Wildcats, The Best Team In The North? - A Preview Of Kansas State

If you had slipped into a coma last August and then woke this week and took a peek at the Big 12 North standings the first question you'd ask is, what year is it? Surprisingly the Kansas State Wildcats are sitting on top of the North with a 3-1 conference record. Shockingly the next team in line is Iowa State followed Colorado. The three "Big Dogs" Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri follow in 4th, 5th and 6th places respectively. The two time defending North champions are sitting at the bottom of the North Division with an 0-3 record.   

Are the Wildcats really the best team in the North though? I think that the answer to that question really depends on which Kansas State team we're talking about. There's no way that the team that lost 66-14 to Texas Tech has a chance but the one that beat Texas A&M 62-14 certainly could. It appears, from the outside looking in, that one of the biggest struggles the Wildcats have had this season is Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. While we're not for sure which K-State team will show up in Norman we do know that they are currently the top team in the Big 12 North and they have some clearly defined strengths and weaknesses on both offense and defense.

Offensive Strength

Rushing Attack - Kansas State currently has the 2nd ranked rushing attack in the Big 12 Conference (Behind Iowa State). The run the ball an average of 44 times a game for 18.5 yards. The Wildcats have scored 18 rushing touchdowns this season which leads the conference.

Daniel Thomas leads the way for the Wildcat rushing attack. At 6-2/227 he's a load to bring down but he's also surprisingly fast for a big man. He averages 4.9 yards per carry and 101.8 rushing yards per game. He's also scored half of Kansas State's rushing touchdowns.

Offensive Weakness

Passing Game - The Wildcats go in the opposite direction of their rushing attack when they try to pass the football. KSU is dead last in the Big 12 in passing at 170 yards per game. They've thrown for 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions on the season and have only one passing touchdown in their last 12 quarters of football.

A huge part of the problem with the Kansas State passing attack is that the protection of the quarterback is really, really bad. You thought that OU had problems; these guys have given up 16 quarterback sacks for a total net loss of 141 yards. Grant Gregory replaced Carson Coffman after the Texas Tech game as the starter and has been efficient. For the season he's completed almost 62% of his passes for 491 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.

Defensive Strength

Run Defense - The Wildcats are literally in the middle of the pack when it comes to team defense. They are allowing opponents to score 21.6 points per game and surrender 327.5 yards of total offense. If they had their druthers they'd most likely prefer you to try to rush on them rather than pass.

Against the run the Wildcats are fairly stout. Opponents have only scored 5 rushing touchdowns against them while averaging 29 carries per game. They are 6th in the conference in rushing defense allowing 100 yards per game and a 3.4 yard per carry average.

Defensive Weakness

Pass Defense - Defensive end Jeff Fitzgerald leads the Wildcats in sacks with 6 put the team has put opposing quarterbacks on the ground a total of 16 times this season but 10 of those came against Texas A&M and Colorado. That could mean one of two things. Either the Wildcats have suddenly found a pass rush or A&M and Colorado do a horrible job at protecting their quarterbacks. Here's what we do know, K-State gives up an average of 246.6 yards per game through the air which ranks them 9th in the Big 12. They have picked off 11 passes this season but they've also surrendered a conference worst 16 passing touchdowns.

Intangibles

Special Teams - Place kicking is a crap shoot for the Wildcats. Josh Cherry is 5-10 for the season but 1-5 beyond 30 yards. Their punting is solid with Ryan Doerr averaging 40.1 yards per kick. The gem of the team is Brandon Banks in the return game. He's averaging 31.6 yards per return and has taken 3 kickoff returns to the house this season.    

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