The Wildcats started their season blasting UTSA and South Dakota by a combined score of 64-3 and then struggled to beat La Tech in overtime, 39-33. A fairly typical Wildcat start - find your sea legs against a weak non-conference slate and have at least one close call against an inferior opponent while Snyder is still installing his system.
Conference play opened with a 36-34 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater (which included some odd officiating) and then they lost a shootout to TCU 52-45. It appears TCU will be a shootout in every game from now on. These were encouraging losses though and they foreshadowed a strong Wildcat push down the back stretch of their schedule. The Sooners were in trouble, right? Not so much. OU blew K-State out 55-0 in Manhattan. The game wasn't competitive. Bill Snyder even went so far as to write an open letter to Kansas State fans apologizing for the loss.
The Kansas State defense is surrendering 5.8 yards per play and 425 yards per game and while they can't be solely faulted for scoring defense, they've surrendered 42.8 points per game to their last four opponents. The Kansas State offense has been sclerotic averaging 4.9 yards per play and QB Joe Hubener has shown flashes as a promising runner, but he's an inconsistent passer (45% completion percentage, 7 yards per attempt) backed up by WR Kody Cook. If you can get Kansas State in a hole or unfavorable down and distance, the game is over.
KSU's offense is entirely predicated on ball control, converting third and short, controlling tempo and converting short fields into touchdowns. Any big plays they get are a direct result of defensive frustration and mental fatigue. The team that can distort that math and forces Hubener into downs and distances that the Kansas State offense just can't cope with, wins.
Similarly, on defense the Wildcats are pretty good at getting after the QB and creating negative plays (their DL plays well in my limited viewing - Britz, Geary and Willis are all quality on the DL) but they're starting some weak links alongside their stalwarts. The teams that can widen the field, spread everything out and pick on their weak links at linebacker and in the secondary are having great success. OU and TCU went off in large part because four and five wide sets force KSU into individual match-ups where they can't hide their deficiencies. The Wildcat grind model on offense can't really thrive paired with a defense that gives up big plays - even as they're playing coverages and schemes designed to prevent them.
By the way, a statistical examination of Texas doesn't make the Longhorns look like world-beaters. We're atrocious statistically. The hope is that those are lagging indicators.
What Kansas State Will Do
Expect a wounded Kansas State team that's ready to play. They're a prideful program and motivation isn't going to be a concern for them. Tactically, they will try to narrow the game into specific match-ups that favor the Wildcats. Our 11 vs their 11 doesn't favor them. Snyder wants our worst 3 against his best 3. He'll distract the other 8 with trickery and false keys. That's the Purple Wizard's way.
On offense, they'll try to confuse and freeze our big men up front and attack our inside LBs and safeties with misdirection and a million different iterations of QB lead, draws, counters, inside zone, zone read and play action. Kansas State doesn't want to play Ridgeway and Jefferson on 3rd and 11. They want to play the Texas ILBs and secondary on 2nd and 4. They want them thinking and tackling in space.
On defense, the Wildcats have sufficient D-line personnel to contain Heard in the pocket and their interior DTs are stout enough to give Doyle and Flowers a headache against our basic running game. My guess is that they'll play zone behind that with a late interior blitzer force (see TCU defense game plan) to force Heard and our receivers to demonstrate that they can take ground 8-12 yards at a time with perfect execution. They'll punish Heard with coverage sacks for holding on to the ball. That's how they can disguise poor individual play in their back 7. The plays will be there for our offense. Will Heard see it? Can the OL block it? Can the receiver run a good route and reliably catch it? Can we do it ten times?
What Texas Can Do
The Texas defense can become a very different animal when we can play Jefferson outside with Hughes while Ridgeway disrupts inside and Ford and Boyette come to play. The key, of course, is Peter Jinkens. If he can play credible inside linebacker and take advantage of the double teams demanded inside, we're a really interesting defense. If he regresses to his historical mean, Jefferson will have to swing back to traditional LB, we play an even front, pass rush evaporates and we can get ground on in the running game 3-8 yards at a time. We'll be playing KSU's game at KSU's pace. Let's not do that. KSU's passing game is 31 of 80 (38.8% completions) with 5 interceptions against their three Big 12 opponents. Let's make them do that.
The Texas offense has a straightforward task. Throw the ball competently. The running game will follow. The KSU defense has surrendered 359 yards passing per game to 3 Big 12 opponents (118-80-1078-11td-3int; 67.8% accuracy). We don't need to throw 45 times - just throw effectively. Spread out KSU and competently attack their weak links. That will require better interior pass blocking from Doyle and Flowers. They've been a sieve and it's destroying our play action deep game. Next, the Texas receivers have to run a proper route and catch the ball. The Texas WRs have been good for 3 drops per game and it can't continue. Daje returning to the lineup doesn't necessarily help consistency, even if our big play potential increases. We need an experienced player like Marcus Johnson to step up.
This Kansas State offense is begging to be placed in bad down and distance situations and their defense is vulnerable to the passing game. Our ability to do either or both will tell us a lot about how this Longhorn team finishes out.