football

Game Up Close: The little things

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In case you didn't already know, there are a number of different reasons as to why Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is one of the best in business. He has a relentless and monotonous work ethic that is unseen by most 73-year-olds. He demands discipline and perfection in a world that only cares about the flashy end result. And his players perform to their utmost potential each week.
To top it all off, he has his own formula for success. The man knows how to win football games. But at the forefront and above it all, he knows how to prepare his team for every opponent.
Snyder will likely have everything there is to know about No. 17 West Virginia memorized when his No. 4 Wildcats board the plane Friday and travel to Morgantown for this weekend's game. However, he somehow always seems to find something else to help better prepare his team. It's highly anticipated that the 21st year head coach won't stop formulating his game plan until the 6 p.m. CT kickoff on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
As part of the preparation process, Snyder and his coaching staff break down film from every game of every opponent. It sounds crazy, but it works. So in watching film, they probably assumed that the best way to beating one of the new conference foes on the road is to keep the ball out of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's hands. And if they want a perfect example, they certainly didn't have to look much further than Texas Tech's final drive against the Mountaineers in last weekend's game in Lubbock, which the Raid Raiders won 49-14.
If there was anything that could have made coach Dana Holgorsen's day any worse, it was watching that fourth-quarter clinic Red Raider coach Tommy Tuberville and quarterback Seth Doege orchestrated.
Starting at their own 2-yard line, Doege completed passes for 18 and seven yards before Eric Stephens Jr. gained six yards of his own on the ground. After Doege completed another pass for eight yards, Stephens Jr. and SaDale Foster combined with rushes to help move the chains. Doege went to the air again, finding targets for 16 and nine yards before two more Foster rushes picked up five yards total.
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Doege, Stephens Jr. and Foster alternated again before Doege found Darrin Miller in the end zone for a touchdown.
It was an impressive 98-yard drive that took 15 plays and ate up 8:22 off the clock. It took the wind of out of the Mountaineers' sails for good and it probably made Snyder chuckle while reviewing game film.
Why? It's because K-State does that to other teams time and time again.
That final Texas Tech drive was, by and large, the longest drive against West Virginia in six games this season. In fact, it was only the fourth scoring drive that eclipsed four minutes against the Mountaineers' defense that ranks 114th nationally out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools and allows nearly 500 yards and 37 points per game this season.
This plays perfectly into the hands of Snyder and the Wildcats this Saturday. In 2012, K-State's offense has produced 11 scoring drives of over four minutes, including six for touchdowns. So if the Wildcats want to keep the ball out of the hands of Smith, the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner, they will need to produce long, sustaining drives that end in points or switching field position.
"What's important to us is for that to happen, we'll have to be a well-balanced offense," Snyder said. "That's just the nature of it. If we become one-sided in our approach, then that makes it that much more complex for us and that much easier for our opponent to defend just one side of your approach.
"If you can hold onto the football for a long period of time and move it and have some success with it so that you get the ball into the end zone and if not, that you're able to create field position for your defense, that's a significant thing."
Snyder prepares his Wildcats to do that week in and week out. Led by senior quarterback Collin Klein and junior running back John Hubert, K-State has been able to successfully run the football and capitalize on opportunities while chewing up the clock. The tandem is where this offense starts and they need to get it going early if they want to win on Saturday.
"It's going to be very vital," K-State fullback Braden Wilson said. "That's the main part of our offense right there so that's the first thing we are going to have to do is establish the run game and get the ball moving so we can get rolling."
Holgorsen and the Mountaineers know the Wildcats are going to run the football. All they have to find a way to stop it. They have done a decent job in six games this season only allowing 158 rushing yards per contest, but they haven't faced anything like K-State or anyone like Klein.
"They are going to huddle, they are going to sub, they are going to get their personnel groups in, they are going to go to the line of scrimmage, they are going to try to draw you offside, they are going to make sure that they are in the right play and they are going to play ball," Holgorsen said. "We are going to have to do a good job of being patient and making sure that we take advantage of our opportunities."
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, it's hard to top the patience of Klein.
"He might be the most patient runner I've ever seen," West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber said. "How he can just sit back there and sip their drive is just unreal.
"What we need to do is attack, get after him from the get go. I see a lot of teams that he has played in the past and they just sit back and wait for him to make a move. I think if we attack him and play on their side of the ball, I think we'll be all right."
Defensively, West Virginia lines up in a 3-3-5, which is normally structured to halt explosive passing attacks. Ironically enough, that's not the case with the Mountaineers. They are fairly solid against the run and atrocious against the pass. A lot of that has to deal with the size of their starting linebackers that are approximately 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds on average.
So with the Moutaineers' gameplan scheming to stop the run and their linebackers built to do so, the biggest key for K-State winning this game is blocking on the outside. As arbitrary as it might seem, it's true. If the offensive line is able to perform like they have this season, it will be up to tight ends Travis Tannahill and Zach Trujillo as well as wide receivers Chris Harper and Torell Miller to pave the way for Klein and Hubert.
Harper knows it, too.
"It starts off with me blocking well," he said on Tuesday. "That's probably where it is because we are going to have to establish the running game no matter who we are playing.
"That's going to be big with the receivers on the edge to spring John and Collin. That's where we can start off."
That's something Snyder preaches in practice.
"That's part of being a good wide receiver," Miller said. "You have to be able to block before you can go out there and run routes."
Just like that final drive by Texas Tech, the Wildcats can control the clock and keep the ball out of Smith's hands if they block down field and allow Klein and Hubert to pick up yards and move the chains. And once they do that, Klein can exploit their struggling secondary with whatever pass he wants.
"If we can use the clock but be successful in terms of getting points on the board, at the end of the day, that's what really counts," Snyder said.
It's about scoring one more point than the other team and it's doing the little things that win big games.
You better believe Snyder has prepared the Wildcats to do just that.
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