Lingering thoughts from Kansas State’s 31-26 victory over Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium:
1. Kansas State could benefit from a more stable rotation at running back.
The Wildcats had plenty of success on the ground against the Cyclones, running for 247 yards and three touchdowns on 43 attempts. They will win most games averaging 5.7 yards per rush.
But it could have been an even bigger day.
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K-State’s running-back rotation seemed upside down. Alex Barnes (7.4) and Justin Silmon (6.0) both averaged six-plus yards per run, and so did quarterback Jesse Ertz (11.8), yet none of them saw as many carries as Charles Jones (3.1), who rushed 12 times for 37 yards and got tackled in the end zone for a safety.
When your least productive runner gets three more carries than your most productive runner, something is out of whack.
Justin Silmon looked like the best running back Saturday, gashing Iowa State’s defense for 54 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the first half. He ran with power, made good cuts and found the end zone. He appeared on his way to a huge day.
But he didn’t touch the ball again. Why? That remains unclear. Silmon has battled minor injuries this year, and Snyder hinted he got banged up against the Cyclones before saying, "I think he will be fine." Silmon said he wasn’t injured, it was simply time for K-State to get other players involved.
Silmon said he wasn’t upset about getting benched. With as many quality running backs as K-State has on its roster, Silmon said, no one can expect to play all the time.
Still, some of them should expect to play more than they currently are.
There is also nothing wrong with rotating running backs. It keeps them fresh and reduces injury risk. A two-man system seems ideal.
But there is also nothing wrong with sticking with one running back if he gets off to a hot start, as Silmon did against Iowa State. A running back playing in rhythm is going to play better than a running back coming in cold, splitting reps with three other players.
Jones has been benched twice this season when he was running well. Silmon disappeared Saturday. Barnes and Dalvin Warmack, when healthy, eat in to both of their carries.
K-State’s backfield has too much of a committee feel at times.
2. Deante Burton is evolving in front of our eyes.
K-State senior receiver Deante Burton had five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. Great numbers, to be sure, but what made them even more impressive was the degree of difficulty involved.
He caught a back-shoulder throw from Ertz in the end zone, he caught a pass an inch above the ground for a first down, he hung on tight while getting tackled on a slant. Nothing came easy for Burton against Iowa State, but he made his catches look routine.
After being plagued by drops in his first three seasons, Burton is suddenly playing with NFL hands.
That should give K-State’s passing game a nice lift moving forward. Dominique Heath is also sure-handed, and Byron Pringle can stretch the field. Ertz has now completed more than half his throws in back-to-back games, going 18 for 28 for 151 yards against the Cyclones.
3. K-State’s pass defense continues to struggle.
You’re going to give up passing yards in the Big 12, but the Wildcats are giving up too many.
On Saturday, they allowed Iowa State backup Jacob Park to throw for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, the Cyclones threw for 339 yards. That’s 99 above their average.
In its other Big 12 games, K-State has allowed 222 passing yards to Texas, 372 to Oklahoma, 529 to Texas Tech and 298 to West Virginia for an average of 353 per game. That number ranks ninth in the Big 12.
That needs to change if K-State hopes to finish the season strong.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett