Bill Snyder is proud of Kansas State’s running backs. He thinks the combination of Alex Barnes, Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack provides the Wildcats with a little bit of everything at the position – size, power, speed and depth.
So why aren’t they rushing for more yardage?
Some expected Barnes to be the focal point of the offense this season, with Silmon and Warmack providing change-of-pace options, yet none of K-State’s running backs are averaging more than 54 yards per game after three games. Quarterback Jesse Ertz, fresh off 126 yards against Vanderbilt, has been the team’s most consistent rusher.
What gives? Snyder provided an interesting perspective earlier this week when he was asked for his assessment of Barnes, whose average run has dipped from 7.9 yards as a freshman to 4.9 yards as a sophomore.
“Alex has probably not played to his capabilities,” Snyder said. “That’s not his fault by any stretch of the imagination. He is a competitive young guy and I think he will get better. He understands the things he needs to do and what has held him back a little bit. He is working diligently to get those things corrected. I know there is a lot more on the table.”
Barnes and his running mates will get a golden opportunity against Baylor on Saturday. If ever there was a week for K-State’s running backs to get going, this is it.
Baylor has the worst run defense in the Big 12 (236.5 yards per game) and is fresh off a 49-41 loss to Oklahoma in which it allowed the Sooners to run wild. OU running backs Abdul Adams (164 yards and a touchdown) and Trey Sermon (148 yards and two touchdowns) led the way for a rushing attack that totaled 342 yards and four scores on 40 attempts.
Central Arkansas bottled up K-State running backs, holding them to 87 yards. So did Vanderbilt, limiting Barnes and Silmon to 75 yards.
The Wildcats are hungry for a breakout.
“Our running game has picked up the last two games, but it’s still not where we want it to be,” left guard Abdul Beecham said. “It’s not up to our standards. (Offensive line) coach (Charlie) Dickey is working extremely hard to get us right. All the guys on the offensive line are working extremely hard on and off the field to get this running game up and going, specifically the running back running game, instead of the quarterback running game, so we can open up the field.”
K-State’s low rushing numbers are complicated. Barnes is averaging a respectable 4.9 yards per rush, but he has only seen 33 carries. Warmack is averaging 6.9 yards per rush, but he has only touched the ball 11 times. Silmon is averaging a team-high 13.7 yards per rush, but he has only played in one game.
Maybe now that the backfield is at full strength, the running backs will churn out yards.
“We know he is capable,” Snyder said of Silmon. “He ran reasonably well two Saturdays ago. I do not think anything has changed. We have always assessed him to be a fine player and a good running back for us.”
More opportunities could help, too.
The Wildcats all but abandoned their running backs against Central Arkansas and Vanderbilt, opting to throw the ball 44 times and using Barnes as an extra pass blocker. But when they stayed committed to running between the tackles against Charlotte, they piled up 304 rushing yards.
Returning to that style will be a priority against Baylor.
“That is something we can do better,” Snyder said. “I think they are focused on that.”
Running the ball is always a priority for the Wildcats. They want to show what their running backs can do against Baylor.
“We take a lot of pride in being tough and strong up front,” K-State tight end Dayton Valentine said. “That is one thing we want to do up front every week is be more physical than the other team. Having it be the first conference game of the year, we want to come out and be able to prove that and start off conference play strong.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett