Powercat Gameday Panel: West Virginia

| September 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

The Powercat Gameday Panel is back for their fourth week of fielding your questions about K-State football. Kansas State heads to Morgantown for their Big 12 opener against West Virginia Saturday at 2:30 pm CT.

The crew will be broadcasting live in Morgantown at Fat Daddy’s Bar and Grill, just a short drive from the stadium. If you are making the trip to West Virginia, come stop by. If you’re watching from home, tune into Powercat Gameday live on KMAN starting at 10:30 am CT.

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.

John: There’s no doubt that this game has the potential to be a springboard for the rest of the season. If you get this one, three of the next four look very winnable (Tech, UT, @ISU). That means you could be looking at a 4-1 start to conference play.

However, I don’t think I’d really compare it to the 2012 game. K-State was already 6-0 at that point with a win over top-ten Oklahoma on the road. That OU game was really what springboarded the 2012 team. I will admit though, that West Virginia game was almost just as much fun as the Oklahoma win.

Credit Stan Weber for this comparison, but I think a better example of a similar springboard game is the 2011 Miami game.

Cole: I agree with John and I’ll take it a step farther. If K-State can win in Morgantown, I could see this team getting off to a 5-1 start in Big 12 play as I view the Oklahoma State in Manhattan as a very winnable game for the Wildcats. If that were to occur, K-State would be a 7-1 football team heading into its final bye week of the season and would be a legitimate contender for the Big 12 championship.

I don’t view this as comparable to 2012 as K-State was ranked No. 4 in the country and the Mountaineers were ranked 13th. This is a big game for both teams this Saturday, but not as significant as 2012. The Wildcats were a legit national title contender heading into that game. That’s unlikely to be the case for this team.

Stanton: While the 2012 game launched Kansas State further into the conversation for a National Championship run, the type of Launchpad game we are talking about this year is much more comparable to a game in 2011. John mentioned it above, the Miami game in 2011, among others, was pivotal to the success of K-State’s program for the rest of that season and the three seasons to follow. If the Wildcats lose that game, the “cardiac cats*” of ’11 may never have earned that nickname. The 2011 team was a team with potential, much like this year’s team, that flourished once it was given a reason to believe it was good. The momentum of that season was a tidal wave that K-State rode until last year. The Wildcats are looking for that next big wave to catch, and a win in Morgantown has the potential to lead to just that.

*The 2011 Kansas State team won 8 games by 7 points or less: Eastern Kentucky 10-7, @ Miami 28-24, (17) Baylor 38-34, Missouri 24-17, Texas Tech 41-34, Texas A&M 53-50 4OT, @ (23) Texas 17-13, Iowa State 30-23.

Cole: I’d be nitpicking at this point because K-State has been very good the last two weeks, but it occurred against weak competition. John mentions the passing game below and that’s probably my biggest concern heading into this game. Jesse Ertz has been efficient each of the last two games, but the Wildcats are going to likely need to start hitting on some big plays through the air, something I think they’re certainly capable of.

West Virginia will do everything it can to take away the running game from K-State. Since joining the Big 12, no team in the conference has done a better job at defending the Wildcats’ running game than the Mountaineers. West Virginia has held K-State to below 4 yards per carry in each of the four meetings between these two teams since 2012. The Wildcats are averaging 2.5 yards per rush in those four matchups, and since Tony Gibson took over as the Mountaineers’ defensive coordinator in 2014, K-State has had 78 rushes for 99 yards, a meager 1.3 yards per rush.

Now, this West Virginia team is not as strong defensively as last year’s squad. The Mountaineers allowed 7 yards per rush last weekend against a BYU team that came into last Saturday averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. So teams have proven you can run on West Virginia. Still, I imagine Gibson will do everything he can to take away K-State’s ground attack. It will still be important that the Wildcats run the ball with success, but I expect there will be some opportunities to pick on a West Virginia secondary that had to replace every starter from last season.

One other thing to keep in mind: this will be a more difficult atmosphere to play in on the road compared to Stanford. I’ll be interested to see how K-State’s offensive line plays against a unique West Virginia defense in a tough environment to play.

Stanton: Kansas State did a better job in the penalty department against Missouri State than the previous two weeks, I emphasized that last week as the most important thing for K-State to improve on. I still want to see the Wildcats do it consistently before I’m convinced that they have recalibrated back to Bill Snyder, penalty free, football.

