When the Oklahoma Sooners played the Ohio State Buckeyes, their offensive line was tested by one of the nation’s best defensive fronts. Now it’s Kansas State’s turn. If they hope to make Baker Mayfield uncomfortable in the pocket or slow down the OU rushing attack, the K-State front seven must do better than the Buckeyes. If not, they’ll have to face the Crimson & Cream consequences.
Coming into the season, Kansas State was only looking to replace one defensive lineman, albeit an extremely talented pass rusher in Jordan Willis. Willis is in the NFL now, but you shouldn’t sleep on the guys K-State has returned.
Headlining the DL is redshirt senior Will Geary. You won’t find many players who are more experienced than Geary in this league. On the field, Geary is a straight-up wrecking ball in the middle. Not only that, he also plays smart. You’ll likely hear quite a bit about him during the game on Saturday.
The Wildcats also brought back their other starting DT Trey Dishon along with DE Reggie Walker, who was a preseason All-Big 12 selection back in the summer. Both were significant contributors for the ‘Cats last season in their freshman campaigns, and are only getting better with each game. The lone “newcomer” to the bunch up front is defensive end Tanner Wood, who has taken over the vacant spot left by Willis. Like Geary, Wood is a redshirt senior who has seen a lot of action. Overall, the K-State defensive line is as solid as they come in the Big 12.
Walker, in particular, is a physical specimen on the edge. Oklahoma has two of the best offensive tackles in the nation in Orlando Brown and Bobby Evans, but Walker is talented enough to cause problems. Despite not having the statistical season that some envisioned, he’s someone who will potentially be playing on Sundays in a few years and is a rare talent in Manhattan.
As far as the linebacker unit goes, Kansas State has had to deal with quite a bit of change. Gone are two standout players in Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore. Not only did the Wildcats have to replace two stud playmakers, they also needed a new linebackers coach. Former linebacker coach Mike Cox was not brought back in the off-season, so defensive ends coach Blake Seiler made the switch and is doing a respectable job thus far.
The most notable K-State linebacker is redshirt senior Trent Tanking. Much like Baker Mayfield, Tanking went from walk-on to team captain. That type of progression is a testament to how hard Tanking has worked up to this point, so it’s always tough to bet against a player like him. On the field, Tanking defends the pass very well for a linebacker. If he’s not rushing the QB or defending the run, he may just be trying to snag the ball for himself.
While Kansas State has had a less-than-stellar start to the 2017 season, their front seven has quietly been a bright spot. In their most recent game against TCU, the Wildcats held the Horned Frogs to just 2.7 yards per carry and 98 rushing yards total. That’s by far the worst rushing performance all season for TCU, who averages 200 rushing yards per game. Oklahoma’s big boys up front better take these guys seriously.
Across the board, the K-State front may not have the talent that Ohio State does, but you can always bet their coaching will be top-notch. Great coaching can make up for shortcomings on the recruiting trail, and Coach Bill Snyder is renowned for his wizard-like ability to field some of the most fundamentally-sound teams year in and year out.
Now, this is not to say it can’t happen, but you should not expect the Wildcats to beat themselves, especially on defense. This stands to be a formidable test because Oklahoma may have to play one of its most disciplined game of the season offensively. If the offensive line can continue to protect Mayfield and open running lanes for Trey Sermon and the bunch, the Wildcats could get buried. If Kansas State plays like it did against TCU (at least against the run), Oklahoma may be in for another conference nail-biter. Most would give OU’s unit the advantage here, but they’re going to have to win the war in the trenches.
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