Well we're at under 12 hours to kickoff. There definitely seems to be a sense of nervousness about the unknown right now, that or maybe it's indifference but I hope not. One way or the other I can't decide.
For Kansas fans this game represents an opportunity. Kansas State is a solid team, with a great coach and the game is FAR from a win, but it does seem to be at the very least one of the reamining games where the Jayhawks at least matchup reasonably well with.
So what about the Kansas State perspective? To help us out with a view of the world through purple sunglasses the crew over at Bring on the Cats was kind enough to take my typical Q&A session and turn it into a opponent roundtable of sorts. A big thank you to TB, Bracketcat and K Scott Bailey for your help and with that, let's get on with the show.
Kansas vs. Kansas State. What does the rivalry mean to you?
In football, Nebraska is always the biggest game on the schedule to me, because that's where I'm from and it involves trash-talking rights among family and friends. In fact, during my first year at K-State, I was really naive to what an in-state rivalry was all about. For a kid growing up in Nebraska, there was no such thing as in-state rivalry, and with NU established as a dominant program, it was very rare to meet someone who was a fan of another program. When I came to Kansas, I discovered that in-state rivalry is about your friends, neighbors and coworkers. It's something you deal with everyday, rather than just on the off-chance you run into somebody in Omaha who happens to be from a different state and still cheers for their home school (usually an Iowa fan). So that's what it means to me personally.
I think it's much more important in football than it is in basketball, for one simple reason: recruiting. I'm in the camp that believes football success in Kansas is a zero-sum game; K-State and KU never have been good programs at the same time, and I highly doubt that's possible (we'll leave aside the fact that they've almost always been impressively terrible programs at the same time because it's not convenient to my point). There aren't enough good recruits in the state of Kansas to stock both teams, and the more-successful program is going to land most of those few recruits.
It means everything to me -- at least in a sports sense. I wrote a story for BOTC called "Why The Big Game Matters So Much: A Personal Story", in which I go into great detail why I care so much about this game. Suffice to say, it's wrapped up in a lot of good memories of listening to bad football in the 80s with my dad. He passed away in 1997, but not before we had time to build some good memories of GOOD football as well. Basketball was our first passion (Hartman and Kruger, anyone?), but football followed on close behind.
I work with Jayhawks. My mother works with Jayhawks. I'm related to Jayhawks. If they win, they're going to be mouthy. If we win, they're going to be quiet. Let's just say I prefer them all quiet - it's much more peaceful for me.
Daniel Thomas. Can Kansas stop him? How do they do it? And if that involves 8 men in the box, can Coffman or whoever plays QB make Kansas pay? Obviously I'm talking about the Kansas defense and not Nebraska's so ignore all previous notions about what your QB's can and can't do.
KU can definitely stop him. The blueprint is out there, and it's not that complicated. With an extra man in the box, if the line can get off the ball and get penetration against K-State's offensive line, Thomas will be bottled up. He's a great back, but the greatest backs need running lanes. To create running lanes, you either need a pipeline of ridiculously big (and good) offensive linemen, or you need some other threats to keep the defense honest and open things up a little. K-State's line is pretty good, but it's not dominant. And as for other weapons, well, they exist, but it's kind of hard for them to have an effect when the quarterback can't get them involved.
I've always been of the belief that any defense, given the right scheme, and players who at least know their head from their hindquarters, can shut down a powerful running attack. Now, it's much more difficult to shut down both the run AND the pass, which is where I think the Jayhawks may have some issues. Even with Broderick Smith going down for the season, the Cats have some SERIOUS talent at the wide receiver position. And, while I hope that Coach Snyder is simply running a ruse with the whole "Coffman is still the starter" thing, I think that where the Hawks will struggle is in the vertical passing game.
KU should do exactly what UCF and Nebraska did: Make Carson Coffman win the game. Against the Knights, he did. Against the Huskers, he most definitely did not, although he was far from our biggest problem that night (and going forward). I don't even really think you have to stack the box. Nebraska used Lavonte David to spy Thomas and stuff him any time he peeked past the line of scrimmage. I expect Justin Springer to perform a similar role. But that leaves KU in one-on-one coverage, with space in the middle for Andre McDonald to rumble around. K-State will have to capitalize on the opportunities in the passing game, which the Wildcats did not do last week.
What would you say your biggest concerns are going into the game in terms of matchups?
Definitely K-State's defense against KU's offense. I know KU has had its share of struggles offensively, but this isn't about KU's offense. This is about a K-State defense that lacks speed, size and skill. If James Sims gets rolling on the ground, then I have serious fears that we'll see Daymond Patterson and Bradley McDougald running circles around our safeties in the defensive backfield.
As far as matchups, I don't have a TON of concerns anywhere. My main concern is that there could be a hangover from Nebraska, and that Coach Snyder might go into a bit of a shell offensively. I'm not sure that KU has the offensive team speed to make the Cats pay for the terrible angles they take to the football, and the other problems that the Huskers revealed. But, I will candidly admit that I could be VERY wrong about that, since I've only watched two KU games, one being their best one (Ga Tech) and the other, their second-worst (Baylor).
If I was Chuck Long, I would install the zone read out of the pistol offense this week with Jordan Webb and James Sims. Every single team has used it on us this year, with moderate to extreme success.
I think our cornerbacks can handle KU's receivers in pass coverage, but if Daymond Patterson slips behind our safeties (we've been burned for at least one long pass down the middle in every game this season), look out.
As usual, K-State's ability to play any defense whatsoever will depend on whether it can generate a pass rush out of its soft 8-man coverage defense. I think Brandon Harold can have some success against a beat-up and thin Jayhawks offensive line, but I have to see it to believe it.
What does Bill Snyder's gameplan for this one look like?
It will almost certainly involve a heavy dose of Thomas as the main ingredient. Thomas will line up in the Wildcat at least five times. Assuming the run is established, play action becomes a threat. There will probably be some moderate trickeration, whether it be out of the Wildcat formation or in terms of some end-arounds or other shenanigans. Finally, there will be some short passing game, possibly involving the tight end, but not much. As KSB said, if K-State has to throw it more than 20 times, then the Wildcats are in big trouble.
If I'm Coach Snyder, I OPEN the game with a decent dose of Daniel Thomas, with a side of Tramaine Thompson on the end-around, and then some kind of play-action, in which our QB wings it deep to one of our athletic receivers.
On the whole, though, I think a winning game plan for this Cat team will always include about 40-45 runs (hopefully no MORE than 25 for DT), and 18-22 passes. We need to lean on DT, but not SO much that people just stack it up against him, which is what has happened against UCF and NU these last two weeks.
Defensively, Cosh absolutely HAS to find a way to bring a bit more pressure. Not every other down or anything, but just enough to keep opposing offenses a bit uncomfortable. Right now, the Wildcat defense is VERY easy to play against, at least from a comfort perspective, and this is NOT a good situation to be in.
Establish the bubble screen with Chris Harper and Tramaine Thompson. Baylor killed KU with it all day long. We don't have nearly the speed the Bears do, but we have enough to exploit mismatches and bad positioning.
I'd come out throwing those slip screens and quick outs, which should stretch the Jayhawks defense laterally. Once you do that, the middle opens up for Daniel Thomas and William Powell. If we then can establish the run from there, the play-action pass to Aubrey Quarles comes into play and we can diversify from there. But make no mistake - we'll need all those weapons in order to score and keep the defense off the field as much as possible.
How do you think the changes coming in the Big 12 in terms of scheduling and alignment affect Kansas and Kansas State going forward?
In an absolute sense, it becomes harder to win the conference, because a winning level of play has to be sustained over nine weeks rather than over a single 60-minute contest. There's my "sky is blue" comment for the hour. It's not like it becomes impossible for anyone other than a Texas or Oklahoma to win it, because we've seen both programs have occasional struggles. In a round-robin, K-State probably would have won the conference in 1998, and possibly a couple other years, while KU would have at least been in the mix in 2007. It's possible, but as with anything involving programs that are not traditional powers, it probably won't be a year-in, year-out contention.
From a fan's perspective, it's probably better. You're guaranteed to get Texas or OU at home every other year (I refuse to include A&M in this category). You get a true champion, proven over nine weeks of playing every other team. I like that. I just hope it's a workable financial model going forward.
Well, the most obvious and apropos effect is that the Hawks will get two straight years of home games against the Cats in football. But that aside, I think the changes help both schools, at least in the short-term, for both major revenue-generating sports. In football, we are assured of at least three marquee national teams (at least in name) on our league schedule every year, in OU, Texas, and Texas A&M. We also will be visiting every other league school at least every other year, except for the one neutral-site team. (In our case, this means avoiding a trip to Iowa State, which I don't think many people mind at all!) I think these visits foster a unity -- at least amongst the fans of the teams -- that could be helpful going forward.
