Saturday’s conference game on the South Plains will see two squads looking to move past some struggles in league play. The Texas Tech Red Raiders will host the Kansas State Wildcats in an early kickoff. The winner will be one game away from bowl eligibility.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is 1-3 against the Wildcats overall, but the Red Raiders handed Bill Snyder’s team a loss the last time they were in West Texas.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 4 at 11:00 AM CT
WHERE: Jones AT&T Stadium (Lubbock, TX)
FORECAST: Mid-80s, Partly Cloudy
STREAM: Fox Sports Go
BETTING LINE: TTU -3.0
KANSAS STATE (4-4, 2-3)
A one time possible dark horse in the Big 12, Kansas State finds themselves under .500 in league play. Early season injuries and inconsistent wide receiver play have prevented the Wildcats from being able to get past conference opponents.
Against Kansas last Saturday, the defense had its share of struggles.
Last week, they gave up big numbers in the passing game to Kansas. Jayhawk quarterback Carter Stanley was able to find some creases in the Wildcats zone defense for big plays downfield.
That’s not out of keeping with defensive trends for the Wildcats in 2017, who have struggled throughout this season with defending the pass. Their 282.1 yards per game allowed seems unusual for a Bill Snyder defense, but top end players like Will Geary and D.J. Reed have helped Kansas State to hold opponents to 23.5 points per game.
Special teams has been a real boon for the Wildcats, who have scored touchdowns on kick and punt returns. Kicker Matthew McCrane has been reliable throughout the year.
Offensively, Kansas State has struggled since quarterback Jesse Ertz went down to knee injury. Last week backup Alex Delton left the game after a half with a head injury. While Delton seems to be the likely starter, Snyder has indicated that Ertz could return this week.
The offense has struggled to throw the ball down field throughout the season, however, and Kansas State currently ranks last in the Big 12 in passing offense.
The Wildcats have instead leaned on their power running game in order to score points. Averaging just under 200 yards a game, Kansas State can boast the second best ground attack in the Big 12.
With a handful of capable backs and mobility at quarterback no matter who’s under center, Kansas State can march the ball down the field.
TEXAS TECH (4-4, 1-4)
The Red Raiders got off to hot start to the season, but after initially going 4-1 things seem to have cooled, with Kliff Kingsbury’s team having lost their last three.
There’s no doubt that in their third season under David Gibbs, the Texas Tech defense is beginning to show signs of improvement. They’ve managed to snag 17 turnovers to this point in the season, a number good enough to have them tied for first atop the Big 12 in that category.
Despite having managed to get another turnover last week against Baker Mayfield and the Sooners, however, the Red Raiders were unable to contain the Oklahoma offense. The defensive line was pushed back all day, allowing the Sooners to amass 336 yards on the ground.
The 49 points scored by the Sooners are the most that the Red Raiders have given up this season, but if there’s dissension in Lubbock, it’s about the offense.
Texas Tech got off to a quick start in Norman last week, putting up 20 points in the first quarter. Though they were on pace to top the 59 points scored against the Sooners in 2016, the Red Raiders would manage only a touchdown the rest of the way.
Partially that has to do with a sudden drop in the effectiveness of the run game. Running backs Tre King and Desmond Nisby appeared to have no problem picking up chunks of yardage on their initial drive. They combined for twelve carries to get Texas Tech in scoring position.
They were less effective the rest of the day, however, and quarterback Nic Shimonek then struggled to carry the load. He had trouble finding receivers downfield and was under consistent pressure throughout the night.
None of that is to say that this Texas Tech offense isn’t explosive, however. Shimonek has been efficient at carving up defenses throughout the season and has a 22-to-6 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.
Also of note should be Kingsbury’s increased commitment to running the ball, one that has thus far yielded 156.2 per game for the Red Raiders in 2017.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR KSU
Find Creative Ways To Throw The Ball– With uncertainty at quarterback and a passing game that has struggled, Kansas State will have to find ways to take advantage of a Red Raider defense looking to play run first, second and third. Timely trick plays and misdirection could be enough to help Kansas State get on the scoreboard.
Pressure The Quarterback– Quarterback Nic Shimonek struggled last week when faced with pressure. If Kansas State can get to him before he can get the ball out to the Red Raider wide receivers, the Wildcats will be able to generate some stops and get the Texas Tech offense of the field.
Be Special On Special Teams– Last week, D.J. Reed proved that he could take one to the house with a big return against Kansas. The Wildcats will need a similar effort this week in order to put themselves in good field position. Generating points with McCrane field goals will be a must on Saturday as well.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TTU
Win The Turnover Battle– Bill Snyder teams feed off of turnovers. Giving the ball away more than you get it will help Kansas State’s struggling offense and keep Texas Tech from being able to build momentum. Texas Tech is the more complete team in this contest, but they don’t want the Wildcats to be able to hang around.
Be Patient With The Run Game – Kansas State will be looking to stop the Texas Tech passing game, but if the Red Raiders can manage to just keep the chains moving with their run game, they might force the Wildcats to overplay the run. That could open up some big things in the passing game.
Stop The Run – Texas Tech has been better defensively this year precisely because they can keep team from running the ball. They struggled against Oklahoma’s big hogs last week, but Kansas State is a different animal. The Red Raiders need to be disciplined and play downhill. Allowing the Wildcats to stay in their comfort zone and run the ball all day could make this a long day for Kingsbury’s team.
It’s always difficult to bet against the Red Raiders at home and Kansas State just doesn’t seem to have the same kind of mojo on either side of the ball that they have in years past. The Wildcats need Texas Tech to make mistakes in this one, but this feels like the kind of ugly game that Kingsbury can grind out to get the close victory.
I am going to take the guys in red and black to take back some early season momentum in this one. Texas Tech wins and covers the spread, while Bill Snyder’s squad has to go home and regroup to get bowl eligible. I look for this to be a surprisingly low scoring game with a handful of big plays that make the difference.