Powercat Gameday Panel: Kansas

Welcome to another installation of the Powercat Gameday Panel, where the hosts of Powercat Gameday answer your K-State and College Football questions every week. The Sunflower Showdown heads back to Manhattan this Saturday for another 11 AM kickoff.

Kansas State and Kansas meet for the 114th time as Bill Snyder goes for a historic 200th career win. Gear up for the in-state rivalry by tuning your radio to KMAN bright and early as Powercat Gameday will be broadcasting live in Cat Town starting at 7 AM.

Thanks as always to everyone who submitted a question to this week’s Powercat Gameday Panel. To submit a question tweet us at @PowercatGameday or to any of the panelists: @jlkurtz, @Cole_Manbeck, or @StantonWeber.

Here we go:

John: It’s definitely in consideration. Holding West Virginia to 17 points on the road might be more impressive though all things considered. The Mountaineers weren’t down their first string quarterback like Baylor was. The Bears also seemed like they had already started to throw in the towel on the season. There wasn’t a whole lot of energy in McLane Stadium.

Having said that, it was still a very impressive performance in Waco. The biggest difference between the K-State defense from last year and the K-State defense this year is their ability to force turnovers. That was on display against the Bears as the Wildcats got three interceptions and recovered a fumble. They also wreaked havoc with their pass rush and wound up with seven TFLs and four sacks. The point total allowed could have been even lower had it not been for two K-State turnovers in the first half.

Cole: I think so. We know Baylor was without Seth Russell at quarterback, and that certainly made the Bears easier to defend. Taking that into account, I’d still rank it as the defense’s best effort in conference play and here’s why:

– The Wildcats held Baylor to a season-low 368 yards of total offense. The Bears had at least 400 yards of offense in every game this season entering last Saturday.
– Baylor rushed for a season-low 110 yards against K-State. The Bears had rushed for 200 yards or more in seven of their previous nine games on the season. K-State held Baylor to 3.3 yards per rush, the third-lowest yards-per-carry average over their last 23 games, dating back to the start of the 2015 season (K-State held Baylor to 3 yards per rush in 2015).
– The Bears averaged a season-worst 4.7 yards per play against K-State (technically TCU held Baylor to 4.7 yards a play so it’s a tie).
– K-State forced four Baylor turnovers. Baylor hadn’t turned the ball over more than three times in a game this season. In addition, the Bears’ three interceptions thrown were a season-high by the Baylor offense.

Numbers aside, K-State did a great job of limiting the big play, something that has been a staple of the Baylor offense over recent years and a weakness of the K-State defense this season. The Wildcats also generated a solid pass rush against a good offensive line.

K-State’s defense gave up 21 points, but two K-State turnovers on the Wildcats’ side of the field put the defense in a bad spot on two of Baylor’s touchdowns. So only 7 of Baylor’s points came from a long, sustained drive.

Stanton: The 21-point defensive performance against Baylor has a strong case to be considered the best outing of the year. The wildcats gave up only 110 yards rushing on 33 carries for 3.33 yards per carry. Through the air, Baylor gained 258 yards on 27 of 46 passing (58.7%, 5.61 yards per attempt). K-State sacked Baylor quarterback Zach Smith 4 times and turned the Bears over 4 times, 3 Interceptions and a key fumble at the Baylor 1-yard line. A contending game, for the best defensive performance, would be holding Texas to 21 points. D’Onta Foreman and the Longhorns rushed for only 122 yards on 38 carries for 3.21 yards per carry. Texas threw for 222 yards on 17 of 24 passing (70.1%, 9.25 yards per attempt). The Wildcats had 4 sacks on the day but no takeaways. At the point in the season where K-State needed it the most, the defense came through big.

The Texas game looks less impressive after how the rest of their season has transpired but the Longhorns averaged 38.7 points per game before facing K-State. I’ll also note that the Baylor game could have been worse if the Baylor receivers didn’t drop more than a handful of Zach Smith’s passes. If I had to choose, I would say the Baylor game was the defense’s best performance because of all the turnovers. It was a great win, and the defense deserves a lot of credit for their contribution to it.

Cole: He should be, and honestly I’ve thought he should have been the starting running back for a while. I don’t want to ignore the fact that Charles Jones has had a nice senior season, averaging more than 5.4 yards per carry. And Justin Silmon has been solid too. But Barnes is at another level.

Consider this: K-State running backs not named Barnes have 185 carries on the season. Of those 185 carries, 31 (17%) of them have gone for 0 yards or for a loss. Barnes has 46 carries this season. All 46 have gone for at least 1 yard or more. His physicality and vision are great. And he’s the type of player who can take some of the hits off your quarterback in short-yardage situations.

He’s also physical as a blocker. For the second straight week, he put an opposing defender on his back as a lead blocker on a running play. I think he should start going forward and get 15-20 carries a game at minimum.

