Kansas State’s 2017 campaign has started simultaneously quickly and slowly. Quickly in the sense that the Wildcats have looked really good. Slowly in the sense that they’ve only played Central Arkansas and Charlotte to date – two glorified scrimmage games for Bill Snyder’s squad. The Wildcats face much more challenging prospects as they head to Nashville for an evening kick against the Vanderbilt Commodores of the Southeastern Conference.
Vandy’s competition hasn’t been much stiffer than the Wildcats’, as they enter Saturday’s game 2-0 with wins over Alabama A&M and Middle Tennessee State. The notoriously tough Commodore defense has surrendered only six points on the young season but will face their first test in Kansas State’s paragon of consistency, Jesse Ertz. Vanderbilt has also shown an ability to put points. Their quarterback, Kyle Shurmur, boasts a stat-line much like Ertz, with nearly 500 yards passing and seven touchdowns.
Kansas State is a dark horse candidate for a trip to Dallas at the end of the season. Saturday will be their first chance to prove themselves.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 16, 6:30 PM CT
LOCATION: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN
FORECAST: Mostly Sunny, 87
BETTING LINE: K-State -4
Expectations are pretty high in Manhattan, Kansas. Coach Snyder’s bunch is always tough, and they seem to have even more talent to accompany that toughness in 2017. Jesse Ertz has been as efficient as ever, and flashier than you’d expect. The Wildcats are not lacking playmakers with a bevy of backs and receivers having already found the end zone this season. These Wildcats look big, fast, and strong.
The first quarter against Central Arkansas ended in a tie, but since then, no opponent has come close to staying on the field with these guys. Jesse Ertz was historically efficient in week 1. He has tossed the ball to a variety of receivers, with Isaiah Harris, Dalton Schoen, Byron Pringle, and Isaiah Zuber all making plays. In week 2, he remained sharp, but it’s the Wildcat running backs who stole the show, rushing for over 300 yards and scoring five touchdowns. Alex Barnes, Dalvin Warmack, and (of course) Jesse Ertz have been moving the ball efficiently on the ground.
K-State Safety Kendall Adams out-scored the Charlotte 49ers on his own, returning an interception and a fumble for touchdowns. Look for him to play a big role snuffing out what has been a potent Vanderbilt passing attack thus far. D.J. Reed will also be swarming in that Wildcat secondary, lining up across from whoever proves to be the number one Commodore receiver.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Ball Control – Vanderbilt’s defense is stout. Moving the ball will not be easy. A potential concern for Coach Mason’s defense may be depth on the defensive line. That defensive line, though, will try to get some pressure on Ertz. The Wildcat offensive line will need to give Jesse some time to distribute the ball to any of their five receivers with more than three catches on the young campaign.
Make the Play – This has the makings to be a grinder. If so, a few big plays will go a long way in determining who emerges the victor in Nashville. K-State has an uncanny knack for scoring without being on the offensive side of the ball. Another pick-six or kick-return may give the Wildcats the necessary boost in this one.
Stop the Pass – Shurmur has been incredibly accurate through two games, and Coach Mason’s offense has been great. That said, they haven’t faced a secondary like K-State’s. They need to get some pressure on Shurmur and keep his receivers from finding space.
When you hear “Kansas State and Vanderbilt” you immediately think defensive struggle. That may well be the case, considering this is the first Power-5 foe either team has faced this season. That said, both offenses have looked really sharp. Ertz and Shurmur are talented passers who have been nearly mistake-free thus far. I think Kansas State’s secondary will bother Shurmur, and I think Kansas State will be able to sustain long drives that end in points. Take the Wildcats, but don’t expect this one to be decided until late in the fourth.