As we inch closer to Saturday night's kickoff we've invited TB from SBN's Kansas State blog, Bring On The Cats, to visit with us about the 2009 Wildcats and their match-up with our Sooners. I also did a Q&A with BOTC that should be posted sometime in the near future so make sure to check them out to get the Sooner perspective of this conversation.
CC Machine: Other than the lopsided loss to Texas Tech Big 12 conference play has been good to the Wildcats. How has this team improved since losing back-to-back road games to Louisiana Lafayette and UCLA?
TB: The biggest change has been on offense. In the first conference game, Grant Gregory started at quarterback in place of Carson Coffman. He sparked the offense by keeping plays alive with his feet, absorbing contact on the option and quarterback draws, and by finding receivers downfield occasionally for big plays. With all due respect to Carson Coffman, he has provided the offense with an added dimension.
That's in the micro sense, of course. In the macro sense, the entire team has improved over time. Obviously, we installed an entirely new offensive system, and it took those guys a while to pick it up. Having defensive coaches who could actually, you know, coach was a new thing, too, and the defense has had a few growing pains. But the improvement is mostly due to the old Bill Snyder mantra: keep chopping wood and you'll get a little better every day.
CC Machine: With the Wildcats sitting on top of the North and a 5-3 record are KSU fans, for the most part, optimistic or pessimistic right now?
TB: For the most part, I would say very cautiously optimistic. It's hard to be too pessimistic when you've won two in a row and lead the division by a full game, but I think most fans realize there's a lot of work left to do. While I throw the "cautiously" qualifier in there, it still galls a lot of K-State fans that some outlets are treating this as just a nice little story, sure to fade as the Wildcats enter the four-game "gauntlet" to finish the season and inevitably come crashing back to earth. Maybe that will happen, but at this point, you can't say it's any more likely for K-State than for KU, Missouri or Nebraska.
CC Machine: K-State has given up 16 sacks going into the game against OU. How much does that stat scare you as the Wildcats prepare to face Oklahoma's defensive front?
TB: It's as scary as haunted houses were to me when I saw a kid, and I was a really big scaredy-cat as a kid. The biggest problem in the Colorado game, when our offense stagnated in the second half, was the fact that Gregory couldn't drop back, survey the field, and find an open man. Before he could even complete his drop, he had to look down to see which DL had shrugged his block and was already in his face. If we can't establish a running game to slow the OU pass rush, we are toast. Well, we're probably toast anyway, but we'll be extraordinarily burnt toast if we can't slow down the pass rush.
CC Machine: Brandon Banks has been exceptional in the return game. Tell us about some other KSU players that we should be aware of before Saturday night's game.
TB: At running back, Daniel Thomas is a guy to keep an eye on. He is playing hurt right now with a banged-up shoulder, but ran for 145 yards on 20 carries against a CU team that decimated the Texas and KU running attacks prior to meeting K-State. He doesn't break a lot of big plays, but he's big, he's strong, and he finds the crease.
At wide receiver, Lamark Brown will be hard to stop if our line can ever give Gregory time to find him. He's huge, so he has a size advantage on most DBs, and he's fast enough to outrun a lot of DBs. He hasn't gotten open a lot this year, which leads me to believe he may not be running the best routes, but if he ever goes off, he's really going to go off.
On defense, Jeffrey Fitzgerald gets things going on the DL. In the last two games, we've tallied 10 sacks, and that is after only recording six through the first six games. Something seems to be clicking with this crew, and Fitzgerald is the best of the bunch.
CC Machine: KSU's offensive strength is their rushing attack (2nd in the Big 12/186.5 ypg) and Oklahoma's defensive strength is stopping the run (2nd in the Big 12/70.1 ypg). How do you see this playing out, for or against, the Wildcats on Saturday night?
TB: It's absolutely crucial that we be able to run the ball. If OU can stop the run without putting eight guys in the box, we're toast. Gregory is a solid quarterback, but nobody is confusing his passing ability with that of Josh Freeman. If he has defenders in his face and the OU secondary blanketing the field, we're in for a lot of three-and-outs.
CC Machine: What gives you the most confidence heading into this game?
TB: Mostly the fact that this team is clearly getting better every week. Confidence is at an all-time high right now after a blowout over Texas A&M and a solid beating of Colorado. We knew this coaching staff would install schemes that work, but until the players see the results, they will never get to their full potential. If they keep working hard, getting better, and executing what the coaches teach them, they're going to achieve goals beyond their wildest imaginations. That almost assuredly won't include a win over OU, but we knew this process wasn't going to have us competing with OU in less than a year.
Ha! Scaredy-cat, I get it!