Basketball-wise, the new league is a complete and utter improvement over what the Big 12 was. We've pruned the two worst programs in the league, and will now get to play a true home-and-home round robin within the league. And I may be a pollyanna here, but I don't see the Big 12 going anywhere, anytime soon. Now that Texas has been mollified, and the Huskers and Buffs are gone, what could really happen to threaten the conference. I guess Mizzou could lose their minds, and start flirting with the Big 10 again. But, if that happened, I think that the Big 12 would just go ahead and shove them out the door, and invite someone like TCU to get us back to 10 teams. (I have a whole other theory about the number of teams that the conference will settle on, but that's for a different post.)
I don't think I can add much to what K. Scott Bailey and TB said, and I heartily endorse their comments. It'll certainly be more difficult to compete and mediocre bowl games, not division titles, will become the benchmark of success in most seasons, but I think it will be more competitive across the board and more entertaining for all fans, and thus I am looking forward to the Big 12 very much. And basketball will just be insane. Break me off some of that, please.
Basketball Question. We did a little exercise during our roundtable this week where we made an argument against Kansas as a possible Big 12 favorite. Obviously the coaches poll came out last week and it was just a chance to look at the question marks surrounding Kansas. Flip that over to you all, you are the favorites as voted by the conference coaches, but what would be your argument against your own team? What questions do you have about Frank Martin's group?
My only two questions for Frank would be centering around the losses of Denis Clemente (to graduation) and Dominique Sutton (to transfer). Both were very important to our team, for very different reasons. Denis brought fire, passion, and an indomitable will-to-win. Dom was a very high-quality defensive stopper. But, my biggest argument "against" my Cats would be this: THERE'S A TEAM IN THE LEAGUE THAT IS THE 6-TIME DEFENDING CHAMPION!
I mean, as much as I hate to say it, the Hawks are the beasts in this conference until someone proves otherwise. I mean, they've won 8 of the last 9 years, and 10 of the 14 overall, I believe. Do I think the Cats have a great chance to unseat them this year? Sure. But, do I think that it's wise for the coaches to pick the Cats as the favorites to win the conference? No.
K-State has a big question to answer in the backcourt. Can any of last year's role players step in and provide a sufficient replacement for Denis Clemente that Jacob Pullen can continue to play at an all-conference level? My money is on Nick Russell to step in. He was smooth in limited action last year, and probably would have seen more time if he had been more consistent on defense. As we all know, if you don't know your defensive rotations, you won't play for Frank Martin. So with a question-mark like that, I'm not prepared to pronounce the Cats the league favorite.
KSB mentioned Dominique Sutton, and while I agree that I'd probably rather have him on the squad, he had the ability to be a complete non-entity. His reputation for defense preceded him everywhere, and he got called for early fouls constantly. That led to his second problem, which was a total inability to slough off a "bad" call and keep playing. He dwelled on them and let it take him out of his game. Add to that the fact that he was an absolute non-factor offensively, and you really had a marginal basketball player on a top 10 team. Let's put it this way. His replacement will probably be Rodney McGruder. While McGruder is not the defender Sutton was, he's at least adequate and is a much better offensive player. It's possible he would have supplanted Sutton this year anyway.
Finally, I'll echo KSB's comment. KU won the league last year, and while they lost a lot, they didn't lose everything. They still have a lot of good players. And they beat K-State three times. Until K-State gets to the point where it can consistently protect its home court against KU, I can't feel comfortable about K-State in the role of the favorite.
I'm going to sound like a complete homer for saying this, but I have no worries. Everything we have done for four years has built to this point, and I have believed since mid-last season that it will be our year. You could say losing Denis Clemente will hurt, but I'm convinced Will Spradling will shock the nation with his poise and Rodney McGruder will become one of our primary scoring threats. Shane Southwell and Nino Williams actually will be upgrades from Dominique Sutton. Those two developments will allow Jacob Pullen to play the same role he has been. Meanwhile, our frontcourt is going to be extremely better, and there are only a handful of teams in the entire nation that I think we can't simply wear down with our big men.
If I have one major concern, it's the schedule. Not in terms of our final record, because we all know that's relatively meaningless in men's basketball as long as you win enough games (25-20) to earn a high seed. But I'm worried that too many physical games could take a toll and result in injuries - the one thing I think can derail this team. We can't afford Jacob Pullen or Curtis Kelly getting hurt, IMO (knock on wood). The non-conference schedule is pretty brutal and there are some tough, tough games in Big 12 play. It will be a haul, but I have faith in Scott Greenawalt's conditioning and I expect us to prevail. So there you have it - blast away, Jayhawks.
That's a wrap, thanks again to the guys over at BOTC.