Powercat Gameday Panel: Oklahoma

| October 14, 2016 | 0 Comments

Welcome to another installation of the Powercat Gameday panel, where we answer your questions about K-State football. After an impressive win over Texas Tech, K-State and Powercat Gameday are on the road again this weekend in Norman, Oklahoma.

Come join the crew at O’Connell’s Irish Pub and Grille, just a half mile walk from the stadium. The Powercat Gameday crew will be on the air bright and early starting at 7 a.m. If you can’t make it down for the game, make sure to tune in to the biggest pregame show in the Big 12.

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.

Let’s go:

John: The defense in the second half was lights out. They basically held Tech, a team that was averaging 59.5 points per game, to just three second half points (if we take away the awful pass interference penalty you mentioned). When asked about it after the game, Bill Snyder did mention that there could have been some coverage changes that affected Patrick Mahomes just enough to make a difference.

The biggest thing you can point to statistically that led to the turnaround was the third and fourth down defense. Tech started the game 8-for-9 on third down and finished just 1-for-7. K-State
also successfully defended Tech on all three fourth down attempts they had. After the first half, I’m not sure anybody saw that coming.

As for the pass interference call, it was bad enough to make Sportscenter.

Cole: Over the final eight possessions of the game, Tech scored 10 points, an average of 1.3 points per possession. Take away the awful pass interference call on D.J. Reed and K-State only allowed 3 points over the final eight Texas Tech possessions. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Tech still got its yards, but as John mentioned, the biggest difference was K-State’s ability to get off the field on third and fourth downs in the second half. They also got some hits on Mahomes and I think it started to take a toll on his throwing arm as the game went on.

Stanton: When the K-State football players cat-pack into the locker room after the first half of a game, a very calculated regimen is set into motion. Just like everything else Coach Bill Snyder does, halftime is scheduled down to the second. Another item added to a long list of things that he puts extra emphasis on that most coaches take for granted.

A white board set in front of a formation of chairs awaits the players. Special Teams are always first (this is no coincidence, reference that list I mentioned earlier). Special Teams Coordinator Sean Snyder starts the meeting, firing questions at his core of cover and return players. Their answers turn into an open discussion amongst the group about what they are seeing, Sean Snyder listens intently, calculating how they can exploit the opponent in the second half.

No more than 30 seconds into the Special Teams meeting Defensive Coordinator Tom Hayes has snuck behind Sean Snyder and began very neatly writing his list of halftime adjustments on the whiteboard. Once he is satisfied with the list, he begins drawing an array of X’s and O’s. Play after play of what he wants to emphasize in the meeting that is about to begin. Before the two minute special teams meeting is over, the board is covered with green ink and Tom Hayes is impatiently waiting to start his meeting. He knows how important the half time adjustments are and he is as good as it gets at making them.

If the questionable PI is not called against DJ Reed, and K-State doesn’t give up that last touchdown to Tech, Tom Hayes and his defense have given up an average of only 7.2 points in the second half of games this season. Speaking of the pass interference, the contact that may have merited the flag occurred very early in the route, I have seen worse calls. It was unfortunate to see such a great play on the ball negated by a penalty.

Cole: To answer Ben’s first question, last season K-State allowed 59 points on 16 Tech possessions, an average of 3.7 points per drive. This past Saturday, K-State allowed 38 points on 14 possessions, an average of 2.7 points per drive, a significant improvement against an offense that was leading the country at 4.30 points per possession coming into Manhattan. And if you take away the bad pass interference call, K-State actually only allowed 2.2 points per possession. There aren’t going to be many teams to hold Tech to that low of a points per drive rate this season.

As far as the offensive line, I actually think they’ve been OK, outside of giving up too many sacks. Abdul Beecham is an upgrade at left guard and will be a very nice player over the remaining 2 ½ seasons of his career. Terrale Johnson has played well at right guard and freshman Scott Frantz is improving at left tackle. Dalton Risner has also been steady. Could the line be better? Absolutely. However, many of the sacks allowed have been the result of the quarterback holding the ball too long or the receivers not getting separation and getting open.

Against West Virginia, the Mountaineers were stacking the box trying to take the run away from K-State. Ertz and the receivers weren’t able to capitalize against a lot of one-on-one matchups and that made running the football difficult for the o-line.

