All that stands between Kansas State and a perfect 4-0 record heading into its bye week is a little-publicized game with Central Florida.
That might not seem like much of a challenge given the Golden Knights’ humorous mascot and the Wildcats’ status as seven-point favorites. If the Wildcats play smart, disciplined football, they should win.
But there’s a reason Bill Snyder told his players this week that they are about to face the best team they have played all season: Central Florida is capable of challenging K-State.
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA George O’Leary is a good coach who seems to have found a home in Orlando. Since a winless debut in 2004, he has guided the Knights to three winning seasons, three bowl games and a Conference USA championship.
Central Florida is coming off an 8-5 season, and is led by one of the most highly-touted freshmen in recent program history, duel-threat quarterback Jeff Godfrey.
K-State players say it has been difficult to prepare for his mobility.
Central Florida also sports a stingy defense, which ranks 12th nationally against the pass and allows less than 270 total yards per game.
O’Leary describes his run defense so far as “sporadic,” but is cautiously optimistic that his defenders can tackle effectively against Daniel Thomas. They will need to, because he says he is not changing his defensive strategy to specifically slow K-State’s star running back.
“We’re going to play our base defense,” O’Leary said. “When we have the chance to make plays, we have to make them. We’re going to make sure that we protect our responsibilities.”
Holding Thomas to an average day will be key for the Knights. They want to force Carson Coffman to throw the ball, and create turnovers with their quick defensive backs. But if those cornerbacks and safeties have to help against the run as the game wears on, that won’t be possible.
So far this season, Central Florida is 2-1 with wins over South Dakota and Buffalo. In its loss to NC State, it committed five turnovers and still had a chance to send the game to overtime in the closing moments.
It likes playing against name opponents in nonconference play, and will try to make a few extra plays against Kansas State.
ABOUT KANSAS STATE
Could Kansas State overlook this game?
With Nebraska coming up on the schedule two Thursdays from now I suppose it’s possible. But with all the warnings Snyder has provided, and the references to the Marshall and Fresno State a few years back, the Wildcats would be fools to bring anything other than their max effort to the field.
They have been good about playing with enthusiasm this year, and with a sellout crowd expected for Fort Riley Day they will have some extra incentive to go all out.
As usual, their focus will be throwing the ball on their terms. Much like Iowa State’s run defense last week, Central Florida is unproven against an elite running back. If the Wildcats can take advantage of that early, they will dictate the way the game is played.
When they do choose to throw the ball, maybe they will open things up with some screen passes to Thomas. We haven’t seen any of those since the season-opener.
On defense, K-State’s pass defense will be challenged all across the field. Last week, the Cyclones missed open receivers throughout the game. Godfrey may perform better. His capability to create big plays with his feet is also a concern.
But they are challenges that the Wildcats can overcome. Godfrey, while talented, is still a freshman. K-State needs to force him into making mistakes — big ones.
Everyone in Manhattan wants to see K-State have an undefeated record when it takes on Nebraska in front of all the ESPN cameras.
With a good game against the Knights, K-State players can begin daydreaming about that night too.
ADVANTAGESWhen K-State runs the ball: K-State
When K-State throws the ball: Central Florida
When Central Florida runs the ball: K-State
When Central Florida throws the ball: Central Florida
Special Teams: K-State
Prediction: K-State 33, Central Florida 21