football

What to Watch: Balanced Mizzou

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There's no Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback to prepare for, and the running back Kansas State's defense will try to bottle doesn't have a nationally recognizable name on his jersey. Instead, the undefeated Wildcats and their shiny new ranking, will ready themselves to host a 2-2 Missouri team that has vanished from the polls.
Saturday represents a break in the schedule, right? Then why is No. 20 K-State a three-point underdog?
"I told our coaches that people spend a lot of money and make a lot of money and they don't just do it off the cuff. The have a lot of information." Bill Snyder, whose K-State program hasn't beaten the Tigers since 2005, said. "I told them I was quite certain we would end up being the underdog in the ballgame."
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Defensively, the challenge at hand is unique. This weekend, the Wildcats will be asked to stop a form of offensive balance they are yet to see this season. Missouri is the only team in America averaging more than 250 yards per game rushing and passing this season. There's no overwhelming facet of the Tigers' attack and the roster doesn't include a single player being billed as some unstoppable team-carrying entity.
And that, Snyder says, is the problem.
"Is it harder to defend? Yes, most certainly," he said on Tuesday.
The most striking number on a stat sheet filled with balance is listed next to the name of Tiger running back Henry Josey who's per carry average of 12.4 yards ranks second in the country. His ability to get things started carrying the ball lays the groundwork for what Snyder feels is a lethal offensive mix. So while forcing Missouri to go the air early and often without stacking the box is certainly the goal, forcing it to do so is easier said than done.
"It's going to be a big challenge to make them one dimensional and shut down one part of their game so we know what they are going to be doing," defensive end Jordan Voelker said. "They have weapons all over the field, though, so it's not easy."
The black-and-gold weapons not named Josey are, indeed, many. Quarterback James Franklin has thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception this season. Michael Egnew led the nation in catches by a tight end in 2010. And the Tigers' receiving corps feature five players who stand 6-foot-3 or taller.
And that doesn't even include 6-foot T.J. Moe, who hauled in seven passes against then-No. 1 Oklahoma earlier this year.
"Our tallest guy is maybe 3-foot-3 or something like that," Snyder said. "Their receivers aren't just tall guys. They're tall guys who can run, jump up and catch the ball. And they'll block you, too. They're very diverse and complete players."
It's not just an ability to spread the ball around and attack a defense on all fronts that makes this week's preparation different, though. K-State players call Missouri week the most unique scouting period of the season. By now, the drill is familiar to some of the most seasoned Wildcats, but that doesn't make it much easier to complete.
"They run a lot of non-traditional sets," safety Tysyn Hartman said. "They'll run wacky things that you prepare for that week, but never use after that."
The scouting sessions will be the same, sure. But it's the result that Hartman is hoping changes. No player on K-State's current roster has ever experienced a win over Missouri, and solving the Tigers is being looked at as yet another hurdle for a program that seems to be on the rise once again.
Is it important to Snyder? Every game is, but to his players, this weekend carries a shot of added significance.
"I'm guessing they would probably not want to leave here without a victory over any particular team that they've played against," Snyder said. "I would guess the game has some additional motivation attachment to it."
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