K-State is certainly improved athletically at receiver, but they’re still inexperienced at that position and learning. They’ve dropped several catchable passes this season.

Stanton: It is fair to say that K-State is improved at all the skill positions and, after losing four out of your five starting offensive linemen (including an NFL second round draft pick), it is fair to assume that the O-Line unit is going to have growing pains. Even though they haven’t been perfect, this unit has not given me any reason to believe that they deserve any more of the blame for the slow offensive start than any other position.

When it comes to the question of if the offensive line is some kind of governor on the potential of our offense, I don’t think that’s the case. Offensive Line Coach Charlie Dickey is just too good at what he does. Year after year I saw him take a group that many doubted and push each and every guy in his room to be their absolute best. Along with Co-Offensive Coordinator Dana Dimmel, the two coaches do an excellent job of understanding the front five’s strengths, as well as weaknesses, and then putting them into situations where they can be successful.

As for the success of the offense I look to Jesse Ertz, the offense will go as he goes. If he develops into the player that he has the potential to be, K-State’s offense can be very good. Last week against Texas Tech he took steps forward, every week he is looking more and more comfortable and I look for that improvement to continue.

John: I think it’s still a combination of everything. Yes, theoretically K-State has upgraded the talent at all of the skill spots. However, K-State still has a brand new starting quarterback and two of the top four receivers right now are getting their first action as well. Bill Snyder has mentioned on multiple occasions that receivers have contributed to some of Jess Ertz’s struggles. In the game Saturday, Isaiah Zuber dropped multiple passes that were certainly catchable. Byron Pringle dropped maybe the most important pass of the game at West Virginia that seemingly was the difference between a win and a loss.

I’m not saying the offensive line is completely free of any blame. K-State has already gone to the measure of moving Abdul Beecham from tackle to guard. That tells you that they weren’t feeling great about either Will Ash or Tyler Mitchell who had each made starts at left guard this season. I think Beecham at this point is the most talented of those three and will probably keep the position moving forward. That should help with continuity as the season goes along.

The entire offense is a work in progress and frankly needs to improve a lot if K-State wants to accomplish anything beyond merely being bowl eligible this year, but the blame for that can be split pretty evenly across the board.

Stanton: Watching a Texas Tech game makes me wonder what their practices are like. Football teams are interesting organizations because they are a group that is essentially split down the middle (with the exceptions of the kickers, punters, and long snappers, those guys are in their own world), half offense and half defense. These two groups are always competing against each other, trash talk happens, fights occur, bad blood can certainly exist.

The head coach presides over this interesting dynamic, if the offense has a good day of practice naturally that also means the defense has room to improve. How does a given coach approach these kind of situations, specifically Kliff Kingsbury? I could see Texas Tech’s defense being treated like a scout team for the past four years: Every time the offense throws an incompletion or an offensive lineman misses a block, the coaches line every one back up and repeat the play emphasizing that it is paramount that it be run to perfection. When, on the flip side, the defense is hearing their opposing unit receive praise every time one of Tech’s 15 receivers beats them on a fade route, and the coaches move practice along.

A head coach instills a culture in his team and I perceive that Coach Kingsbury’s offensive background influences everything they do: fast paced, flashy, free spirited. This is good for recruiting, fun to watch, and leads to having one of the top offenses in the country. But if you were going to describe what it takes to be successful in football you would use words more like discipline, toughness, and consistency, adjectives in stark contrast of the ones I used to describe Texas Tech.

Kliff Kingsbury has proven he can be a great offensive coordinator, but until he stops acting like an offensive coordinator and starts acting like a head coach, Texas Tech will continue to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. I don’t think he is in danger of getting fired this year but, moving forward, it will be an interesting to see if he can mature into a coach that emphasizes defense and minimizing penalties as much as his high flying offense. Many great coordinators found their success as head coaches emphasizing the unit opposite of their expertise (see Bill Snyder Defenses). Can Kingsbury make this transition before Texas Tech fans get tired of winning 7 games a year? Time will tell.

John: Well considering he looks exactly like Ryan Gosling, I’m not sure there’s a “hotter” seat in the country. That’s what you meant, right?

