I've had the opportunity to watch KSU play exactly once this season against Louisville. I learned a few things about them, mostly that they dare teams to run on them. Which is pretty cool and manly, if you've got size in the middle and speed on the edges. They don't. They lost 38-29 in that game and gave up 303 yards rushing. The game was 35-14 in the 4th. Last week, they won 45-37 over LA-Laffy Taffy and gave up 509 total yards with 335 coming on the ground. As pointed out after UMass, Batch and Woods have averaged 29 touches for 292 yards over their previous two games. We'll get back to this, but let's take a look at the KSU offense first.
To date this season, Josh Freeman has played to his potential. If he can continue this consistency, he should solidify his status as the highest drafted QB in the Big 12. I'm both skeptical and nervous at the same time. Freeman is 8th in the country in pass efficiency and has connected on 67% of his passes with 11 TDs and only 2 Ints. KSU is 3-1 on the season with wins over two of the worst teams in the FBS, North Texas and ULL. The other win was over FCS team Montana State. Both of Freeman's interceptions came against Louisville. Hmmm. Everyone in the conference is perfectly aware of what Freeman is capable of, and other than him, KSU appears to have one other dynamic playmaker. A stat of interest is that KSU is tied for #1 in the country with no sacks allowed. The OL seems to be giving Freeman ample time to progress through his reads.
With the loss of Jordy Nelson, long-time KSU fan Dorothy was able to smuggle a member of the lolli-pop guild out of Hollywood and into the Wildcat depth chart. Although only 5'6" and 140 lbs, Brandon Banks leads the nation in receiving yards per game at 115 on an average of less than 6 catches a game. He also has 6 TDs. Banks is the closest thing I've seen to Tyrone Thurman since Tyrone Thurman. Dude can fly and is extremely tough to get a bead on in the open field. Deon Murphy is a dangerous return man, but hasn't quite translated that into traditional offense. Still, he's got 7 catches for 140 yards and 2 TDs. They'll try both Banks and Murphy on some reverses. Most of the other bodies appear to be of the possession variety.
The ground game finally got untracked last week sparked by a position change. After a putrid 30 yard team effort against Louisville, Prince moved former uber-recruit Lamark Brown from WR to his natural position of RB. He's 6'3" and weighs 225 bringing down the 275-lb average of black men lining up in the KSU backfield. Actually, I was a little lazy. Lamark could be a white guy. Let me check right quick. Nope, he's black. Lamark resurrected the KSU ground game from the depths of Lajohn to the tune of 29 carries for 137 yards and a TD against ULL.
Defending the Wildcats
With those things in mind, we're left with a strong-armed QB, who can make all the throws, but has shown inconsistency throughout his career in reading coverages. We're also facing a diminutive WR with the big play potential any time he has the ball, and a new RB with size and 4 stars below his name coming out of high school. If I recall correctly, Banks did most of his damage against Louisville on shorter passes that he broke for big gainers (7 catches for 153 yards, 2 TDs to be exact). KSU uses a pro-set offense with 1 RB, 3 WRs, and 1 TE, which just so happens to be one more WR on the field than Tech's 4-3 base scheme in past years could intelligibly defend. I'm guessing since no other KSU RB had more than 15 carries prior to Brown taking over, that they'll test the alleged improvement of the Tech front 4 and LBs early in the game to establish some playaction opportunities in the first half. Louisville held KSU to 30 yards on 12 carries, and Brown needed 29 attempts against ULL to reach the 137 mark for a 4.7 YPC average. I think Tech will be the best front 7 they've faced, and formational fiesta included, should be able to hold KSU to around the 125 yardage mark.
