Freeze. The duo really looked strong in moving traffic and whether down-blocking or otherwise, they did a nice job of creating cutback lanes for Hubert.
All this being said, it's Collin Klein that clearly stirs the drink for Kansas State. Through the years you've all seen quarterbacks who are fleet-footed and and capable of being a focal point of the run game and though Klein is an able runner he won't be confused for Vince Young anytime soon. However, what he may give up to some of the recent great run-pass quarterbacks in athleticism he more than makes up for in just pure toughness. One big hit after another Klein just kept getting up and when his team needed a first down, a touchdown, and there seemed to be no room, it was Klein who found a way to make it happen. Watching him come down the line on option players was reminiscent of wishbone quarterbacks of days gone by as he'd fake the pitch, keep the ball and tuck inside a scraping linebacker for a hard-fought first down. His play fakes are what makes his passing so effective but it must be said that when it's needed he is more than capable of delivering a strike.
The thing you have to remember about this Kansas State offense is that their predictable downs are not predictable, have a look at that second and short play-calling. They are more than happy to run when you don't expect it and more than once in the game they were happy to throw on third and short. This team's unpredictability is yet another strength of a unit that while not pretty makes one think of one of the all-time great football movies; 'I run six plays, split veer. It's like Novocaine, just give it time, it always works' - but no you shouldn't start calling Klein 'Rev' or 'Sunshine'.
If there is any remaining doubt about the authority with which Snyder rules his Wildcat universe one need only look at how similar both units are. Both keep things fairly basic and simply watch as one player after another overachieves. That being said, it again assumes there isn't very real talent on the Wildcat roster and if Oklahoma heads to Manhattan with that thought, they'll see their second loss in as many weeks.
Obviously the name that Sooner fans are so familiar with is former five-star recruit Arthur Brown who seems to get better each and every week and was, at times, dominant against the Red Raiders. The athletic linebacker, unlike so many of his counterparts, looks almost incredibly comfortable in his pass drops and seems to have a great understanding of how to properly place himself in coverage to shield receivers, particularly on seam routes, without having to stare into the backfield. He just shows a natural feel for coverage. Though doesn't have Brown's recruiting accolades or overall publicity he is a long and rangy linebacker that you'll see pop up time and time again on Saturday. It's not always highlight reel plays but Walker just seems to always find his way into the middle of things.
To me, if there is one unit that really embodies what Kansas State football under Snyder is all about, it's his defensive line. The group has good talent but they make the most of it with massive effort from players like defensive end [db]Jordan Voelker and tackle Ray Kibble. Joined by Vai Lutui, Meshak Williams, and a host of others the Wildcats didn't create the natural pressure you might hope to see but their hustle plays created a couple of Red Raider turnovers. One would think this is an area where Oklahoma can find some success but at home the unit figures to be at a bigger advantage and a high-effort group against an offensive line that has looked a bit lethargic for large portions of the season is always a risky bet.
Though Brown is probably the biggest star of the defensive group, the secondary is probably the team's strength. And yes, the reality of saying that while watching a game that saw the Wildcats surrender over 450-yards passing isn't lost on me. Still the group boasts one of the better safety duos that Oklahoma will face all season in senior Tysyn Hartman and Ty Zimmerman. Hartman is a heavy hitter that gets better the closer he is to the line of scrimmage while Zimmerman is also more than able to deliver a knockout blow he is more of a jack of all trades that really shows signs of being a force for the foreseeable Big 12 future. At corner the Wildcats are a bit more uncertain but it can not be denied that Nigel Malone opened the game's scoring with a 24-yard interception return for touchdown and for the most part truly stopped Tech emerging sophomore Eric Ward.
If Oklahoma can force Klein to win the game through the air, it's an advantage that can not be denied. For all of the points the Wildcats scored 27 of their 41-points on shortened fields due to either turnovers or on defense and special teams.
That opportunistic defense will need to be again in this one. Man for man the Wildcats simply had trouble dealing with Tech's athletes in space and with names like Kenny Stills, Ryan Broyles, Dominique Whaley headed to Manhattan it should stand to reason that the Sooners can find success against the Wildcats much as Seth Doege and company did. As such, offensively I don't think Oklahoma needs to be elaborate, Kansas State won't beat themselves so make sure and return the favor of not trying to do too much and putting yourself in bad situations. If Oklahoma can break current trends and truly establish the run this is a game they should be able to handle. If not, they'll want to work deep crossing routes that slice through the heart of the Kansas cover two defense. If Broyles can find space in the center of the Wildcats defense it could force some changes that open up vertically for both Stills and Jaz Reynolds.
To me this game comes down to whether Oklahoma is ready to grow up as a team and avoid the foolish errors that burned them last week and hurt them in previous games this year. At some point the costly errors in momentous situations were going to bite Oklahoma and last week that time came. If they can remedy them this week this could be a big win to set the Sooners back on the right track. Much like the Wildcats, Oklahoma will need to have an attention to detail and stay focused particularly in the defensive backfield where the Wildcat offense will try and lull their corners to sleep and then go over the top of them.