Looking forward to West Virginia one of the keys to victory for K-State will be staying out of obvious passing situations on third down. West Virginia has held their opponents to less than a 50% conversion rate on 3rd down in 27 of the last 28 games they have played, the majority of those games holding opponents to closer to 30%. The reason for their success, I believe, is the defensive scheme the Mountaineers’ secondary will run in obvious passing situations called “Cover 3 Cloud.” It’s a defense that is very difficult to pass against because it combines principles from multiple pass coverages, but it commits so many defenders to the zone coverage that it can only be used effectively when the defense knows the offense must pass. Cloud coverage forces receivers to find holes in the secondary and stay disciplined enough to maintain spacing to influence defenders to open up passing lanes for their fellow wide receivers.

The best way to beat this coverage is to stay out of situations where the Mountaineers can use it. This week K-State needs to be good on 1st and 2nd down, keeping them in 3rd and short to medium situations, so when the offense does get to third down Jesse Ertz and Dana Dimel can keep West Virginia on their toes, not knowing if the Wildcats will run or pass. Listen to our show this weekend where I will break down Cover 3 Cloud with more specifics.

John: It’s really tough to say that there’s something specific they need to improve on right now. They’ve been great the last two weeks in just about every category. It’s going to be a matter of making all of those good things happen against a quality Big 12 opponent on the road.

Perhaps you could point out the passing game. K-State simply hasn’t had to do a whole in the passing game the last two weeks. West Virginia is likely going to load up the box and make K-State throw the ball. The last time K-State was in Morgantown, the Wildcats had only one yard rushing in a 26-20 win. Last year, K-State was held to just two yards-per-carry on a whopping 49 carries in a 24-23 win. West Virginia will likely go with the same type of strategy with the Wildcats breaking in a quarterback who has never started a Big 12 game. Jesse Ertz will have to make some plays through the air to win this game.

Stanton: This was something that Coach Snyder stressed every week last season, but as a team we could not seem to put it into practice and the 6-7 record was certainly a product of that. K-State teams seem to always do a nice job of finishing but, as we saw last year, sometimes the clock runs out before the Wildcats can overcome the deficit that was created from the slow start. Bill Snyder coached teams are 178-6 when leading at half, an impressive clip of 96.7%, and two of those losses came from last season. Without a doubt there is a strong correlation between fast starts and winning. I completely agree with Cole’s breakdown of this point, the defense is always out their first and “starting fast” involves every facet of the game not just the offense. When the defense starts fast the offense will be more likely to follow suit.

John: This is a great thing to point out. It seemed like K-State was always in a 10-plus point hole from the first quarter on in Big 12 games last year. The same thing happened at Stanford to open the season. By the time it was 17-0 Stanford, K-State had just 60 yards of offense, a punt and a turnover on downs.

Starting fast should just be merely a matter of having more weapons offensively to choose from and having a new signal-caller to distribute the ball to those weapons. K-State loved to take deep shots with Joe Hubener’s big arm last year, but those are low percentage passes and often seemed to leave the Wildcats with some quick three-and-outs. Remember the Oklahoma game? K-State missed on a deep ball to Deante Burton early, and things spiraled out of control quickly from there. With Jesse Ertz running the offense and a running game that looks rejuvenated, I’d expect there’s a much better chance that K-State sustains some drives early on.

Cole: It’s not just the offense. K-State almost always defers to receive until the second half. And the defense has consistently given up points on the opening drive to start games, putting the Wildcats’ offense in a hole right off the bat. I think that’s part of the problem. Let’s examine last season’s K-State defense on the first possession of the game in Big 12 play:

Oklahoma State: Touchdown
TCU: Touchdown
Oklahoma: Touchdown
Texas: punt
Baylor: Touchdown
Texas Tech: Touchdown
Iowa State: punt
KU: punt
West Virginia: punt

So K-State gave up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game in five of its first six conference games — all losses. It’s likely not a coincidence that in three of the games K-State won, the Wildcats forced a punt on the first drive (admittedly those three offenses weren’t nearly as high-powered as most of the other Big 12 teams).

Now let’s look at the offense’s first series in each Big 12 game last season:

Oklahoma State: Touchdown
TCU: Touchdown
Oklahoma: punt
Texas: punt
Baylor: Touchdown
Texas Tech: Touchdown (this occurred on a kick return. Technically K-State punted on its first offensive series).
Iowa State: punt
KU: Touchdown
West Virginia: punt

So technically, K-State scored points on its first offensive series in four of its nine league games. Look for K-State to establish the running game Saturday and set up the pass. Hopefully the slow starts will be a thing of the past.

John: Like it or not, this is likely going to be around for the foreseeable future. Because of that, I’ve taken the liberty of creating a nickname for the Dimel Wildcat package. Texas has the 18 Wheeler with Tyrone Swoopes, Oklahoma had the Belldozer with Blake Bell and now I present to you: K-State’s 38 Special. Don’t just take my word for it, the name 38 special won in a twitter poll voted on by internet users far and wide earlier this week.

