Kansas State opened the season with a 55-19 victory over Central Arkansas on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Three thoughts on the game:
1. The Wildcats have playmakers at receiver.
Jesse Ertz will have more options in the passing game this season -- a lot more. Every K-State receiver that caught a pass against Central Arkansas did something electric. Isaiah Zuber made a nifty back-shoulder grab for a touchdown, Dalton Schoen rumbled 70 yards for a touchdown, Isaiah Harris caught three passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, Byron Pringle grabbed three balls for 121 yards and a touchdown. Quite a change from last season, when getting even one explosive play from a receiver sometimes felt like a challenge.
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Ertz made it look easy piling up a career-high 333 passing yards, and he has his receivers to thank for that. Not only did they get open, they made impressive plays after the catch. Pringle, as many expected, looked great and used a juke move to get free on his 55-yard score. He is hard to touch, let alone tackle, in the open field. Schoen lived up to the buzz he earned in preseason camp. And Harris bounced around the field like a pinball. His catch-and-run touchdown down the right sideline was the best play of the night. He has great speed and great hands.
It hardly mattered that Dominique Heath (I’m told he should play next week) watched this game from the sideline. K-State showed it has depth at receiver. Things will surely get tougher as the season goes on and teams devote more defensive resources to their coverage (Central Arkansas sold out to stop the run) but this was a very encouraging start for K-State’s receivers.
2. K-State has some growing up to do on defense.
That is true at most positions after K-State allowed Central Arkansas to match it score for score early and pile up 421 yards of offense late. The Bears averaged 4.1 yards per rush and completed 77 percent of their passes.
The Wildcats looked particularly weak against the option, something that defensive tackle Will Geary and defensive back D.J. Reed admitted they were not prepared to defend.
K-State’s biggest lapses seemed to come at linebacker, which probably was to be expected with Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby making their first starts. They seemed a tad slow and struggled to stop Central Arkansas players when they got past the line of scrimmage. Replacing Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore remains a work in progress.
One thing K-State did well was blitz. Defensive coordinator Tom Hayes hinted he might try to be a bit more aggressive this season, and he was on Saturday. Eli Walker, Brogan Barry, Denzel Goolsby, Duke Shelley, Kirby and Reed all had a tackle for loss. Whenever Hayes called for safety/corner blitzes, they seemed to work.
3. There aren’t many return duos better than Byron Pringle and D.J. Reed.
I touched on this already with a full story, but I think it’s worth discussing more here. How do opposing coaches neutralize Pringle and Reed on returns? I don’t know. Central Arkansas tried kicking it to Reed and he torched the Bears for two huge returns. They tried kicking it to Pringle, and he gave K-State great field position. By the end, they were lofting short kickoffs to Tanner Wood and hoping for the best. This is going to be an issue for every team on K-State’s schedule. The best strategy is probably to ask a strong kicker to deliver touchbacks, but even that puts the ball at the 25. And not every team has a strong kicker. On punts, do you kick it out of bounds? Try for extra hang time and not worry about distance? Pringle and Reed put kickers and punters in a serious bind. Based on what they did Saturday, that won’t change anytime soon.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett