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November 2, 2012

Game Up Close: Target Randle

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder doesn't know what style points are. Frankly, he doesn't care.

"It's just the way you go out and play the game and you play it as well as you possibly can," the 73-year-old coach said on Tuesday. "If we're even thinking about that, that's a bad message."

Snyder made it very clear this week that style points rank near the bottom of his secret recipe, but it's hard to deny the fashion in which his Wildcats have won their first eight games this season. And maybe more importantly, with whom he has won with.

Even though they have faced solid rushing attacks this season, K-State will have their toughest test in 2012 when the Big 12's leading rusher, Joseph Randle, comes to town on Saturday. Randle is one of the most explosive backs in the country and his 891 yards on 160 carries through seven carries this season proves that. He also has nine rushing touchdowns to go along with his 127 yards per game average. In last week's home win against TCU, the junior had 126 yards on a season-high 32 carries and a touchdown. Randle is clearly the featured back, but both Desmond Roland and Jeremy Smith have multiple touchdowns on the ground as well. The Wildcats have shown they are more than capable to contain teams with a good run game and it will need to continue this weekend.
Slight Advantage: Oklahoma State
When it comes to running the football, there are very few teams, if any, that are tougher than the tandem of quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert. Against Texas Tech last week, Klein picked up 83 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, while Hubert had 14 carries for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns as well. Collectively, the Wildcats know how to get the job done on the ground while picking up extra yards in the process. It's one of the hardest units to prepare for in the country and Oklahoma State will have their hands full come Saturday. The Cowboys currently rank 32nd against the run, giving up just 127 yards per game, but they haven't faced anything like K-State. Both Klein and Hubert will look to establish themselves early.
Advantage: K-State
In his first game since injuring his knee, freshman quarterback Wes Lunt guided the Cowboys to a 36-14 win over TCU last week. Lunt completed 18 of 33 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown. However, he did have an interception. The young signal caller has four interceptions in just three-plus games this season and will need to be careful against a smart and improved K-State secondary. The Wildcats have picked off a pass in each of its five games in Big 12 play and will be looking to keep the streak alive against Lunt in his first conference road game. The Cowboys spread the ball around to a number of different receivers, including Randle, but K-State's bend-don't-break mentality should be able to slow down their balanced attack.
Advantage: K-State
Once again, senior quarterback Collin Klein showed why he is the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. In addition to his 83 yards on the ground, Klein completed 19 of 26 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns last week against a solid Texas Tech secondary. As always, Oklahoma State will try to take out the Wildcats' rushing attack and force Klein to throw. If they do, Klein should be able to take advantage of the Cowboys mediocre secondary. Klein's poise in the pocket and ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage is an underrated part of his game and he is clicking with every receiver. This shouldn't be an issue.
Advantage: K-State
It's hard to find a special teams unit in the country that is as good as K-State, especially in the return game. Behind the legs of Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, the Wildcats rank second nationally in punt returns and 22nd in kickoff returns. On top of that, placekicker Anthony Cantele has been nearly automatic and punter Ryan Doerr has made the most out of his limited opportunities. This unit is as solid as it gets, but Oklahoma State stacks up fairly well. The Cowboys rank second nationally in net punting, 16th in kickoff returns and placekicker Quinn Sharp picked up Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors last week. If the Wildcats play their usual game, the opponent won't be a factor.
Advantage: K-State
For K-State coach Bill Snyder, it's all about his team's preparation, not conference championships. Snyder is a firm believer that if his team prepares the way they should, the rest will take care of itself. His players have bought into that 1-0 mentality and through eight games, have taken care of business. And in the process, they are making good teams look bad. Oklahoma State is a pretty good football team on both sides of the ball and will look to play spoiler to K-State's BCS Title hopes and end Klein's Heisman Trophy campaign in Saturday's primetime matchup. However, it won't be easy. The Wildcats are playing at a higher level than anyone in the conference right now and are truly focused on the task at hand. There is also some additional motivation for the Wildcats as no one on the current roster has defeated Oklahoma State. If all goes to plan, that will change before the Wildcats play a pair of road games in Texas the next two weeks.
Advantage: K-State
K-State BY 12.5

Every year, without fail, Snyder's team has at least one unit with a bolded question mark next to it at the start of the year. And by season's ends, the wizard-like coach makes it disappear. This year is no different.

At the start of the 2012 campaign, the underlying question mark stood next to the defensive tackle position. K-State lost starters Ray Kibble and Ralph Guidry from last year's 10-3 squad and senior Vai Lutui was the only returner that made a significant impact against the run. There was a great deal of uncertainty, but Snyder, as usual, has made the doubt vanish.

Through the first eight games, the combination of Lutui, John Sua, Javonta Boyd and Travis Britz have been exceptional against the run. The Wildcats have allowed just 100 yards per game and only six touchdowns on the ground this season, which ranks second in the Big 12 and 14th nationally. They have shut down the explosive rushing attacks of Miami and Oklahoma while silencing the deceivingly solid run games of West Virginia in Morgantown and Texas Tech at home last week. Simply, they've been surprisingly good.

But for as good as they have been, they will need to be at their best this week when the No. 2 Wildcats square off against No. 24 Oklahoma State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.

When it comes to stopping the run, K-State has their hands full this week. The Cowboys' rushing attack ranks 13th nationally and averages 239 yards per contest. Snyder knows this is no easy task.

"They are awfully sound, solid up front and they have good schemes," he said. "They just run the ball well. If you allow it happen, sometimes it's a little hard to do something about. They can line up and run the ball all day.

"They have the capacity to say they're an awfully good rushing football team."

The biggest reason for the Cowboys' success on the ground is junior running back Joseph Randle. The Kansas native has racked up 891 yards on 160 carries and nine touchdowns this season, while his 127 yards per game average not only ranks atop of the Big 12 Conference, but in the top 10 nationally.

"You name it and it's a challenge," Snyder said of Oklahoma State's featured back. "Randle is an extremely talented running back. He runs hard, but he's a smart runner and picks up lanes extremely well."

Needless to say, he's been important to the Cowboys this season.

"It's been good having Joe, thank goodness," OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said earlier this week. "Joe, ever since I've gotten here, is very durable. He stays away from being hurt a bunch and he doesn't really complain. He just works and goes out there and plays."

In his first seven games this year, Randle has eclipsed the century mark six times. It's been nearly automatic for him. Ironically enough, though, he has yet to gain 100 yards on the ground against K-State in his career. He picked up 64 yards on seven carries as a freshman in 2010 and carried the ball 16 times for 79 yards last season. So when asked about preparing for the Wildcats' defense this week, Randle shrugged it off.

"Really, I'm just caught up in the moment," he said. "We're just trying to work as hard as we can. We're trying to get prepared and put out our best effort on Saturday."

Although Randle is the premier back, he is not carrying the load by himself. Both Desmond Roland and Jeremy Smith are good enough to give him a breather. Roland, a sophomore, has 30 carries for 198 yards and four touchdowns this season and Smith, a junior, has 188 yards on 38 carries and five touchdowns. Plus, the Cowboys have an experienced offensive line.

"They're good up front," Snyder said. "They've got three starting returning seniors that were good last year and are good this year."

That doesn't mean the Wildcats can't handle them up front, though.

"I would compare them really heavily to Iowa State's players on defense," junior left tackle Parker Graham said. "As far as defense goes, they don't make mistakes. Iowa State was the exact same way with that.

"They're in their gaps every single play, and if you don't capitalize on them, they're going to embarrass you."

If K-State wants to improve their chances of winning on Saturday, they will need to slow down Randle. It is certainly easier said than done, but the Wildcats will have to do better than they did in last year's 52-45 loss in Stillwater. Randle had just 79 yards, but he found the end zone twice, including the deciding score with 2:16 remaining. In addition, he also caught five passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Since it is a primetime game on the road, the Cowboys will look to get Randle going early. And since Randle is arguably the best back in the conference, don't be surprised if he picks up some yards. The key position to watch for K-State this week will be the defensive tackles. It's matchups like this that gave them the question mark at the start of the season. But if Lutui, Sua, Boyd and Britz continue their solid play, keep Randle in check and force freshman quarterback Wes Lunt to beat them through the air in his first conference road game, the chances of chalking up another tally in the win column increase drastically.

It doesn't have to be stylish; it just needs to be effective.

Kansas State NEWS


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