With Saturday's big game quickly approaching, as we typically do we utilized one of SB Nation's greatest assets in our family of blogs. And there are few who do a better job covering their program than the folks over at Bring On The Cats. With that in mind, we reached out to them for a Q&A session to help get you prepped for what we can expect to see from the Purple Wizard and his Wildcats squad. Jon Morse of BOTC was kind enough to give us some of his time and we think you'll get a lot of of his Q's to our A's.
CCM: Outside of the KU/WVU score, I think your game with TCU surprised me the most. How exactly did that offense put up 31 points against a Kansas State defense many OU fans were dreading having to face this weekend?
BOTC: A good chunk of it was picking on the defense after Ty Zimmerman left the game with an ankle injury in the first half. The defense was doing just fine until then. Zimmerman's loss is greater than simply the difference between him and his replacement, as he's the captain out there on the field much as Arthur Brown was last year. With the secondary damaged, TCU was able to get the air attack working somewhat, which in turn forced the Wildcats to loosen up on the run, which they'd mostly stifled to that point.
CCM: Sticking with the defensive side of the ball and the TCU game aside, I think the expectation of most (possibly even amongst K-State fans) was that you simply lost too much that would force the defense to take a significant step backwards. I think it's fair to say that has certainly not been the case. How exactly has this defensive staff avoided said backwards step and who are some of the guys you believe will have to play key roles on Saturday?
BOTC: It's a funny thing, this K-State system. When Bill Snyder loses a bunch of guys, everyone wonders what he's going to do to cope with the losses, but when Nick Saban loses 14 guys to the NFL, nobody says boo. Of course, it's actually pretty simple: just like Saban's always got four-stars waiting in the wings behind his departed starters, Snyder's always got guys you've never heard of waiting around to replace all the guys you'd never heard of before last year.
People think Bill Snyder is such an evil wizard that he can win 21 games in two years with a roster full of spit, baling wire, and a five-star linebacker he picked up at a rummage sale. They never give the players themselves any credit, other than the couple of guys they'd heard of before. So why do those same people assume he can't replace all those absolute nobodies who supposedly didn't have any talent to begin with? It's really sort of comical when you think about it, and I have to give you credit here because until you phrased the question this way, it didn't even occur to me exactly WHY Snyder's able to reload. It's because the guys he goes out and gets are the guys who can successfully execute his systems, and also because Bill Snyder's able to find guys who ARE four-star talent that just slipped through the cracks.
Having gone off on a wonderful rant there... the defense DID take a step backward to start the season, primarily because the starting 11 was almost entirely based on seniority but afflicted with sciatica or some other crippling malady causing lead foot, and the younger guys weren't getting on the field. Since then, we've seen a lot more of Travis Britz, Marquel Bryant, Demonte Hood, and Mike Moore. In sort of a reverse of what I was just complaining about, fifth-year senior Kip Daily's been getting more snaps at cornerback as well. The Cats need those guys, the
usual big effort from Ryan Mueller, and hopefully the disciplined version of Randall Evans shows up.
CCM: This is a bit of a 'Captain Obvious' situation, but for those OU fans who might not be familiar with just how good of a player he has been, describe just how significant of a loss it would be if Ty Zimmerman is not available for this game on Saturday.
BOTC: Big. Potentially devastating. You'll remember that K-State played TCU right before Baylor last year, and that -- just like this year! -- Zimmerman got hurt against the Frogs. I hope that doesn't get you too excited...
CCM: Other than Zimmerman, what does the rest of your injury situation look like heading into this game?
BOTC: Always hard to tell with Snyder's complete lock down on injury reporting. Britz had to be helped off the field, and we've got no idea at all how serious that is. Keenan Taylor missed last week's game, but he's mostly been supplanted by a now-healed-up Boston Stiverson so it's not that worrisome. Other than that, the team appears healthy.
CCM: Is there any particular aspect of your defense you feel could be particularly susceptible to a read-option/zone-read offense you're likely to be facing in this game, especially with it being such a drastic change in scheme from what Snyder & co. have been used to seeing/game-planning for with OU teams of the past?
BOTC: Well, the linebackers are a weak point, so there's always going to be a point of attack no matter what offense you're running. That said, Oklahoma working on a zone-read structure may actually be a good thing for K-State. After all, the coaching staff's pretty well-equipped to run it in practice and get the defense acclimated... and a lot of these guys were on the scout team over the last two years, facing Collin Klein running it every week.
