The Kansas State Wildcats (2-1) bounce back with a win over the UTSA Road Runners, after a disappointing loss last week to Mississippi State last week. Although it was a big win, the Wildcats still have some spots they need to improve on if they are seeking to make a trip to Arlington in December.
The Running Game
Three games into the 2018 campaign and K-State got their first rushing touchdown of the season. They didn’t have a 100-yard rusher in this game, and haven’t since the opening game of the season versus FCS opponent South Dakota. Quarterback Skylar Thompson led the team in rushing on Saturday with 14 carries for 66 yards, including scampering into the end zone from 24 yards out.
It’s not unusual for a Wildcat quarterback to lead the team in rushing, but they haven’t been able to sustain the running game all season. Kansas State is seventh in rushing in the conference. Since they are one of the few run-first teams in the conference, that’s not a great start. Someone out of the backfield needs to step up, or they are in trouble. The last time K-State was outside the top four in rushing, they won just three conference games.
The biggest problem is that opponents are not respecting the Wildcat’s passing attack, and are loading the box. They need to either make teams respect their passing ability, or they will have to brute force to move the ball.
So, About That Passing Attack
There’s been some competition behind the center to start the season, but after Skylar Thompson’s performance versus UTSA, he looks like the man to run the offense. The Roadrunners forced him to make some throws by loading up the box to corral the running game, and he showed his potential by going 13-18 for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns; including a 42- yard bomb to Dalton Schoen.
Zuber 🚀 for 72 yards with the delivery by Delton pic.twitter.com/HW8xcfmzyn
— K-State Football (@KStateFB) September 16, 2018
The Wildcats need a lot more of this moving forward.
This was by far Thompson’s best performance of the season. He ranks last among Big 12 starting quarterbacks, and heading into the game, he was a paltry 15 for 31. If you didn’t do the quick math, that’s less than a 50 percent completion percentage. To make matters worse, he was averaging just 9.8 yards per completion. To put that into perspective, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray are both averaging more than 11 yards per attempt. If you didn’t catch that, that’s comparing yards per completion to yards per attempt, and if still doesn’t measure up. That’s not good.
Saturday’s performance was a dramatic improvement. Thompson was efficient and the offense was able to find its stride. Hopefully he can keep that going into Big 12 play.
What Is With The Turnovers?
A program that prides themselves on discipline and taking care of the ball, the Wildcats have yet to win the turnover battle. They were -1 on Saturday after losing two fumbles. That puts them at -5 in turnover margin on the year. That’s dead last in the Big 12, and just three games in, it’s not even close. With the offense already facing its share of challenges, they cannot afford to also be coughing up the ball.
Let’s Talk About This Defense
No run game and a suspect defense…are we sure this is a Bill Snyder team?
The defense has struggled to get off the field so far this year and it continued to show over the weekend. K-State held UTSA to 8-17 (47.1%) on third down, which was actually an improvement from the week before. They look like they have changed up their defense a little bit from last year, going more man to man coverage and taking some chances on some blitzes, but it doesn’t appear to be paying off.
The Wildcats rank last in the conference in run defense, eighth in total defense and seventh in scoring defense. The only bright spot has been the Wildcat’s pass defense, which ranks fourth in the Big 12. They’ve held their last two opponents to under 160 yards through the air and less than six yards per attempt. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s too early to know just how good the K-State pass defense is. Mississippi State isn’t exactly running the air raid, and UTSA, well, they aren’t very good. Facing Grier in Morgantown will be a whole different animal.
Still, last Saturday’s win should be a big boost to the Wildcat’s confidence, and Bill Snyder teams tend to show improvement each week. Heading into conference play, they have a confident quarterback, an improving defense, and arguably the best special teams in the Big 12. All of which they will need this weekend in Morgantown against the 12-ranked Mountaineers.