Stanton: All the running backs have been producing this season but Alex Barnes has officially separated himself from the pack as the most talented runner on the team. While running the football is the most apparent aspect of a running back’s performance, there are other elements to the position (pass protection, audibles, run blocking) that have likely slowed down a transition from veteran Charles Jones to the Freshman, Alex Barnes. I have been impressed with Barnes’ blocking ability and it is far enough along in the season that he should be comfortable with the audibles and pass protection. If it was not senior day this weekend, I would predict that Barnes gets the start, but Charles Jones deserves the start as a senior who has had a solid career as a Wildcat.

John: If you take what Bill Snyder said earlier this week at his press conference as gospel, then Barnes is now the starter. Here’s the full quote:

“He’ll start kind of depending upon what we do,” Snyder said. “But we’ll still utilize our backs interchangeably.”

Whether he actually starts the game or not, he needs to be getting 15+ carries per game. It’s been clear for weeks now that he brings a lot more explosiveness to the table than the other backs. He was averaging 7.8 yards per carry before the Baylor game, but hadn’t gotten more than eight carries in a single game.

I’d make the argument that he’s the most talented skill position player that K-State has on offense. If there’s one thing the offense has been missing since Tyler Lockett left, it’s explosiveness…so there’s not really much of an excuse to keep Barnes off the field in that case. Snyder pointed out how well he’s been blocking earlier this week, and there’s no issue with attitude at all as Barnes comes across as one of the most humble guys on the team. It’s hard to find the reason as to why it took so long to feed him the rock.

It really makes you wonder what would have happened if the Wildcats would have used him more often throughout the entirety of the Big 12 season. If Barnes gets a carry on 3rd and 1 against Oklahoma State the play before K-State controversially punted it away, what are the odds he picks up the first down and the Wildcats kill more clock with a nine point lead? As Cole pointed out earlier, Barnes doesn’t have a single carry this year that hasn’t gone for at least one yard. I’ll let you do the math on that.

Stanton: “Next man up.” Look, I am very impressed with Alex Barnes, I think he is the best runner out of the backs K-State has on their roster. I knew he was going to be good before the season began but I couldn’t predict that he would be producing at this level, this quickly. That being said, he is still a freshman and doesn’t deserve to be anointed “the 2017 Doak Walker Award winner” just yet. Is that out of his reach? Absolutely not, Barnes’ ceiling is very high. I just want to emphasize that college careers are long and lots of things can happen from now until then. If Alex Barnes continues to improve, he could be one of the best running backs in K-State history, but as of today he is the “next man up” and needs to continue that daily improvement to get there. Which, knowing how humble and hardworking he is, I expect that’s his mindset as well.

John: It’s tough to pin down a specific moniker for Barnes in the context of the entire Snyder-era. However, I will definitively say that he’s the most exciting offensive skill position player K-State has had since Tyler Lockett left. There are some decent pieces on the offense that, like Barnes, are still young (Byron Pringle, Dominique Heath, etc.), but none seem to have the potential of Barnes.

I don’t want to hype him up too much this early in his career, but he’s certainly earned a lot of praise with his play so far. He’s also seemingly a very down to earth kind of guy, so I don’t worry as much about him getting a big head as I would with some.

Cole: Oh man, that’s tough to say. I want to try to rank him here but it’s difficult since he’s a freshman. There are a lot of good running backs in the Bill Snyder era, including Josh Scobey, Darren Sproles, Daniel Thomas and John Hubert. Barnes running style compares to Daniel Thomas, and I think he’s the most talented back K-State has put on the field since Thomas (discounting Bryce Brown’s 10 or so plays he saw the field). Hubert was a very good running back. But I’m looking at potential here and I would say Barnes has the potential to be the second-best K-State running back in the Snyder era, behind Sproles.

John: There’s no doubt that it starts with the offensive line. Think of how frazzled and scattered the offense looked in Palo Alto compared to what it’s been over the last month or so of the season. The Wildcats have been able to carve out an identity that’s very similar to that of the 2011 offense. They’ve dominated time of possession and have been able to assert their will with the run game. In fact, it’s the first time since 2003 that K-State has rushed for 200 yards in four straight league games.

I do think that it’s fair to mention two groups that would be a somewhat close second. That would be quarterback and running back.

Jesse Ertz at quarterback has continued to develop along with the rest of the offense. Taking into consideration how much his shoulder injury has affected the passing game, Ertz has still found ways to make plays and consistently move the offense.

Mainly based on the recent emergence of Alex Barnes, the K-State running backs have certainly elevated their ceiling as a group. It’s hard to tell how much of that is based on the offensive line improvement, but I think we’d all agree the running backs seem more formidable now than they did in September.

Cole: I think it’s the offensive line, without question. The Wildcats gave up eight sacks in the season-opener at Stanford and they rushed for just 92 yards while averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Since then, they’ve only allowed two sacks a game and over the last four games, the Wildcats are averaging more than 260 rushing yards per game on the ground.

