Injuries and other factors have led to this year’s Kansas State (5-4, 3-3) team not living up to the preseason praise it was getting, as the Wildcats were seen as a dark horse in the Big 12 before the start of the year. Now three-fourths of the way through the season, and Bill Snyder has been forced to play three different quarterbacks.
The quarterback spot is where this week’s edition of Scouting the Opponent will start ahead of No. 23 West Virginia’s (6-3, 4-2) game in Manhattan.
Senior Jesse Ertz was supposed to be leading the Wildcats to another successful season. Instead, his season came to a halt five games in due to a knee injury.
Snyder has listed Ertz as day-to-day, but his starting quarterback hasn’t strapped on the pads in a game since the injury occurred. In his place was sophomore Alex Delton, who’s had an up and down year, leading to just a 1-3 record in games he’s completed this season. The lone win came two weeks ago against Kansas when Delton attempted just seven passes on a day that K-State excelled on the ground.
Delton, however, was sidelined last week due to multiple hits to the head, causing concussion-like symptoms. That thrust third-string QB Skylar Thompson into action on the road against Texas Tech, in a game that was eventually won on a Thompson pass in overtime. Due to Snyder not disclosing injuries to the media, it’s unclear if Delton or Thompson will start Saturday.
Given his playing style, Delton – if healthy – could present problems for the WVU defense, as he’s a dual-threat QB that ran for 142 yards against Oklahoma earlier this year.
Balanced, but not Explosive
The quarterback changes have kept things balanced, offensively, for the Wildcats, who enter Saturday’s game averaging nearly the same amount of yardage from the pass as they are the run. However, K-State will run the ball nearly twice as much as it will throw, especially without its seasoned veteran Ertz taking snaps.
Kansas State is averaging 193 yards on the ground and nearly 185 through the air. The 378.1 yards of total offense per game is just twenty-nine yards more than what WVU quarterback Will Grier is averaging only passing the ball this season.
Carrying the Rock
Alex Barnes is the leading rusher for the Wildcats, though he’s averaging just 65.2 yards per contest. Delton can be a true run threat if he plays, and Thompson has shown the ability to run as well.
Runs can come from all over. Eight different non-quarterbacks have carried the ball this year for K-State, compared to the seven total players that have a recorded run for West Virginia.
Here are a few numbers that stick out that if they hold true Saturday, could greatly impact the outcome of the game:
Although nearly as efficient on third down as the Mountaineers (36% – 34%), the Wildcats have been nowhere near as successful on fourth down. K-State has converted just once all year on fourth down, while WVU has a 73 percent conversion rate.
Kansas State is also turning less than 60 percent of its trips to the red zone into touchdowns. WVU on the other hand is doing so 72 percent of the time.
Built to Stop the Run
Just like he likely drew it up, Snyder’s defense has been built to limit the opposing ground game.
Kansas State has been the third-best team in the Big 12 at stopping the run this season, giving up nearly 60 yards less per game on the ground than WVU. However, the Wildcats have the worst pass defense in the conference. Jayd Kirby leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss this year, followed by Will Geary with 7.5.
K-State is the best time in the Big 12 when it comes to returning kickoffs and is second to only TCU when it comes to returning punts.
The Wildcats have returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown this year. Switching sides, Kansas State has also given up the second-fewest yards on kick returns.