Statistically speaking, there aren’t a lot of things that the Kansas State football team does spectacularly.
The Wildcats don’t stop the run particularly well, ranking eighth among 10 Big 12 teams at 159 yards per game. They don’t stop the pass particularly well either, ranking ninth in the league at 268 passing yards allowed per contest.
K-State ranks eighth in total offense (367.67 yards per game) and eighth in total defense (427.8 yards per game). The Wildcats haven’t been good on third down on either side of the ball, ranking ninth offensively with a 27.12% conversion rate and ninth defensively, allowing opponents to convert 39.74% of the time.
But on one hand, while there are plenty of things the Wildcats don’t do that may look like negatives on the stat sheet, there’s plenty of other things they don’t do that have led to a 4-0 start in Big 12 play.
Primarily, Kansas State doesn’t turn the ball over (just two through five games). It doesn’t miss opportunities in the red zone (20 for 20 with 15 touchdowns). And, by and large, the Wildcats don’t fail to take advantage of opportunities when they’re presented with them. They have two interception returns and two punt returns for touchdowns.
The Wildcats are certainly an anomaly, especially in the historically wide-open Big 12. But Kansas State is a team that won’t beat itself, and it’s one that has come up with the key play when it was needed more often than not under second-year coach Chris Klieman, who is 12-6 since arriving in Manhattan, Kansas.
That’s the challenge that awaits West Virginia as the Mountaineers welcome in the Wildcats at noon on Saturday in Morgantown. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
“If you look at them in a lot of offensive categories, the numbers don’t blow you away,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “But then you look at scoring offense, it’s impressive, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.”
To his point, the Wildcats are third in the league, scoring 35.2 points per game. And that’s with true freshman Will Howard starting at quarterback over the last two-and-a-half games after senior Skylar Thompson was lost for the year with an injury against Texas Tech.
The Wildcats are one of the few Big 12 teams that don’t use tempo. In fact, Kansas State actually — gasp — huddles before plays.
While the numbers would seem to point to a team that doesn’t pop out on film, at least in any way that’s offensively or defensively significant, the WVU coaching staff insisted that that’s far from the case.
“They don’t do anything hardly ever to beat themselves,” WVU co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “If you have a weakness, they usually find it. They get it week to week by formation adjustment, motion, whatever it may be. And they’re simple and they’re subtle and that’s the sign of a good football team. They huddle, which is something new, and they line up and play football. Yes, you appreciate a team like this when you see it.”
Defensively, the Wildcats are fourth in the league in scoring defense with opponents averaging 23.8 points. Like the offense, the Wildcats are a bit of a slow-down, containment defense, using a mix of man and zone coverages to try to confuse opposing quarterbacks. It’s also one that bows up when it matters, having already come up with five stops in the red zone.
“What better compliment can you give to a group, a staff or an opponent you’re playing is that they play extremely hard, they know where to line up, they know what their assignments are and they all converge to the ball in a hurry,” WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “Being in the Big Ten as long as I was for a while, it just reminds me of a solid Big Ten defense — hard-nosed, line up for you, play a front that doesn’t change all that much, they know where they’re going to be, you know where they’re going to be and it’s still really hard to gain yards.”
Some numbers just mean more than others, and Kansas State’s 4-0 league mark has it atop the Big 12 standings and one of only two unbeaten teams in the league (3-0 Oklahoma State is the other).
How the Wildcats are getting it done may be a bit of a statistical anomaly, but it comes as absolutely no surprise to Brown and his staff.
“When you think of Kansas State, whether it’s under Coach Klieman or under [former] Coach [Bill] Snyder, it’s a disciplined football team that plays extremely hard and they’re difficult to prepare for in all three phases,” Brown said. “They’ve got answers for everything you do.”