K-State entered the season inexperienced upfront but this unit has really come together. It’s really encouraging as four of the five starters are underclassmen. Technically, K-State should return five starters on the line next season, as Tyler Mitchell also has started three games at guard and should be able to slide into the right guard spot, replacing the lone senior Terrale Johnson, who has been terrific.

The most telling statistic for this offensive line: K-State is averaging 5.02 yards per carry this season. It’s the highest-yards-per-carry average by a K-State offense since 2002, and if the season ended today, it would be is the second-highest yards-per-carry average by the Wildcats’ offense in the Bill Snyder era.

Stanton: Before the season began, one of the points of emphasis was how inexperienced our offensive line was. Offensive line coach Charlie Dickey has outdone himself again this year. His unit has gone from a big question mark to a strength for K-State’s offense. K-State is averaging 5.0 yards per carry, the second best in school history, and has rushed for over 200 yards in their last 4 games, the most consecutive games in conference play since 2003. The O-line has gained confidence throughout the year and have earned my vote for most improved unit.

Cole: It really is shocking, isn’t it? Texas should never lose that game when you consider the state of the KU football program.

The only answer I have is bad coaching. I hate to advocate for Charlie Strong to be fired, but he’s 16-20 overall and 12-14 in Big 12 play in his three years in Austin. Ron Prince was 17-20 and 9-15 in conference play and K-State fired him after three seasons. When you consider the circumstances, firing Strong certainly seems justified. You can’t tell me what he was taking over at Texas was any worse than what Prince took over at K-State and he was justifiably fired in three seasons. Strong should have been able to show progress by now with the resources Texas has. But the fact is, there never has been any progress when it comes to wins and losses.

Stanton: I have no explanation for Texas. They consistently bring in some of the most talented players in the country, their facilities are top notch, and they have one of the most renown histories in college football, they have no excuses for handing Kansas their first FBS victory in 24 games. With Houston coach, Tom Herman, reportedly in talks with LSU, Texas faithful likely aren’t having the best Thanksgiving holiday.

John: Listen Korby, you don’t just waltz into Kansas Memorial Stadium (track no longer included) and walk out with a win. Well, unless you’re any power five team not named Texas or Iowa State.

On second thought, you’re right that was a brutal loss.

Stanton: While Texas has their high expectations, Baylor has their scandal and Kansas has their blatant disinterest in football, so I would take the Texas job first out of those three. Charlie Strong has likely dampened Texas fans’ expectations by at least enough to let the next guy have a fair shot at bringing Texas back to relevance. Baylor is messy right now, but they have a brand new stadium and recent success that should still resonate with Texas recruits, so I’d put them second. As for the Kansas job, I don’t envy anyone who has to take on that job.

John: I definitely think Texas has lost some of its luster in terms of where it ranks nationally, but it’s still at the top of the list of jobs in the Big 12. It might still be at the top of the list of jobs in the country if it wasn’t for all of the misguided influence that boosters seems to have with the program. When Nick Saban took the Alabama job, he demanded that those types of guys needed to stay out of his way if he was going to be the head coach there. Texas needs to adopt that strategy.

As for Baylor v. KU, the Bears have a beautiful new stadium and recent success after winning the Big 12 in 2013 and 2014. Combine that with the fact that they’re in the most fertile recruiting ground in the country and I’d still easily rank that job ahead of Kansas despite the scandal.

Cole: Texas, Baylor, KU.

John: There was a lot of talk this week about how much better Kansas looks this season from the K-State players. Jordan Willis said he thinks this will be by far the best Kansas team he’s played against in his career. I think KU’s win over Texas has made this game a little more intriguing for both K-State players and K-State fans.

That’s probably a bad thing for the Jayhawks. Any chance of them sneaking up on the Wildcats has likely gone out of the window. If you buy into having external motivators, K-State has senior day, Snyder’s 200th and beating their in-state rival on the table this week. Snyder has beaten Kansas by an average of 34 points per game since coming back in 2009, and I don’t expect this one to be much different.

Cole: I’ve heard a lot of talk about KU making progress this season, and I do think they’re somewhat better. But they’ve played five road games this season and have been outscored 251-57 in those games, an average defeat of 50-11. This is a program that hasn’t won a Big 12 game on the road in more than eight years and has lost 40 consecutive contests away from home overall. In addition, over their last 36 road games, the Jayhawks have been outscored by a combined score of 1,546-468, an average margin of defeat of 43-13 per game. KU’s closest game on the road this year was a 27-point loss at West Virginia. There’s a reason K-State is favored by 27.

KU will come in fired up after defeating Texas. But I don’t think that helps them much. If anything, it gets the attention of K-State’s players even more. The Wildcats, like always, will be up for this game. K-State wins 38-10.

Stanton: It’s only fitting that Coach Snyder gets his 200th win against Kansas, I think K-State wins 42-3.

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