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October 25, 2012

Game Up Close: 'Pick your poison'

Some people think it's too boring and others believe it's too old fashion. A few consider it as too vanilla and almost everyone deems it as methodical. It's nearly impossible to ignore its efficiency, but many fail to realize what it truly is.

If you try to accurately pinpoint what exactly Kansas State's offense is like in 2012, you'll probably lose several nights of sleep in the process. There's no true explanation for it. But however which way you care to describe it, just understand that the Wildcats are good and deceivingly explosive on offense.

At times, watching K-State's offense this season is like sitting on the couch with that annoying headache waiting for the Motrin IB you took 15 minutes ago to kick in. Then when you least expect it, it's like a morphine injection. Only a 73-year-old mastermind can describe the recipe to this phenomenon, but he won't ever give up his secrets.

"The umbrella to all of it is virtually the same thing," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "I think it's their approach to the game and to their preparation. I think it's how their coaches prepare them schematically in what they put on the field and how the players execute.

"Their good young players and it's the matter of being able to do what you do as well as you can and do it the right way without the mental errors that take place from time to time."

For the Wildcats, Snyder's way is the right way. Led by their field general, senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Collin Klein, K-State's steadfast combination of preparation, discipline and execution has guided them to a 7-0 record and No. 3 ranking in the BCS Standings.

On Saturday, the Wildcats' seemingly explosive offense will face the quality defense of No. 15 Texas Tech at 2:30 p.m. at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Red Raiders are the best defense in the Big 12 Conference through the first four games statistically and rank seventh nationally in total defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Needless to say, they will play defense better than West Virginia did in last week's 55-14 Morgantown beat down.

"They are number on in the Big 12, I think, in the major categories, which is going to be a great challenge," senior wide receiver Chris Harper said on Tuesday. "We got to come out and get ready for it. We can't live off of last week.

"I definitely know that nobody is looking past these guys. You can't."

Although the Wildcats scored their most points outside the state of Kansas since 1910 last Saturday, this offense is no fluke. They average 42.9 points per game, which ranks just fifth in the Big 12 but tied for 10th nationally with, ironically, Texas Tech.

"I think that this offense is explosive in its own right, similar to several other offenses across the conference and across the country," wide receiver Curry Sexton said. "We might be a little different in that regard.

For the second week in a row, K-State will face a pass-happy offense with a decent rushing attack. Running the football certainly plays second fiddle in this offense, but Texas Tech has had some success on the ground at times this season. The Red Raiders also share the wealth as they rotate between Kenny Williams, Eric Stephens Jr. and SeDale Foster. All three backs have over 60 carries on the season, have broken runs of over 45 yards and have found the end zone more than once. Williams is the better of the three, but either Stephens or Foster can come in and pick up quality yards if defenses scheme heavily towards the pass. The Red Raiders average over 150 yards per game on the ground, but were held to just 71 last Saturday at TCU. Statistically, the Wildcats rank second in the conference behind the Horned Frogs in rush defense giving up just 99 rushing yards per contest. K-State should be able to bottle up the run again this week.
Advantage: K-State
It might not have been the best game of the season for K-State running the football, but it didn't matter playing against West Virginia's struggling defense. The Wildcats compiled 146 yards on 39 nine carries and were effective when need be. John Hubert gained 52 yards on 16 carries, Angelo Pease had seven carries for 46 yards and Collin Klein rushed the ball 12 times for 41 yards and four touchdowns. Texas Tech has a good front-four that has been able to hold teams to just 111 yards per game, but they haven't played anyone like the Wildcats this season. K-State's ball carriers know how to pick up yards after contact and have the ability to wear down their opponents. Plus, the offensive line has been exceptional for most of the season. If all goes according to plan, the Wildcats will be able to control the clock and run the ball like they have all year.
Advantage: K-State
It took a little while for Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege to get going last week at TCU, but he still had a great game. Doege finished the game completing 30 of 42 passes for 316 yards and seven touchdowns. The Red Raider senior has been playing at a very high level and, if on, is one of the most potent quarterbacks throwing the football in the country. K-State's impressive showing last week against West Virginia's Geno Smith will help as the Wildcats face another spread offense with big play capability and they will need to carry a similar game plan come Saturday. Texas Tech throws a lot of short passes in their own territory to move the chains so if K-State's secondary can continue to keep everything in front of them and make good tackles, they should be just fine.
Slight Advantage: Texas Tech
So much for K-State quarterback Collin Klein not being able to throw the football. Even though it was against a horrendous secondary, Klein was stellar at West Virginia. He completed 19 of 21 passes for a career high 323 yards and three touchdowns. It was a performance that turned heads and placed him as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Klein is completing over 70 percent of his throws on the year and his pass efficiency rating of 175.79 ranks second nationally. However, this week will present a challenge for Klein. Unlike the Mountaineers, Texas Tech can play pass defense and are pretty good at it. The Red Raiders rank second in the Big 12 and 12th nationally against the pass. They also have two quality safeties in Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson that have four interceptions combined this season. Klein will need to make good decisions through the air, but until he has a bad game, it is hard to pick against him.
Slight Advantage: K-State
K-State had a minor letdown against West Virginia last week as their kickoff coverage allowed Tavon Austin to return a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. It didn't have any major game implications, but they will need to make some minor adjustments if they want to keep their elite status. Senior placekicker Anthony Cantele was good as always connecting on both of his field goals, including a 42-yarder, and all seven PATs. The Wildcats rank first nationally in punt returns and seven in kickoff returns. And while both Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have had solid returns, they have been held out of the end zone in Big 12 play. That could change this week.
Advantage: K-State
After two tough games on the road, K-State finally returns home to Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the next two weeks. It will be a raucous crowd on Saturday as the 50,000-plus purple fanatics will be anxious to see their third-ranked Wildcats and Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein in action. Although it's homecoming, Texas Tech is no slouch. The Red Raiders are still in the running for the Big 12 Conference title and will be looking to knock off another highly ranked foe. Both teams are playing great football right now and this has a chance to be the conference's premier game of the week. In the end, Klein will prove that he is one of the best players in college football and Snyder will, once again, show that he is the best college football coach within a 2,000 mile radius.
Advantage: K-State
K-State BY 8.5
"Most teams are maybe an air raid offense or a power run game offense. We kind of do a little bit of both. It's a tribute to the program that we have and the game plan that we have each week. With Collin leading the way, it opens things up for everybody else."

