For a good long while, it appeared that Kansas State was going to be the surprise of the college football season. In replacing a legend, Chris Klieman seemed to have reinvigorated a program that had been stagnant much of the last few years.
The Cats looked impressive in their first two game, putting up 49 and 52 points respectively - and shutting out Bowling Green - before going on the road in a hostile SEC environment and holding off Mississippi State for a 31-24 victory. The happy memories of a 3-0 start soon faded though, as the KSU offense sputtered against the likes of Oklahoma State and Baylor, combining for just 25 points in a pair of disheartening losses that saw the Cats plummeting down the efficiency charts.
Now, at a crossroads, K State welcomes TCU to the Little Apple - an opponent reeling of the same desperation of themselves. Gary Patterson’s squad is stinging from a butt-kicking at the hands of Iowa State, a game that had the head coach questioning a lot about his program, his players, his staff, and himself. The Frogs were bad in every aspect of the game in Ames, and spent a bye week licking their wounds while licking their chops at the prospect of taking down a crippled conference foe on their home field.
Erratic is a nice way of describing what the Cats are doing on that side of the ball (sound familiar, Frog fans?). Skylar Thompson looked like a changed man coming out of the gate, leading the conference in efficiency through the early parts of the season. The junior, freshly installed as THE GUY after battling with now-TCU backup QB Alex Delton last season, is completing less than 63% of his passes (after hitting on nearly 70% of his attempts in non-con play) but has just one interception for a program that prides itself on playing the possession game.
The Cats don’t have a receiver among the conference leaders, but “guy that feels like he’s been there forever” leader Dalton Schoen continues to be their primary playmaker on the outside. The 6’1” senior leads the team in receptions - but has just 16 on the season (which is one more than Jalen Reagor, for context). Two other Cats have double-digit receptions on the season (Phillip Brooks and Malik Knowles - the latter of whom is doubtful for Saturday due to injury). The running game is more stout, with James Gilbert (83 yards per game, 5.7 yards per carry, and four touchdowns) and Jordon Brown (41.5 ypg, 6.6 ypc, and three scores) leading the charge. And that, of course, is where Kansas State has historically buttered their bread - running the ball, dominating time of possession, and keeping the more explosive offenses in the conference off the field.
Oddly, the Cats are more successful through the air than on the ground when it comes to success rate - but not by much (47.24% compared to 45.07%) - and their yard per play and yard per rush rates (#76 and #52, respectively) are average at best. They don’t do much in the way of explosive plays, but convert touchdowns at a solid rate in the red zone, scoring on 67% of their tries.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas State has been a little Jekyll and Hyde. Poor in the rush defense category (9th in the conference, allowing nearly 190 yards per game), the Cats have been exceptional at slowing the pass and are among the lead leaders in total defense and pass defense efficiency. They’ve only allowed three touchdowns through the air all season. K State is well below the national average in yards per play (nearly 6.5) and yards per carry (6.5 as well), but make their hay on third down - where opponents are converting less than 25% of the time, the second best defensive stoppage rate in the country.
Senior linebacker Da’Quan Patton leads the team in tackles with 24, while DB AJ Parker has a pair of picks. The Wildcats share TCU’s quarterback pressure woes - no Cat has more than two sacks and they have just six on the season - the lowest mark in the Big 12. Defensive end Wyatt Hubert is off to a strong start in his sophomore campaign, and looks to be the best pass rusher on the defensive side of the ball for KSU.
Kansas State is perfectly fine on special teams - they are 6-7 on field goals with a long of 46. Junior Blake Lynch is a perfectly reliable place kicker, and KSU has a multitude of options on kickoffs - all of whom are capable of booting it through the end zone.
Punter Devin Antcil will have a tough task limiting Jalen Reagor, but is likely up for it - he’s booted six punts 50+ yards, and of his 21 attempts, only eight have been returnable and six have pinned opponents inside the 20.
In theory, everything that Kansas State does well defensively lines up with what TCU does poorly, and every area they struggle seems to fit into the Frogs’ wheelhouse. The Frogs should be able to run the ball effectively against a Cats defense that has struggled to stop it - meaning a potentially big day for Darius Anderson. With the Frogs’ passing game struggling anyway, leaning on the run isn’t a bad idea.
On defense for TCU, stopping the run will be job one, two, and three. Thompson has regressed as a passer over the last two games and isn’t a huge threat to run - though he has a pair of touchdowns and a couple of long runs under his belt in 2019. KSU’s offensive line has struggled the last two weeks and could be vulnerable to an effective pass rush - if TCU can indeed find an effective pass rush in Manhattan.
All that being said, this isn’t going to be a cakewalk in the Little Apple by any means, but with their backs against the wall, expect the Frogs to come out firing. Give me TCU 27, Kansas State 17.
And no, I don’t feel super confident in saying that.