Cole: Dimel is a physical runner and as long as it works, I won’t criticize it. I’m not opposed to it as of now because it’s taking potential hits off the quarterback.. Big 12 teams will likely adjust and I’m sure this won’t be a package K-State uses all the time in the Red Zone in conference play.

Stanton: Winston Dimel’s role in the offense is to be a bruising blocker up and down the field, slip out of the backfield for passes down the seam, and be a powerful goal line back. Very similar to any other team that uses a fullback. He averages 4 carries a game, consistent with his role, and leads K-State in scoring through 3 games with 6 rushing touchdowns.

When you look at the numbers the guy is flat producing. Although, his value goes beyond just the numbers, he is a great teammate and as tough as they come, playing through multiple injuries last year. In fact, in my opinion he is more dynamic than he gets credit for, his coordination and athleticism as a pass catcher is a weapon that K-State is yet to fully utilize this year (last year he averaged 32.6 yards per catch on 8 receptions). I don’t buy the favoritism argument and, as long as he keeps producing, like the amount of touches he is getting.

Cole: I would say yes. Oklahoma got in with an 11-1 record last season with its loss coming to a 5-7 Texas team on a neutral field. Now, K-State isn’t the brand name OU is, but K-State’s one loss would be against a good Stanford team on the road. And even though the Big 12 is down, winning at OU, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia would be too hard to ignore.

Stanton: Yes, this is a long shot and very hypothetical but it’s fun to talk about. I think that there would be a few factors that would keep K-State out of the College Football Playoff if they went undefeated the rest of the way, but if a lot of things that the Wildcats can’t control went their way, they would have a chance. You’re going to have an SEC team in the playoff, period. I think Ohio State and Michigan in the Big 10 are too good to not have one of them taking the second slot. The last two spots are a little more up in the air for me, there is a long list of potential teams and it’s way too early to predict.

I think what it’s going to boil down to for K-State, or any one loss Big 12 team for that matter, to get into the playoff would be Houston losing a game. K-State would be criticized because the Big 12 is having a “down year” and that the conference does not have a championship game, leaving the door open for an undefeated Houston team, who beat the Big 12’s feature program (Oklahoma), to earn a spot in the CFP.

John: Woah there…slow down Patrick. Let’s see if K-State can win a game against a quality Big 12 opponent before we start talking about the playoff.

IF, and that is a huge if, that scenario were to play out, I think K-State would have a shot. That’s especially true if Stanford is in the playoff mix once again. The Big 12 has already seen nearly all of its main contenders suffer at least one loss, the PAC 12 may be headed for the same scenario and Notre Dame isn’t sniffing the playoff this year. At the same time, the Houston-Louisville winner could be a thorn in the side of any K-State playoff hopes if it came down to it.

Stanton: It’s sad knowing that a coach who averages 10 wins a season over 12 years of coaching in the toughest division in football, wins a national championship, and is beloved by all his players gets run out of town for “underperforming.” The “Mad Hatter” is a great coach who couldn’t quite figure it out offensively at LSU. He seems like a guy who could get anyone to want to play for him and will likely be at the top of all the major job openings this offseason. K-State, though, has one of the greatest coaches to have ever lead a football team out onto the field, and he has far from lost his edge. So as long as that is the case, I am thankful every day that we don’t have to answer these kinds of questions seriously. Someone is going to land Les Miles and that team will be competitive very quickly, but I’m very happy it won’t be K-State.

John: I would love to see it if the timing somehow worked out post-Snyder, but I’d put the percent chance at approximately 0%. K-State still has a coach right now, and I don’t see Bill Snyder retiring again until health issues force him to or K-State has multiple poor seasons in a row.

Beyond that, Miles is going to have a lot of potential suitors. The guy won 77% of his games, a national championship and recruits at a very high level. There also could be a bunch of major programs looking for a head coach this off-season. Baylor, USC, Texas, Auburn and maybe even Notre Dame could all be in the market.

Cole: I would love this hire, as long as he actually hired a competent offensive coordinator. Miles would bring serious talent to Manhattan and if he could be convinced to adjust his offensive strategy, it’d be a home-run hire in my opinion. Miles knows the Big 12 well, having been the head coach at Oklahoma State. In terms of location, recruiting to Manhattan isn’t all that different from recruiting to Stillwater.

That being said, Brent Venables is still the guy I’d like to see K-State target when Bill Snyder does decide to retire. But Miles is a close second.

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