Sometimes football is easy to analyze.
That is certainly the case when it comes to Kansas State this season. The Wildcats have seven victories and two losses with one key stat separating the outcomes – rushing yards.
Here are the numbers: In K-State’s seven victories, it has averaged 191.7 rushing yards with three efforts of more than 230 yards standing out. During its two losses, it has averaged 37 yards with a 34-yard stinker against TCU still fresh on Bill Snyder’s mind.
The Wildcats gained 1.8 yards per rush against the Horned Frogs on a night they fell behind and lost their identity, possessing the ball for less than 25 minutes. They were even worse against Auburn, gaining 1.3 yards per rush. K-State’s offense thrives on its balance, with a lean toward the ground game. Take that away and, well, the results are predictable.
“The two games we lost, we really struggled in the run,” sophomore running back Charles Jones said. “It really puts a lot on our shoulders and shows that we have a lot of pride to run the ball. We need to change that and establish the run.”
Re-establishing a ground attack will be of the utmost importance against the Mountaineers, who are susceptible against the run, allowing 181.5 rushing yards. Six players have eclipsed 100 rushing yards against West Virginia, with Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine galloping to 242 yards.
Those numbers are salivating for K-State’s running backs.
“We used this bye week to focus on establishing run, which is a big part of our offense,” Jones said. “Knowing that we couldn’t get it going in the TCU game, we look forward to picking it back up.”
Problem is, none of them have rushed for more than 75 yards in a game this season.
Jones, the leading rusher, is averaging 47.8 yards. Senior DeMarcus Robinson is averaging 39.2. Quarterback Jake Waters is arguably the team’s most efficient runner – he topped 100 yards against Texas Tech and Iowa State – but his rushing attempts have dropped sharply since injuring his right shoulder against Oklahoma. He averages 45.1 rushing yards.
Overall, K-State is averaging a satisfactory 157.3 yards, but the Wildcats lack a go-to runner.
That hasn’t happened at K-State since 2008, when Lamark Brown led the team with 34.3 rushing yards. And it hasn’t happened under Snyder since 1989, his first year on the job, when Pat Jackson led the team with 29.8 rushing yards.
“We are so far into the season, right now, I don’t think it is going to happen,” Snyder said when asked about the possibility of establishing a featured runner. “Earlier in the season, I indicated I would like for one to step up so you can have a distinct No. 1 and a distinct No. 2. That hasn’t happened. They have both played about the same. I don’t see that changing.”
Jones and Robinson shoulder much of the blame when K-State’s rushing attack struggles. Jones has been an effective red-zone runner out of the wildcat formation, scoring 11 touchdowns, but he lacks big-play potential. His longest run of the season is 18 yards.
Robinson can be elusive and a passing threat out of the backfield, but he shies away from contact.
Snyder has hinted that he may use backup quarterback Joe Hubener, who is averaging 5.9 yards per rush, as a change-of-pace runner moving forward.
Still, it will take more than one person to get K-State’s ground game going. Snyder pointed the finger at himself after the TCU loss.
“What we put on the field sometimes was not always the best thing to put out there,” Snyder said. “How we executed some of the things we did was not always the best way to do it. The third element is TCU played extremely well. It is a combination of all of those things.”
The last time K-State was in this situation, following a 20-14 loss to Auburn, it responded by rushing for 188 yards in a 58-28 victory over Texas-El Paso.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen expects to see K-State’s maximum effort.
“They are just really efficient,” Holgorsen said. “They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t have any negative plays. Their red-zone efficiency is really good. They are just an efficient outfit on offense.
“They have one of the better offensive lines we are going to face. They are all juniors and seniors. Their center (B.J. Finney) is a great player. They just do a lot of stuff up front that poses a lot of problems.”
K-State is at its best when those problems are posed in the running game and its worst when they are not.
“It’s going to be a team effort,” Jones said. “Not really just me or a Demarcus, but us as a whole we are going to have to block a little harder than we were and run a little harder than we were. That can happen, but it is going to be a team effort for it to happen.”
No. 12 Kansas State at West Virginia
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.
Records: KSU 7-2, 5-1 Big 12; WVU 6-4, 4-3
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
TV: Fox Sports 1 (Cox 60, DirecTV 219, Dish 150, U-Verse 652)
Three Things About West Virginia
1. Quarterback Clint Trickett ranks sixth nationally with 3,173 passing yards. His best game came against Maryland, when he threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns. His main target is Kevin White, who averages more than 120 receiving yards.
2. The Mountaineers climbed into the top 15 after a 6-2 start, which included a victory over Baylor. But back-to-back losses to TCU and Texas have dropped them out of the top 25, though they are still receiving votes in some polls.
3. Dana Holgorsen had the highest of praise for K-State coach Bill Snyder this week, saying “He is the most respected guy in our profession, bar none. He just does it the right way, developing a culture of good family values and a program of guys that work hard, develop depth. They play the right way and do the right things. They don’t beat themselves. I could go on and on.”
K-State’s front four vs. Clint Trickett. Unlike most quarterbacks in the Big 12, Trickett prefers to stay in the pocket and throw, rarely scrambling before he has exhausted all passing options. That gives the Wildcats an opportunity to establish a pass rush against him. For the first time in weeks, Ryan Mueller and company can attack the quarterback without fear of getting beat by keepers. Trickett can be turnover prone, so K-State needs to take advantage and pressure him into mistakes.
Kellis Robinett’s pick: K-State, 28-27
West Virginia is favored by a field goal, but it lacks the defensive personnel to shut down K-State the way TCU did. As long as the Wildcats don’t fall behind early, they have what it takes to win a close one on the road.