Kansas State has taken a prime position in the Big 12 race; under second-year head coach Chris Klieman, the Wildcats are well-coached, talented, and ready to compete with anyone in their path.
Always a toughly-contested game, the Cats head to Fort Worth Saturday to face off with another team with a top ten skin — and the winner of the 3:00pm kick is in great position going forward. We chatted with Jon Morse of Bring on the Cats to talk about what Klieman has brought to the Little Apple, what Deuce Vaughn means to his team, and just what exactly is going on with the K State defense.
Frogs O’ War: Can you describe what the transition to Chris Klieman has been for the program — and what a coup it was to go from a legend like Snyder to one of the best coaches in the conference?
Jon Morse: It’s really interesting. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t seem like there’s been much of a transition at all, but we’re starting to see some major differences between Klieman and Snyder. Klieman’s far more willing to play the talented underclassman over the senior who’s paid his dues thanSnyder was, and that was true last year so it’s not just a COVID-necessity thing.
We’re also seeing a very large difference in recruiting. We could write a book about how and why Snyder seemed to shy away from anyone with more than three stars, but Klieman’s going for them and starting to get them.The athleticism and talent already on display from some guys I don’t think the Snyder staff would have put the effort into recruiting is already apparent.
Which brings us to the last part of your question: if Klieman is as adept at coachin’ ‘em up as Snyder was, coup doesn’t even begin to describe it. Klieman’s going to end up with even better long term results if that’s the case.
FOW: K State graduated a ton of players last season, but doesn’t seem to have skipped a beat. How have so many young guys stepped in so seamlessly?
Morse: I guess the answer to the last question answers this one, although I think we probably need to acknowledge that the lack of spring practice has affected everyone differently. In some cases, it’s going to meancoaching outweighs talent because better coaches can teach more quickly;in others it’s going to mean talent outweighs coaching because much of the art of coaching is teaching your guys how to neutralize talent.
2020 may be a hell of a philosophical debate about football between the lines.
FOW: Skylar Thompson seems to have improved each of the last two years, and his dual-threat ability make him a dangerous QB. But he might be out for Saturday, and possibly beyond. What had Thompson done well this season, and if he can’t go, what does Will Howard bring to the table in his stead?
Morse: Let me start by saying that I am pro-Thompson, and I am merely stating the views of a portion of the fanbase when I say this:
He hadn’t done a lot well this season until the final 20 minutes in Norman, and he wasn’t lighting it up against Tech before he went down.
That said, we really don’t know about Will Howard at all. He is a true freshman. He got no spring practice. He’s played about a half of football, and until he tossed that last pass in the flat to Deuce Vaughn(for a surprise 70-yard touchdown when the only intention was to move the chains and ice the game), his stat line was looking pretty bad.
Obviously, we weren’t going to blame him for that given the situation, but I cannot say with any honesty anything about what I expect from Howard Saturday. This week will be the first time he’s even gotten first-team reps in practice for all I know.
FOW: Deuce Vaughn seemingly came out of nowhere and has quickly established himself as one of the most critical offensive players in the country. What makes him such a weapon, and does he have a weakness?
Morse: I mean, he’s another true freshman, so he quite literally came out of nowhere, right? His weapon IS his weakness: his size. Most people point to Darren Sproles as his comp, and not just because he’s small. He runs the same way, he brings the same pass-catching ability to the table, and he’s slippery.
The weakness, of course, is that he’s not going to be pushing the line if the blocks aren’t there and he can’t bounce. That and the risk of injury.
FOW: Kansas State has not been great on defense this season, but certainly has some talented guys. Why the slow start on that side of the ball?
Morse: I am doing the Nathan Fillion thing here.
K-State has been fine on defense. In the first game, they simply didn’t have the personnel available to deal with a huge beast of a wideout. In the second game, they got outschemed in the first half and then by the third quarter had adjusted so effectively that Spencer Rattler only completed two of his last thirteen passes. Against Tech, there was what appeared to be a coaching malfunction; they had Tech locked down until Henry Colombi got his footing and started hitting passes, then over compensated for that and allowed the center of the run defense to open.
As someone whose primary focus is always on the back seven, let me assure you that the post-quarantine unit is very likely the best secondary K-State has had in *years*. It’s simply a matter of calling the right schemes.
FOW: Is there anything you have seen out of TCU this season that you think K State can exploit? Which player worries you the most on the opposing sideline?
Morse: Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to see much of the Frogs this year,which is odd because y’all are my Big 12 side piece. But I can answer the second question without any need to have seen TCU this season. Max Duggan. We remember last year. Sure, we won, but he made our defense look foolish.
FOW: What’s your prediction for Saturday? What’s the key to the victory for the winning team?
Morse: I have a suspicion TCU’s going to take this one, but — as it always is when we meet — it’s going to be down to the wire. For TCU, it’s going to be keeping K-State from scoring, and that job may end up being not so hard as one might expect with a freshman under center. For K-State, it’s going to be stopping Duggan and making that offense work.
Be sure to follow Jon on twitter @BringOnTheCats.