To help us all prepare for Oklahoma’s game against Kansas State, we decided to talk to Jon Morse of SB Nation’s Bring On The Cats. We talk about the quarterback situation, famous Kansans, Manhattan bars, Lon Kruger and much, much more. Enjoy!
Plenty of folks picked the Kansas State Wildcats to be in the top half of the Big 12 this season, but it hasn't exactly panned out that way thus far. What's kept the Wildcats from hitting their stride in the first half of the season?
I believe the technical term is "hands of stone". Simply put, K-State's receivers, with a couple of exceptions, have developed a curious inability to hold onto the football when it's in their hands, and that problem has -- as you'd expect -- cascaded downhill to affect the entire offense. The defense, which was supposed to be the weak spot after the departures of Jordan Willis, Elijah Lee, and Charmeachalle Moore, has mostly been on point.
Reggie Walker entered the 2017 season with plenty of hype, but his impact hasn't really shown up on the stat sheet. Is this the result of receiving more of the offense's attention now that Jordan Willis is gone (or some other factor), or has he just simply not performed well up to this point in the season?
Oh, Reggie's fine. None of the linemen are recording very many sacks, but they've consistently been in the backfield when needed and (as you've noted yourself) they've done a great job bottling up the opposition’s running game.
It looks like quarterback Jesse Ertz could potentially be back this week after suffering a knee injury against Texas. If he's able to go, what issues could he cause for this Oklahoma Sooners defense? Also, would you expect Alex Delton to be utilized as a runner in certain packages, or would they probably just go with Ertz the whole way if he's healthy enough?
This is sort of an impossible question to answer, because the main reason Ertz stepped out against Texas was that he wasn't able to hit the holes that he usually waits for the offensive line to open. (If you watch game film, this is actually a lot of what makes people think Ertz is "slow", because he takes six years to get to the line of scrimmage on a running play. But then he turns on the jets.) Delton is a different kind of runner, and was able to find those holes right at the point of attack and go.
What we're expecting if Ertz does play is that he will still be slowed, so his ability to hit those holes will still be affected. I would not expect you to see Delton inserted into the game specifically for a designed run at any point, because that would be horribly predictable.
Then again, the coaching staff telegraphs certain running plays all the time by putting Winston Dimel in the game, so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If Ertz isn't able to play, what does the offense look like when Delton is out there at QB? Does the scheme change much?
The scheme itself doesn't change, but the mode of attack within the scheme does. As I said above, Delton doesn't hesitate the way Ertz does, and is faster than Ertz anyway. He's more apt to head straight for the edge, whereas Ertz tends to find a gap inside. I would say the passing game will suffer with Delton, but it's sort of a moot point if the receivers aren't catching the ball anyway.
Kansas State's defensive front held TCU to 2.7 yards per carry last week and has been a strength for this team all season. Aside from big-name guys like Reggie Walker and Will Geary, who else stands out in that group?
Frankly, the entire defensive line is worthy of mention. Trey Dishon is a man-mountain with quickness, and the actual star of the DL this season has been senior Tanner Wood, who once ran for over 650 yards in a high school game. Kyle Ball has turned in some very good work over the last eight games or so filling in for everyone.
Jesse Ertz currently leads Kansas State in rushing yards, and Alex Barnes is the only running back with more than 100 yards rushing this season. Is that more of a refection of how the offense operates as opposed to any sort of deficiency at running back?
It all goes back to the passing game. Because K-State hasn't been able to establish the pass, opponents have been able to stack the box. You know how that ends up.
Aside from the fairly-established name of Byron Pringle, which names should Oklahoma fans remember at the receiver position? Who is most likely to cause problems for the OU secondary?
Isaiah Zuber leads the team in receptions, and Dalton Schoen leads the team in yards. Why? Because Pringle is patient zero for the pass-catching problems. It is maddening, because K-State actually has a lot of talent at receiver! The guys get open, run their routes well, and have speed.
But none of that matters if they can't catch the ball. Zuber and Schoen are the only guys who have been relatively consistent at making catches. (Indeed, Schoen caught the ball the first ten times it was thrown to him this season, and of the handful of incompletions on his ledger since then only one was a drop.)
In the defensive backfield, DJ Reed has seen 222 snaps in coverage without allowing a TD. What makes him such a special player? What in particular does he do well?
Reed is just a superlative coverage corner. He rarely gets beaten, and when he does it's never behind him. He's also excellent in run support, and -- big thing to watch for if you love watching fantastic opponents do bad things to you -- when another Wildcat blows coverage, it is almost always Reed who arrives on the scene to save the day (even if he was on the other side of the field). His field vision is so good that he's able to break early when he knows the play is going somewhere else.
In your opinion, who is the greatest Kansan of all time?
You know, I could get all serious about this, but listen: Dennis Hopper was a Kansan, alright?
If you had to recommend one Manhattan bar to fans traveling from Oklahoma, which would you choose? Also, where should Oklahoma fans eat when they go up there? Where should they try to tailgate?
I am partial to Keltic Star myself, but ask 10 Wildcats and you'll get 12 different answers. As for food, most people are going to say Coco Bolos or So Long Saloon. And you'll want to tailgate in the east lot, if you can find space.
Speaking of food and tailgating, what's the greatest tailgating food of all time? I think I'd have to go with pulled pork or pork belly, but it's a tough question.
Man, I can't even begin to answer this. Within a half an hour of the tailgate starting, all food is good.
How do the Kansas State folks feel about Lon Kruger? I feel like he's an impossible person to dislike.
There are still some folks who are bitter about him leaving, but for the most part that's all eroded. Lon is one of ours, and we're happy he's had so much success. But never forget: when Lon Kruger left Manhattan, K-State had more NCAA tournament appearances than Kansas. No, seriously. That's a fact.
How are you feeling about Saturday's game? What does K-State have to do to keep this close or pull out a W?
Receivers have to catch the ball. Linebackers have to keep contain and prevent Baker Mayfield from eating them up on short middles. And either Ertz has to be close to 100% or Delton has to make better decisions.
Finally, what's your score prediction for this one?
I really can't make one here because the QB variable is so huge. If Ertz can go, I think the game might be surprisingly close, because OU's defense has been suspect and K-State's defense is really pretty good. If it's Delton, I think the game might blow up early unless he can find a rhythm on the first couple of drives.