LAWRENCE — Nobody inside the Kansas locker room can find a bad thing to say about Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the hard-nosed workhorse, gritty leader and tough kid with the nickname of the moment. Or at least, that’s what they say.
KU coach Charlie Weis compares Klein to Tim Tebow. KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo says Klein’s size (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) and physical style remind him of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (“The kid at Pittsburgh,” Campo says.) And KU players speak of Klein as the rare quarterback who goes looking for contact.
“Optimus Klein?” says KU senior linebacker Anthony McDonald, smiling as he mentions Klein’s nickname.
But any mention of Klein inevitably leads to the most obvious storyline surrounding Saturday’s Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan. If the Jayhawks, more than a three-touchdown underdog, have any prayer of an upset, it will start by containing, corralling and disturbing the Wildcats’ most vital offensive weapon.
In K-State’s 59-21 victory over Kansas last season, Klein accounted for five touchdowns, passing for a then-career high 195 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 92 yards and four more scores on the ground.
“He’s a physical guy,” McDonald said. “So when you have a matchup like that, that’s what you live for when you’re a linebacker.”
No, motivation will certainly not be a problem. But there are other factors that present red flags. With Klein and running back John Hubert leading the way, K-State is 14th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging more than 240 yards. And the KU defense, meanwhile, ranks 90th in rushing defense, allowing more than 185 yards.
“This is a tremendous challenge,” Campo said. “Because you look at their offense and they’re near the top of the charts in rushing. And we’re near the bottom of the charts in rush defense.”
The general view is that the Jayhawks must find a way to stop Klein from getting beyond the first layer of defense. If Klein is running one-on-one against a KU defensive back, Campo says, that’s a bad sign. One positive: The Jayhawks believe they got a good warmup for Klein in the form of Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, a dual-threat QB with a similar style.
In many ways, Klein is a throwback, a simple football player who lives by completing simple plays. To combat that, McDonald says, the Jayhawks need to match Klein’s execution.
“What’s the key?” McDonald said. “Run and hit.”