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October 24, 2013

Game Up Close: Finding balance

Bill Snyder seeks a balanced offense. He always has and always will. Unfortunately, though, Kansas State has been far from what the 74-year-old coach in his 22nd season with the program desires in 2013.

Heading into the season, all signs pointed to offensive success and some even suggested a higher degree of explosiveness. K-State was returning its entire offensive line, a proven commodity at running back, a couple fast, sure-handed wide receivers and an elite running quarterback while also bringing in the top junior college signal caller in the country. The pieces were all there and, at times, each has flourished. It just hasn't clicked on all cylinders like most projected it would.

For an offense replacing the majority of its specialists from a year ago, the Mountaineers sure don't seem like they have much trouble running the ball this season. By no means are they are force, but senior Charles Sims and junior Dreamius Smith, a Kansas native, can get the job done. The two combined for 166 yards on 31 carries against Texas Tech last weekend. K-State is only be getting better at stopping the run, though, and holding Baylor's Lache Seastrunk under 100 yards is a testament to that. This should be a pretty solid matchup.
Slight Advantage: K-State
With Daniel Sams at quarterback, the sky's the limit for the Wildcats in the ground game. The sophomore dazzled against Baylor two weeks ago by rushing for 199 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns. However, the best part of K-State's rushing attack in the loss was getting John Hubert going again as the senior carried the ball 15 times for 90 yards. It will be important for Sams to establish himself once again, but a good amount of carries need to go to Hubert so the young signal caller doesn't take too many big shots against a physical Mountaineer defense.
Advantage: K-State
After many thought there would be a change last weekend, it is clear that Clint Trickett is the Mountaineers' quarterback for the foreseeable future. And although he doesn't possess a spectacular arm and struggles to throw downfield with great success, the junior was pretty good against Texas Tech by completing 27 of 43 passes for 254 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. This would be a nice time for K-State's secondary to get back on track and have a solid performance after being burned on three big and costly plays by Baylor.
Slight Advantage: K-State
As the Wildcats continue to use sophomore Daniel Sams more and more as the primary signal caller, they will have to live and die by his passing and decision making. Sams only attempted seven passes against Baylor -- completing four -- but his final pass was a dreadful interception. Having Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back should help Sams out some. If not, look for Jake Waters, who will likely start the game and completed 6 of 15 passes for 77 yards against the Bears, to play a little more to exploit the Mountaineers' shaky secondary.
Advantage: K-State
West Virginia has been pretty solid in the special teams department all season, but this is a no brainer. The return of Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson is clearly the biggest storyline entering the game. K-State has just not been the same without the dynamic return specialists so the duo getting back to action is a very welcoming sign. If the Wildcats can get good returns and be consistent in the kicking game, they should be in good shape.
Slight Advantage: K-State
The disappointing first half of the season is over and with the final bye week in the rearview mirror, it's now time for K-State to focus on its future and getting bowl eligible. That all starts with this game against West Virginia. The Wildcats have continued to improve in each game and an extra week should have them ready for the home stretch. The Mountaineers have struggled on the road this season so look for Bill Snyder's squad to feed off the crowd and win their first Big 12 game.
Advantage: K-State

Looking at the statistics through six games and the numbers shockingly indicate the Wildcats are, in fact, a balanced offense. They average 216.2 yards per game through the air and 184.2 more in the ground game to score 30.2 points. However, anyone that paid attention to K-State in the first half of the season knows balance has been a consistent issue and the offense has struggled with putting up points and turning the ball over. After eight 30-point outbursts in 2012, including five in league play, the Wildcats have only eclipsed that mark twice this year and none against conference foes Texas (21), Oklahoma State (29) and Baylor (25).

So following its final bye week of the season, is K-State, 2-4 overall and 0-3 in Big 12 Conference play, any closer to finding the right offensive balance heading into Saturday's 2:45 p.m. game with West Virginia, 3-4 and 1-3, at Bill Snyder Family Stadium?

"No, we're not collectively," Snyder said. "In some areas, I think we have the balance. In other areas, we do not.

"It's truly defined or purely defined by how somebody lines up and plays on defense. I've said so many times, if they line up and take certain things away then if you have some balance -- or in other words the capacity to do a number of different things -- then you can move on to whatever seems to fit the moment so to speak. I think we've been able to do that to a certain degree. Not totally successful, we've lost four games. That enters into it as well."

The first part of Snyder's answer is rather bothersome to the casual optimist. Honestly, it's probably a tough pill to swallow. But because the veteran coach said there will be no personnel changes, especially regarding the two-quarterback system of sophomore Daniel Sams and junior Jake Waters, for the second half of the season, K-State will have to live with the past and make it work to win at least four games down the stretch and become bowl eligible.

"Offensively, they are searching for an identity at this point in time, like a lot of teams, including ourselves," Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen said this week. "You lose a quarterback of the caliber of what they had last year (Collin Klein), and it will take some time before you find some sort of rhythm.

"They have been searching with the two kids they have been playing. It looks to me like they have been settling in on Daniel Sams a little bit. They are two different type guys; they do different type schemes with the two of them. We will have to prepare for both."

For K-State, regardless who is under center, finding balance is about exploring it. No longer can the Wildcats just settle for a 275-yard passing performance or a 327-yard rushing show. The cat needs to be let out of the bag in the form of simply allowing both quarterbacks, Sams in particular, to showcase their complete skill set. Whether it is something as easy handing the ball off, throwing screen passes and getting the tight ends involved or as complicated as gadget plays, it needs to happen because settling on one area with either Waters or Sams is not going to cut it. Sticking to what works is one thing, but being predictable is another and the Wildcats can't afford to be just that if they want to win these games. Balance is a must and getting receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back helps.

"They could add to it, yes, in certain areas and a certain segment of the game," Snyder quipped. "Surely they could."

Luckily, K-State faces a West Virginia defense with a similar identity crisis. The Mountaineers enter the contest allowing 257.1 passing yards and 196 rushing yards per game and have struggled mightily on the road. This is the perfect opportunity for the Wildcats to get what has been a disappointment turned around.

"Statistically they don't rank real high in our conference and I can't tell you that I know exactly why that's the case," Snyder said. "Sometimes you put a little too much in trying to find the right answers. I don't know if that's necessarily the case but it's a possibility it could be. I see them starting to kind of settle into some things which probably makes them a little bit more confident and secure about the things that they're capable of doing.

"I think that's just part of what they're going through is trying to find what they do best. Maybe that's what we're going through as well."

K-State has shown it can throw the ball effectively and run it with the best of them. It's just time that it finds balance with both.

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