A full day has passed since Kansas State defeated UTEP 58-28.
Here are three lingering thoughts on the game:
1. Tyler Lockett has found his groove as a returner.
K-State’s star receiver didn’t return a punt or kick in his first two games, but he looked like he has been doing both all season on Saturday. Lockett returned five punts for 143 yards and a touchdown. That was on top of two kickoff returns for 29 yards and four catches for 84 yards. The wildest part of his big day: He was a holding penalty away from returning another punt for a touchdown.
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It will be interesting to see how much longer teams punt to Lockett. He hurt Auburn in the return game and made UTEP look silly for kicking line drives at him.
“I am starting to get comfortable back there,” Lockett said.
No kidding. Lockett looks like a man that has mastered his craft. On his touchdown return, he was directing his blocks the whole way and cutting accordingly. The moment he caught the punt, you could sense a huge return was coming. Lockett is once again a game-changer on special teams.
“I think we finally broke through in special teams,” K-State receiver Curry Sexton said, “and punt coverage did some great things. To get our punt return going and get one block, it is huge for the guys on the team. Now we know we can do it, and we should expect it. It will be big for us going forward.”
2. The kicking job is Matthew McCrane’s to lose.
K-State freshman Matthew McCrane started in place of struggling Jack Cantele on Saturday, and he appears to be the primary kicker moving forward.
McCrane beat Cantele in head-to-head competition during last week’s practices and then connected on all eight of his kicks -- a 25-yard field goal and seven extra points. Cantele, after missing three field goals last week, came in for an extra point in the fourth quarter and missed left. McCrane and Cantele have been separated by an OR on the depth chart all season, and McCrane is clearly performing at a higher level.
“When I was first getting recruited I told people I might not have the size or the leg to kick the ball deep,” McCrane said, “but I feel like I am pretty consistent. That is what I have been working on since I got here, staying consistent and being a part of the 16 goals. I think it is a good fit.”
McCrane said his longest field goal in high school was 52 yards. He thought he could contribute this season and is starting to feel at home after making some kicks.
“If I can push that when I start getting more playing time,” McCrane said, “I think that will help us.”
3. K-State proved again it can stop the run. We will find out if it can stop the pass against Texas Tech.
If there is one thing we know about the Wildcats, it’s that they can stop the run. K-State was allowing 2.9 yards per carry before Saturday’s game, and it held UTEP’s previously strong running attack to 1.9 yards per attempt.
Thing is, there are some offenses in the Big 12 that don’t care much about running. One of them is Texas Tech, which visits Manhattan next week. The Red Raiders are averaging 344 passing yards, and only hand the ball off as a change of pace. It will be fascinating to see how a dominant run defense adjusts to that type of style.
Against Auburn and UTEP, K-State’s safeties focused almost entirely on stopping the run. There have also been times K-State has used six defensive linemen on the same play. Those strategies have worked marvelously against the run, but they have also allowed big passing plays. Auburn beat K-State through the air.
Against Texas Tech, linebackers and safeties will have to focus mostly on coverage. The Wildcats have had success against the Red Raiders in past years and should be up for the challenge. But it will require an adjustment.
“The biggest challenge for me is just getting my head back to coverage,” safety Travis Green said. “You see the last few weeks, a lot of run game and it messes me up some times on my reads. But at the end of the day, when I practice, that is what I have got to practice on and work on coverage. That run defense still needs to be there, but we need to provide coverage too.”