After scoring 50-plus points only six times in 54 games dating back to 2007, the Wildcats have scored 50-plus points four of its first seven games in 2012. They scored 51 points against Missouri State in the season opener, scorched Miami for 52 points the following game, blasted Kansas for 56 points earlier this month and hung 55 points at West Virginia last week. The only time K-State scored more than 50 points last season was the thrilling 53-50 victory against Texas A&M in four overtimes.

"I think we got one of the best offenses and toughest offenses to defend in the nation," senior running back Angelo Pease said. "We got so much we can do. The coaches, they prepare us so good, it's hard for other defensive coordinators to prepare for our offense."

K-State's offense has proven to be deadly at times this season. They have scored 10 or more points in 12 of 28 quarters, with five quarters scoring 21 points or more.

"It's hard to explain the reason for that," Harper said. "Obviously, it goes to the athletes. To be explosive on offense, you have to have athletes that are explosive."

On top of that, nine different K-State players have scored offensive touchdowns, with Klein, John Hubert, Harper, Tyler Lockett, Tramaine Thompson and Daniel Sams scoring multiple times.

"We can hit you in all facets of the offense," Sams said. "We can run and pass, QB run game. It's really a pick your poison type thing. You want to stack the box, you got guys like Tramaine, Lockett and Chris. Not many guys can run with them in the secondary.

"It's whatever you want to do. If you're afraid of the receivers, we can still pound you to death with John. Angelo has been doing real good. It's really whatever you want to do."

Snyder says that balance has a lot to do with his team's success.

"As you've heard me say, that's always been our intent to become a balanced offensive football team," he said. "That's our direction. Defenses are going to dictate to you which direction you move.

"You can't leave one exclusively to go to the other, but you still have to have the capacity to have that balance so you can take, and I say this loosely, advantage of opportunities that present themselves."

The undeniable engine to K-State's offense is Klein. The 6-foot-5, 226-pound dual-threat quarterback has completed 98 of 139 passes (70.5 percent) for 1,397 yards and 10 touchdowns and two interceptions this season. He has also carried the ball 110 times for 551 yards and 14 touchdowns. In last weekend's showdown with West Virginia's Geno Smith, Klein torched the Mountaineers for a career-high 323 yards on 19-for-21 passing and three touchdowns. He also scored four on the ground. It was a performance that took Smith out of the Heisman race and cemented Klein as the best and most important player in the country.

"Collin is great," Pease said. "If I had to pick one quarterback in the nation, I would pick him because he's a leader, he's not selfish at all and in pressure situations, he's going to perform.

"He's not going to fold under pressure."

According to Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, K-State will be the best football team they've played all year. And that includes Oklahoma. That's because the Red Raider coach understands the dominant, physical nature of the Wildcats' offensive line, their balanced attack and, of course, Klein.

"The interesting thing about him now is everybody talked about him not being a very good passer," Tuberville said. "He was actually a good passer last year and he's much better this year. You can tell he has gotten a lot more comfortable in throwing the ball and play action.

"He can put it on the money so he's probably the frontrunner for the Heisman right now I would say in how he's played. He's consistent. He's not going to be flashy just because of his size. It's very a totally different type of ballgame than you normally see."

Klein and the Wildcats' offense will have a nice test on Saturday as they square off against the Red Raiders. It's a defense that doesn't create a ton of turnovers, but they are good at keeping the ball in front of them.

However, they do have some weaknesses.

Texas Tech showed signs of exhaustion in the fourth quarter in last week's win at TCU. If they can ran out of gas against the Horned Frogs, K-State could wear them down even worse.

They have a legitimate front four led by junior defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, who has 8.5 tackles four loss including four sacks, but their leading tacklers are safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson. Let's be honest, it's never a good sign when your two leading tacklers are the safeties. With their abilities to get past the front line and their speedy wide receivers over the middle, Klein and K-State can pick apart their weaker linebacker corps. If the Wildcats want to win, they will need to exploit the open space of the middle of the field.

Texas Tech knows they need to contain Klein first and foremost.

"You have to be aggressive and physical with that guy," said Johnson, who as 42 tackles on the year. "When he runs the ball, he's not one that's an elusive runner or speed runner. He's just consistent.

"If you hit him, you have to make sure he falls back. That's one thing that a lot of people may have difficulty with is when they make a tackle, him falling back. He doesn't fall back too often."

Although it doesn't look the part, K-State's offense is dangerous. They showed its explosiveness against Kansas by scoring 56 points on 51 plays and they displayed their efficiency last week at West Virginia by scoring on their first eight possessions, including seven touchdowns. They are hard to describe, but they are as good as anyone this year.

"I think we're just, at times, able to execute with 11 guys on certain plays," Klein, an All-America candidate said. "It just comes down to coaches putting us in good positions to succeed and players making plays when the time comes.

"We've been doing that over a period of time."

They key to the game is for K-State's offense to wear down the Red Raiders and exploit the middle of the field. And with their rushing attack being one of the best in the country and Klein clicking on all cylinders with his receivers, the signs all point the Wildcats' way.

K-State's dominant offense will dictate the outcome of the game on Saturday.

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