Bring on the Cats is our excellent sister blog on the SB Nation platform, covering Kansas State Athletics exceptionally throughout the year. The exceptional Luke Thompson was kind enough to answer some questions (sent out before last night’s news of Ertz’s injury broke) heading into this weekend’s big game. Give Luke a follow on twitter @AhearnAlley and check out the K State side of things at www.bringonthecats.com.
Melissa Triebwasser: There are questions about Jesse Ertz’s health and if he will be able to go Saturday. What’s your best guess as to who is taking snaps for the Fighting Snyder’s?
Luke Thompson: Since you sent this question to me before the reports about Jesse Ertz missing this Saturday and possibly even 4-6 weeks came out, let me address those first. I find it very curious that the main KSU beat writers have all been silent thus far, and even the site that first broke the news (Matt Hall on kstateonline.com) hasn't really promoted it at all. As for the guy who reported Ertz will be out for a while, he's from DFW and it's not at all clear how he would have access to inside info. So I'm taking all of this with a huge grain of salt for now and I would not be all that surprised if Ertz can go Saturday.
That being said, anyone watching the TCU game could see Jesse was not right. One of our writers on Bring on the Cats even suggested Jesse pulled himself out because he knew he couldn't hit those huge holes, but Alex Delton could. That seems unlikely, but plausible. If Ertz can't run at least close to full speed, that's basically a death blow to the K-State offense, so for that reason I'm going with Delton as the starter on Saturday.
MT: If Alex Delton gets the call, is he a capable enough passer to test TCU’s veteran, but big play prone secondary?
LT: The short answer here is no. It seems like K-State's coaches don't really trust Alex to throw the ball much, and it's not that hard to see why. His passes do not generally look good. He can throw very hard, but accuracy and touch are major issues. Then again, if he only needs to connect on one play vs. TCU's defense, maybe this can work out. Just don't expect lightning to strike too often.
MT: The Cats absolutely dominated TCU on the ground a season ago in Fort Worth, but the Frogs' defense has become one of the best in the country in 2017. Will K State be able to move the ball on the ground Saturday, especially if Ertz can't go, and what are the keys to that being successful?
LT: Hang on, I'm going to go back to look at the box score and watch some highlights from that game...ahhh, what great memories. I miss that offense. Wait, those are the same guys as this season? Really?
Well, obviously Jesse's not the same runner right now, and Justin Silmon has 12 carries for 61 yards in three games this year, compared to 22 for 133 against TCU. Delton is too fast and shifty to not do some damage with an extra blocker against a normal defense, but if the Horned Frogs have watched any film of him at all they'll load the box with 8 or 9 guys and probably be good enough to mostly shut down any running lanes. That would be a problem for starting running back Alex Barnes, too, and he hasn't looked great all season anyway. So I guess the major key to a successful run game would be to show some semblance of a passing attack, which means actually catching the ball as well. At least that got a little better last week, but this is still by far the worst passing offense in the Big 12.
MT: In the Texas game, a good Kansas State secondary struggled defending UT's massive wide receivers. The Frogs don't have any real freaks, size wise, on the outside - do you expect them to be able to limit TCU's passing attack defensively?
LT: I honestly think this is the best matchup for K-State's defense against the TCU offense. Yes, the Frogs are fast and I'll be holding my breath any time KaVontae Turpin catches the ball in the open field. But DJ Reed has dynamic speed, too, and safety Kendall Adams continues to show a terrific ability to make plays. Cornerback Duke Shelley is another guy who can generally handle speed and tackle smaller receivers well. If the Frogs create some matchups where linebackers are trying to cover receivers, then look out, but I have a lot of faith in the K-State secondary and the Big 12's best pass defense in terms of both yards and efficiency, even after Sam Ehlinger threw for 380 yards.
MT: Dalton Schoen burst onto the scene against Texas as a wide receiver. Did he just have a magical game or is he a true #1?
LT: With all due respect to Dalton Schoen because he's a great story as a walk-on sophomore, if he's a true #1 then Kansas State's passing attack is in even worse shape than we think. Full credit to him for taking advantage of the opportunity and he might have the best hands on the team to go with some decent breakaway speed, as the Texas and Central Arkansas defenses found out on a pair of 70+ yard touchdown passes.
Thanks to those two plays he leads Kansas State in receiving yards and he made some other nice catches too, but I still want to see more from other guys. The 'Cats' original #1, Byron Pringle, has imploded, and inconsistencies have plagued explosive guys like Dominique Heath and Isaiah Harris. Isaiah Zuber leads the team with 20 catches (almost twice as much as anyone else) and has shown some nice athleticism, but the real story here is that K-State does not have anything close to a true #1. I miss Tyler Lockett so much.
MT: The Wildcats have been pretty good defensively, but might be a little banged up heading into Saturday's contest. Can they slow down a Horned Frogs' offense that has been one of the most efficient in the country?
LT: Despite my faith in the pass defense, the fact that TCU thrives in the running game does not bode well. The defensive line isn't nearly what it was last year with Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Willis, and the linebackers are the clear weakness for this defense. That's especially bad news against an offense with a dual-threat quarterback like Kenny Hill (see: Sam Ehlinger's 107 rushing yards last week) and unless you count Vandy's Ralph Webb this defense really hasn't gone up against a quality running back yet.
MT: For K State to beat TCU, what needs to go right? If the Frogs prevail, what has gone wrong? What is your prediction for the game?
LT: This is probably going to seem like a cliched answer for Kansas State fans, but the 'Cats likely will need a big play or two from their excellent special teams units. DJ Reed's 62 yard punt return against Central Arkansas is still the only special teams touchdown of the season since he came up 4 yards short on the opening kick return in that game, so it really seems like they're due. Obviously, Kansas State also needs to do enough through the air to keep the TCU defense honest, even if that means connecting on just a couple deep passes in man-to-man coverage.
If the Frogs win, it will probably mean they were able to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and control the clock with an effective running game, a strategy Wildcat fans know quite well. Things could get really ugly if you combine that with a Kansas State offense unable to move the ball through the air and stop TCU from loading the box.
I think back at home, we'll see a renewed energy from Kansas State and hopefully a game plan to take better advantage of some talented running backs who haven't done a whole lot this season. Assuming Alex Delton is in the mix, a run-heavy offense with some simple passes thrown in could easily keep this one close, but TCU just looks a little too strong right now. I'll reluctantly take the Frogs, 31-27.
MT: Bill Snyder is a living legend in college football and celebrated his 78th birthday last Saturday. How much longer do you think he stays at the helm of the Cats? Do you have a dream scenario for who you would like to follow him?
LT: Bill Snyder will coach forever, or at least until he wins another Big 12 title. I don't know. When you have a coach who retired once, had the stadium named after him, and then returned to celebrate his 78th birthday on the sideline, it seems kind of silly to guess when he's going to call it a career, you know?
As for who I'd like to follow him, a lot of K-State fans say Brent Venables, and obviously that would be a pretty solid option given the reputation he's established at Clemson and his history as a player and then an assistant for six years at KSU. Then again, perhaps the best and most realistic dream scenario is a genius young coordinator who no one's really heard of yet. After all, that was basically the description of Bill Snyder when he came to Manhattan.
Thanks again to Luke, and here’s to a fun, injury-free game, and hopefully a TCU win!