Coverage is where I see some problems arising, and I'm not quite sure I'm comfortable with the idea of Banks running free through our Cover 2 scheme and Marlon Williams in chase. But, I'm pretty sure that's how we'll play it except for obvious passing downs, where we'll go to our dime defense. Nickels are a rare commodity in Lubbock. The dime look should be sufficient, but if Tech can't hold the KSU ground game on 1st down, then we may not see much of it. Given his size, I'm guessing Banks lines up mostly in the slot, and I wouldn't mind seeing a little of Laron Moore in lieu of M. Williams in this matchup. Moore is 5'9", 185 lbs, physical and one of the fastest players on the team. He might be able to get a jam on Banks at the line and stay close to him long enough for Dixon and B. Williams to get to Freeman. I really think the key here would be mixing your coverages between zone and man to prevent Freeman from getting comfortable with his reads. He'll throw some picks, if you do. Of course, I said the same thing about Cody Hawkins last year, and then, got the enjoyment of hearing comments like, "Cody Hawkins is one of the most underrated game managers in the Big 12," from announcers for 60 minutes. As we ran a skeleton Cover 2 the whole game in an effort to help Colorado fine tune their short passing game. At a minimum, Charbonnet and McBath need to locate Banks on every down and be ready to lay a lick on him. McNeill called an interesting play against UMass in which he ran some man under Cover 3 and allowed McBath to make a play on the ball. It resulted in a pick 6 and displayed the kind of athleticism that you've heard McBath possesses for the last 4 years. Freeman will fall for this kind of shit.
I've covered their problems on the ground, but they've got problems in general. Mostly in personnel. They run a 3-4 defense with one end that is 6'5", 255 lbs and another end that is 6'3", 238 lbs, and I'm guessing this is where teams have picked up the propensity to test these guys. I would too, if I were Leach. Nevada ran a 3-4 except their ends were 6'4", 275 lbs. The decision of this defensive scheme is puzzling given they haven't recruited the personnel to run it effectively. Initially, I hadn't heard of any of the KSU LBs, but that's because I was still looking at the Nevada depth chart. Once I dropped back down to KSU, I still hadn't heard of any of the KSU LBs, and I'm guessing that's because they all appear to be JUCOs.
It's tough to draw any conclusions on the KSU secondary given none of their opponents have called a pass in the last 2 games. That's a lie as Hunter Cantwell went for 274, but one more shot at the KSU run defense was deserved here. My guess is that an undersized 3-4 team facing a predominantly passing attack spread offense is going to blitz the shit out of us. I don't think I'm guessing either and I can almost guarantee it. I would assume this is their primary pass defense as well.
Moving the Ball
Alright, you've been presented with most of the information and I think you see where this thing is headed. One of my criticisms of Leach over the years is his failure to gameplan against specific weaknesses of opponents. His gameplan is always the same. Take what the defense gives you and score as many points as possible. Which sounds logical and simple, but seems to distract from the general concept of winning in lieu of a potential embarassment of an opponent. This thing should be real fucking easy. Start Batch on the first 2 drives, assuming our typical 8 play, 80 yard drive, make sure he gets 4 of those touches either via quick hitter or screen. They'll be over-blitzing, so the RBs and Crabtree should be in for a big day on screens. Use Vasquez to work a combo block with Hamby on the nose, and pull Carter to destroy the playside LB. I don't think I've ever seen a better opponent for Leach's TE and H-back set to be effective. We should be able to push these guys around up front. Once, we've patiently put two scores together with balanced playcalling, then try your pantsing shit with Crabtree over the top and try to stretch this thing out to 21 points by mid-2nd quarter. Louisville effectively made KSU a one-dimensional team, and outside the big plays by Banks, did a pretty good job overall. Most of the JUCO-based teams I've seen will quit early, if you jump out to a big lead. They just haven't had time to develop the chemistry and leadership in most cases. That's how it should play out, anyway. However, I'm sure we'll do a little bit of both, allow a long scoring drive and a big play, and go into the locker room with 21-14 lead. Or deficit, due to the KSU x-factor.
I typically don't cover special teams, but I think it's necessary with KSU. Every time I watch them play, it seems they make a couple of big plays that result in scores, especially in the punt return game. Sure as shit, they've blocked 2 punts for scores this season and Deon Murphy returned an 86 yarder for a TD against Louisville. I vaguely remember this playing a huge factor in their upset of Texas last year. Fortunately, outside the field goal kicking, our coverage units have been outstanding for the most part, and the guys who contribute, take a lot of pride in their limited snaps. This should be somewhat of a wash, but if KSU pulls off the upset, I'm guessing it will encompass a big play here. Other than that, I think Tech wins 42-28 on a healthy and more consistent dose of Batch and Woods versus the erratic offense of KSU. One of the few cases I can remember in the Leach Era, where Tech has the much better running game and defense.