Cole: I know my wife hopes he doesn’t go anywhere. She’s a big Kingsbury fan and I’m beginning to think it’s not because of the offense he runs.

As far as him being on the hot seat, he should be. He’s 22-21 in his first three-plus seasons. But he started 7-0 in his first year and is 15-21 since. In addition, he’s 11-18 in Big 12 games, but 4-18 against every team not named KU and Iowa State.

It has to be frustrating to be a Tech fan over all these years. They’ve always had a great offense and if they could just put an average defense on the field one of these years, the Red Raiders would be a true Big 12 title contender.

John: Well it was a win that K-State absolutely had to have as far as bowl eligibility is concerned and the confidence of the team moving forward. As far as what will translate to the Oklahoma game, the biggest thing is just the defense showing an ability to limit an elite offense. The Sooners certainly bring that to the table, but it is a much different offense than Tech. OU not only has a very good passing attack, especially with the recent emergence of wide receiver Dede Westbrook, but they also have maybe the best combination of running backs in the country with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. That makes it a much different challenge than what K-State saw in Texas Tech.

The good news is that a team that wants to run the ball more plays into the biggest strength of the K-State defense which is the front seven. The bad news is that the balance of the Sooners offense gives them more options with which to find success against the Cats.

I know that Stanford doesn’t look good offensively at all right now, but we’ve seen K-State play very well against a run-based attack that features an elite running back (Christian McCaffrey). We’ve also seen them play pretty well against two spread offenses that rely heavily on their quarterback and athletic wide receivers (Texas Tech and West Virginia). The question now becomes what happens when you combine both of those aspects into one offense.

Cole: They’re such different teams that I don’t see it translating. Tech is one of the worst running teams in the country. So K-State was able to make the Red Raiders’ offense essentially one-dimensional. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is the most balanced offense K-State will face this season. The Sooners are averaging 215 rushing yards a game and 313 passing yards. Oklahoma averages 6.8 yards an offensive play, ranking 10th in the country. And Baker Mayfield’s 10 yards per pass attempt ranks 2nd-best nationally. So this is a more complete offense than Tech’s.

In addition, Tech has a terrible run defense. The Sooners do not. They’re holding teams to 3.7 yards per rush this season, ranking 30th in the country. Oklahoma’s weakness is its pass defense. The Sooners rank 117th out of 128 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense. However, K-State has struggled in the passing game thus far this season. If the Wildcats are going to have any chance of pulling off the upset, they’ll likely need their best passing performance to date.

Not to mention OU’s success at home under Bob Stoops. The Sooners have the best home winning percentage in the entire FBS under Stoops. K-State has handed him two of his nine home losses, both coming in the last two trips to Norman. But those were veteran K-State teams with an experienced quarterback. This Wildcats squad is still relatively inexperienced and this will be the toughest road game of the season.

Stanton: Every win is big, and last week’s win over Tech was especially important to the momentum of K-State’s team moving forward. As the season progresses and this young team’s comfort level rises, each one of these types of wins affirms to the players what their coach and tireless preparation has wired them to believe, that they are good enough to compete in the Big 12. That affirmation leads to confidence, and a confident Bill Snyder football team is hard to deal with. You can look into the details of matchups and statistics but when it comes to Bill Snyder teams, wins translate into more wins. When his teams get rolling, they are a force to be reckoned with, the win over Tech makes me think anything is possible against Oklahoma this week.

Cole: I went ahead and hit on this in an earlier question, but Oklahoma’s strength is its run defense. The Sooners have been awful against the pass. So does K-State try to go strength against strength or attempt to exploit OU’s weakness in its secondary? I’d look for a balanced attack. If the Wildcats are going to win, they’ll have to also be able to run the ball with relative success. If they can average 4 yards per rush or more, I think they can stay in this game.

Stanton: As we saw against Tech, when K-State can establish the run the offense will have success. I was encouraged by Jesse Ertz’s 8.3 yards per carry against Texas Tech and would look to see K-State counter the stout Sooner run defense by adding an extra blocker to the run game through running the quarterback. If Oklahoma does decide to load up the box, K-State will have to try to exploit the one on one matchups of the receivers against a beaten up Oklahoma secondary. Dana Dimmel will get K-State into situations where they can be successful. Just as the young players are getting a feel for the game, Coach Dimmel is getting a feel for who he can trust to execute in certain situations. He is adjusting and working to improve every week and we saw that against Texas Tech.

