Kansas State University

Kansas State still searching for answers on offense as Texas game looms

K-State quarterback Joe Hubener rests on this knees after getting sack Saturday afternoon in the 3rd quarter against Oklahoma.(October 15, 2016)
K-State quarterback Joe Hubener rests on this knees after getting sack Saturday afternoon in the 3rd quarter against Oklahoma.(October 15, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Kansas State football players didn’t have to look far for motivation this week.

Their coach provided juicer bulletin-board material than anyone associated with Texas.

When asked if he thought K-State’s dormant offense was making progress — big or small, fast or slow, obvious or otherwise — Bill Snyder responded with a painfully honest answer.

“No, I certainly don’t think so,” Snyder said. “I think we have a long ways to go.”

That pessimistic assessment says all you need to know about K-State’s inability to move the ball at the midway point of the season.

The Wildcats have struggled. They rank last in the Big 12 and 115th nationally in yards (342.7), they rank last in the Big 12 and 112th nationally in passing yards (167), and the bulk of their rushing yards (175.7) have come against overmatched competition. They failed to run for more than 120 yards against Stanford, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

That’s not a recipe for success in the pass-happy Big 12, even with an above-average defense.

K-State was more sluggish than usual on offense last week during a 38-17 loss to Oklahoma. It could do little with backup quarterback Joe Hubener replacing an injured Jesse Ertz in the second half. Ertz is expected to play against Texas on Saturday, but it will take more than his presence to score against the Longhorns.

“You have to go back and address what the issues were in the previous game,” Snyder said, “and the issues that may have carried over form early in the season. No. 1 is we have to enhance our passing game. No. 2 is we have to finish plays, which we haven’t done as consistently as we need.”

Snyder blames himself for those shortcomings, saying “I haven’t coached them well enough.”

But K-State players are challenging themselves to do more.

“I would like to see our offense be more consistent,” left guard Abdul Beecham said. “We can’t have three-and-outs coming this week against Texas. They have another great offense and we can’t keep our defense out on the field. We have to come into every drive expecting to score.”

Completing long throws will be a must. The Longhorns rank last in the Big 12 and 126th nationally against the pass (278.5 yards) and have been susceptible to deep balls. California, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State each threw for at least 390 yards against them.

It is unreasonable to expect Ertz to match that production, given he is still finding his way as a starting quarterback and has completed 59 of 119 passes for 756 yards and five touchdowns this season. But a 200-yard day seems within reach.

If Ertz can find his touch on long throws, which have mostly eluded him this season, and his receivers can keep drops to a minimum, which hasn’t been the case lately, the Wildcats might open things up for the running game and escape the offensive doldrums.

“I am confident we can come back and correct the mistakes we have been making,” K-State running back Charles Jones said. “We will be fine against Texas.”

There are signs that K-State’s offense isn’t as hopeless as the numbers indicate.

Pro Football Focus, an analytic website that studies often overlooked positions on the gridiron, published an article Wednesday that rated K-State’s offensive line as the third-best in the country, behind Iowa and Washington State.

If that rating is accurate, it’s not hard to envision K-State’s skill players eventually putting things together and finding success behind a strong front five.

They simply haven’t done it yet.

“We are improving,” K-State tight end Dayton Valentine said. “I think we are coming along nicely. I see a lot of guys developing really well. I am excited for the second half of the season.”

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett

Texas at Kansas State

  • When: 11 a.m. Saturday
  • Where: Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan
  • Records: UT 3-3, 1-2 Big 12; KSU 3-3, 1-1
  • Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM, 102.5-FM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
  • TV: ESPN2

Three things about Texas

1. The Longhorns have struggled so badly on defense that Charlie Strong took over defensive coordinator duties after four games. But Texas may have turned a corner last week against Iowa State, holding the Cyclones to six points.

2. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele is off to a promising start. In six games, he has thrown for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns.

3. Strong, 14-17 in his third season, might need a strong finish to keep his job.

Key matchup

Jesse Ertz vs. Texas’ secondary. K-State has failed to take advantage of suspect secondaries in its past two games, totaling 329 passing yards against Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Longhorns are giving up 278.5 yards through the air. The Wildcats have to exploit that weakness this week, which means Ertz will need to connect on some deep throws.

Kellis Robinett’s pick: K-State, 27-24

Kansas State is 3-0 at home. Texas is 0-3 away from home and hasn’t won in Manhattan since 2002. Snyder Family Stadium gives the Wildcats a slight edge in an otherwise even matchup.