CCM: This K-State offense seems to have found a near perfect balance between what both Jake Waters and Daniel Sams bring to the table. Based on what you know about the OU defense, do you expect that balance to continue or could you see one playing more than the other in this game?
BOTC: I expect that you'll see more Sams than Waters on Saturday. The Sooners have a pretty stout pass defense, while the run defense is okay but not awesome. Then again, we expected to see Sams run all over Texas and they didn't even try, so who knows? The ways of the SnyderDimelMillerbeast are strange and unfathomable sometimes.
CCM: Two-part question: (1)John Hubert is a guy that gave Oklahoma all kinds of problems last year in Norman, any reason for OU fans to be more optimistic of that not happening on Saturday? (2) Are there any specific differences with respect to how they use Hubert depending on which quarterback is in the game?
BOTC: The real answer to both of your questions is whether Hubert's going to carry a load this week, or whether he's going to get six carries. The usage pattern for Hubert's been one of the more baffling story lines of the season. If he gets carries, and if the offense is balanced enough that the Sooners can't key on him, he's going to cut loose. If you keep looking up and seeing Sams alone in the backfield with Gronkowski, then it's party time for Oklahoma unless Sams goes into beast mode.
CCM: Ten games into this season, is there anything you expected to see from this K-State team that you've yet to see? Or anything that you did not expect, but has been a positive development either for this year, going forward, or possibly even both?
BOTC: I expected to see a lot more phenomenal runs from Sams. He's been good, and leads the team in rushing yardage despite hardly playing the first month of the season, but he hasn't gone off. I also expected to see a lot more of Tramaine Thompson, but he's only averaging a couple of catches a game and only has 43 more receiving yards than Curry Sexton... who's part of the answer to your second question. Sexton's turned into K-State's version of Wes Welker, extremely reliable as a possession receiver at the sticks. There's also Gronkowski, who's an excellent
blocker and is still just a greyshirt freshman; he hasn't carried the ball once, but he has caught three passes for 119 yards and yes that's almost 40 yards a catch.
The most positive development, though, goes back to your question about the defense. Because as much as I'm bitter about the presumptions made about the talent on this football team, it doesn't mean I was immune to them. That Tom Hayes has been able to take this group of newbies and come out with close to a top-25 defense (by S&P+) while playing in the Big 12 is nothing short of astonishing.
CCM: I suppose we have to ask the obligatory special teams question one has to ask when previewing a Kansas State game. How much, if at all, do you expect them to play a role in this game? And outside of your return guys, which I think all fans of Big 12 teams are aware of, are there any particular areas of strength or weakness?
BOTC: The K-State special teams are always going to have a huge impact on the game. That's why one of our favorite gameday memes is #FireSeanSnyder. Seriously, you can almost certainly count on an important special-teams play benefiting K-State in every game. You also aren't going to go broke betting on one biting the Wildcats in the backside. That's usually going to come down to "terrible kick coverage", which is sometimes a particular weakness. Strengths? Well, blocking kicks, but if Britz is hurt that sort of scales that threat back. And as
you note, Lockett and Thompson are always threats to burn you on a kick return.
CCM: Hey! Did you know Bob Stoops used to be on Bill Snyder's coaching staff back in the day? Over/under 1.5 articles you expect to read from either side of our respective local media guys/gals discussing this stunning new development?
BOTC: Wait, really? BIG IF TRUE. Yeah, over. Way over. It always gets mentioned, and I think every reporter itches for the chance to be the guy who gets to ask either Bob or Bill how they feel about coaching against one another during the press conference. It's been 17 years, guys. Hell, it's been 15 since y'all stabbed us in the back by giving our defensive staff a reason not to give a damn about the Big 12 Championship Game against A&M... ;)
Of course, what with this week being the official ten-year anniversary celebration of the Ambush at Arrowhead, it's probably going to be even worse than I imagine. That's right, a lot of the 2003 Wildcats are going to be in attendance Saturday for ceremonies, because rubbing OU's nose in it is always a brilliant stratagem that couldn't ever possibly backfire.
[shameless_promotion]Not that this is stopping us from revisiting that game at BotC this Friday, mind you.[/shameless_promotion]
CCM: Players tweeting pictures of Bill Snyder hand-written letters seems to be all the rage on social media these days. So what's your best guess as to the OU players who receives this coveted honor coming out of this game?
BOTC: I'm pretty sure it won't be Blake Bell, although we probably shouldn't be bitter about that anymore. I'm deathly afraid it'll be Jalen Saunders, because, well, kick coverage.