John: The problem here is that the weakness of the Oklahoma defense is their secondary. The Sooners have battled a number of injuries on defense, and their pass defense is 113th in the country (288 yards per game allowed). K-State’s offense doesn’t seem very well equipped to take advantage of the biggest achilles heel of the Sooners defense. I’d expect Oklahoma to load up the box and do whatever they can to force Jesse Ertz to beat them through the air. K-State absolutely still has to try to establish the run, but I fear that will be much easier said than done.

Also if you look back to last year, K-State came out trying to throw the ball a bunch early before they fell into a huge hole. The Wildcats first six offensive plays were passes. That resulted in a punt and an interception that helped spot the Sooners a 14-0 lead.

There are a lot of things that point towards K-State likely trying to throw the ball quite a bit.

Stanton: In my five years at K-State, last year’s Oklahoma game was the worst loss that I suffered as a player. It was K-State’s first shutout at home since 1991. We were embarrassed. I still have a bad taste in my mouth about it and there is no doubt that all the players back from last year do too. They players will be talking about it often this week to motivate each other and I am interested to see how they respond.

John: I can tell you that one of the things we heard over and over from K-State players immediately after the Texas Tech game was that they absolutely haven’t forgotten how brutal that game was last year in Manhattan. They said Bill Snyder brought up the 55-0 loss in the locker room after they took care of Texas Tech.

This also isn’t the Oklahoma of a month ago. The Sooners, at least in Big 12 circles, seem to have again established themselves as the Big 12 favorite. It’s a big game on ESPN against a traditional power that now seems to be playing it’s best football and K-State is a double digit underdog. I don’t think you need to worry about this team lacking motivation in this game.

Cole: K-State had scored in 234 consecutive games dating back to 1991. And then the Sooners ended that streak last year, completely humiliating the Wildcats and handing them their worst home shutout loss in school history. K-State had 110 yards of offense and averaged 2.1 yards per play.

There should be plenty of motivation for the players on this K-State team who were a part of last year’s contest. OU will be fired up as well. K-State has defeated the Sooners in two consecutive trips to Norman and Oklahoma appears to have refocused itself on a Big 12 championship after two losses to Houston and Ohio State in the nonconference.

John: If it’s literally between a 50+ point blowout or a K-State win, I’d definitely go with a K-State win. All of the recent history in Manhattan would indicate that for whatever reason, the Wildcats really struggle against the Sooners at home. In 2011 we all campaigned for College Gameday to come to Manhattan, but the 7-0 Cats got rocked in the second half and lost 58-17. In 2013 K-State was in the midst of a four-game winning streak and taking on an OU team that was a disappointing 8-2 coming off of a blowout loss to Baylor. Yet the Sooners still controlled the game and won 41-31. In 2015 K-State was not only in a rebuilding type of season, but they were extremely beat up mentally and physically after heartbreaking losses to TCU and Oklahoma State. I’d say it’s somewhat fair to chalk up losing that badly to all of those factors adding up.

On the other side of that coin is K-State’s recent success in Norman. We all know K-State has won two straight at Oklahoma, but they even came close to stealing one the last time they played there before that in Bill Snyder’s first year back in 2009.

Combine all of that with the fact that this is definitely a more talented K-State team than last season and I’d have a hard time seeing the Wildcats losing by anywhere near 55 points.

Cole: I don’t see any way OU blows K-State out by 50-plus points. So I’ll go with a K-State win as much more likely vs. the other option.

Stanton: There are not many places in college football like Gaylord Family Stadium in Norman, and as a player, it brings out the best in you. This has been the case the last two times K-State has made the trip down to Oklahoma. I am excited to see what this K-State team does with their opportunity. I think one of the keys to victory for K-State is starting fast and keeping Oklahoma’s offense off the board early. I think the 11:00 am kickoff on the road plays into the hands of the Wildcats, the home team may need some time to wake up while the road team is ready to play a football game and get home. I think a victory for K-State is much more likely than anything resembling a blowout. It will be tough, Stoops has never lost to a team three times in a row at home but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a K-State win.

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