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October 31, 2013

Game Up Close: Chasing QBs

It might not be the main emphasis for Kansas State's defense, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be there on a consistent basis. Pressuring the quarterback is important and it continues to be an issue for the improving Wildcats. Actually, it's undeniably one of the biggest causes of concern with this team up to this point.

It might not have had a major impact in the outcome of the game, but not having running back Aaron Wimberly hurt the Cyclones' offense against Oklahoma State last weekend. ISU coach Paul Rhoads said earlier this week the primary back that has 388 yards on 82 carries this season is day-to-day. If he's able to go, which is unlikely at this point, it will be rather beneficial instead of mainly relying on quarterback Sam B. Richardson, who was injured last week but might return, to pick up the slack. K-State's improved rush defense should be able to keep this average unit in check.
Advantage: K-State
After having solid outings of 90 and 86 yards in consecutive games, it appears the unexpected and uncharacteristic slump is over for John Hubert. The senior running back has run harder and with better purpose, which is a great sign for the Wildcats. And while quarterback Daniel Sams wasn't very efficient against West Virginia, fellow signal caller Jake Waters made up for it by picking up 55 yards on 10 carries. All signs point to K-State running with ease against an Iowa State defense that allows nearly 220 yards on the ground per game.
Big Advantage: K-State
The status of sophomore quarterback Sam B. Richardson for Saturday's game is uncertain at this point and that could be a problem for Iowa State. Redshirt freshman Grant Rohach did fine against Oklahoma State when Richardson went out with an injury, but the Cyclones would much rather have Richardson as the primary signal caller. Richardson has completed 56 percent of his passes this season, but his better performances have come at home. K-State's secondary is still shaky at times with giving up big plays, but this matchup isn't as intimidating as the other conference foes it has gone up against.
Slight Advantage: K-State
For the first time all season, it looked like both Jake Waters and Daniel Sams were dialed in and comfortable in the passing game. Waters was able to get into a rhythm in the second half and finished completing 10 of 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns while Sams was a perfect 8-for-8 with 93 yards and another score. Having receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson was a huge plus, too. If this trend continues, the Wildcats will be a tough team to stop through the air and the Cyclones will likely find that to be true this weekend.
Advantage: K-State
Although Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson did not have a big return against West Virginia, just having the duo back on the field was huge for K-State's special teams unit. The tandem of speedsters has the ability to break open a return at any moment, which will almost always give the Wildcats the advantage entering a contest. Plus, Iowa State place kicker Cole Netten hasn't attempted a field goal in nearly a month and by no means is that a good thing if this game is close at all.
Advantage: K-State
Following a three-game losing streak that lasted more than 40 days, earning a needed win over West Virginia seemed to cure a lot of the issues for the Wildcats. Now, the focus is on keeping these positive vibes going against a struggling Iowa State team. History would indicate this game will likely be close, but K-State has the momentum, is a much better team right now and should get back to .500 this season with a nice, comfortable win.
Advantage: K-State

Whether it's allowing an opposing quarterback to sit in the pocket and have time to convert a big play or permit the signal caller to survey multiple options, the lack of pass rush is an ongoing struggle for this K-State squad entering its eighth game of the season.

"That is kind of a double-edged sword," Wildcat coach Bill Snyder said. "We only had one sack in the ballgame (against West Virginia last Saturday), but Ryan Mueller stripped the quarterback. The numbers can be somewhat deceiving. Was it enough? No. Did we get enough pressure? No we did not. But that did create a turnover and a turnover is big. I will take a turnover ahead of two or three sacks in a ballgame.

"I think you take some young guys that will fight it and fight it and fight it and guys doing a good job up front that if you cannot get there, then get your hands up and maybe force a tip ball. We had two in the ballgame, and those are critical. They are not exactly a sack but it's pretty close. It means they did not have a chance to complete a pass, which is part of the result of a sack as well.

"So I think they are a little deceiving but we still are not getting as much or as frequent of pressure on the quarterback as I would like us to."

Through seven games, K-State ranks No. 82 in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 12 pass sacks for 53 and No. 71 with 40 total tackles for loss (5.7 per contest). Both of those categories rank eighth in the Big 12.

The good news? The Wildcats, 3-4 overall and 1-3, play host to an Iowa State, 1-6 and 0-4, team at 2:30 p.m. Saturday that has struggled mightily in both areas. The Cyclones are last in the Big 12 in both sacks and total tackles for loss, ranking No. 119 of 123 teams in giving up 26 sacks for 161 yards in seven games and No. 118 in tackles for loss by allowing over eight per game.

"If you're not prepared as smartly as they are, you're going to be in trouble," Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said. "Our full focus is on this game and its preparation and going down to Manhattan and do something we haven't done in our five years."

The opportunity will most certainly be present for K-State to exploit Iowa State's weak pass protection, but Snyder knows it will still be difficult.

"There is always that thing where look at people, look at numbers and statistics and ask, 'They have given up a lot of sacks, so how vulnerable are they?' Well, what are they working on all day, every day? They know right now what the numbers are, so they are working more diligently not only in their pass protection but also how quickly they get the ball off and maybe pulling some backs in to help wherever they may be having trouble," he noted. "People work on it and people get better at it. Good programs eliminate mistakes and Iowa State is an awful good program. It will not be the easy task that the numbers might indicate."

A player that has made it look easy and poses as the biggest threat to Iowa State this weekend is Mueller. The junior defensive end is the Big 12 leader alongside Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat with six sacks and third in the conference with 9.5 tackles for loss. Mueller accounts for 50 percent of K-State's sacks and nearly 25 percent of the total tackles for loss and is a player Rhoads and the Cyclones have their eyes on.

"When you get challenged with a player that has that kind of frequency, you can't just necessarily always make your normal protection," he said. "You have to be away. You chip, you do things like that with the running back and he will be something we will be geared towards to try to provide the time we did (last) Saturday with pretty good consistency."

With much of the primary focus on Mueller, this leaves the door open for defensive ends Marquel Bryant, Alauna Finau and Mike Moore to make big plays. If K-State can find away to get in the backfield and pressure the quarterback, it will put less stress on the linebackers and secondary and boost the Wildcats to another victory.

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