Location: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kansas
Kick Off: Saturday, September 15, 3 pm CT
TV: Fox Sports Networks
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Live Stats: Side Arm Stats
Audio: Ticket 760
Betting Odds: Kansas State -21.5, O/U 46.5
Records: Kansas State (1-1), UTSA (0-2)
Series Record: Kansas State leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Kansas State won the 2015 meeting 30-3.
Kansas State Outlook
After replacing both coordinators in the offseason, the Wildcats have struggled with finding their footing to start the 2018 season. The South Dakota Coyotes had a chance to send their season opener to overtime against the Wildcats but the game-tying kick bounced off the crossbar. After narrowly avoiding an FCS upset, the Wildcats then hosted Mississippi State for a good ole fashioned beat down in favorite of the SEC dark horse.
One constant in Kansas State’s first two disappointing showings has been a poor performance from the offense. The Wildcats’ offense is ranked #111 in the nation in S&P+ as their quarterbacks have passed for just 252 combined yards. KSU is converting just 37.5% of their third-down conversion attempts. Those are disappointing stats at face value, but they’re especially concerning when considering that one of their opponents was an FCS member.
A big part of KSU’s struggle on offense has been their rotating door at quarterback. Skylar Thompson is KSU’s starting quarterback but Alex Delton has seen a lot of snaps as well. Neither quarterback has lit up the stat sheet but Thompson has been visibly better on film. He’s the only quarterback expected to play for the Wildcats this week which is a good sign for an offense that hasn’t been able to get things going this season.
Besides their offensive woes, Kansas State has also been surprisingly undisciplined. The Wildcats are averaging 72 penalty yards per game this season, a surprising figure for a program that has generally been well coached and disciplined under Bill Snyder’s watch. Those 72 yards might not change a win to a loss or vice versa but it shows that Snyder’s control over this program isn’t as flawless as it once was. It’s a small sample size but if it holds then Kansas State will increase their penalty yards per game by 37% when compared to their previous five seasons.
Defensively, the Wildcats are still as solid as ever. Kansas State lands at #51 in the S&P+ defensive ratings, a solid spot when the malaise of the offense is taken into account.
Cornerback Duke Shelley leads KSU’s defense as a four year starter. The 5’9” corner plays well beyond his limited size, with 5 pass break ups and a team-leading 12 tackles. Shelley is also a stand out on kick return and has hauled in over 140 tackles and 5 interceptions in his Wildcat career.
Lastly, keep an eye on linebacker Elijah Sullivan. If he’s able to recover from an injury last week then he could be a game changer for the Wildcats defensive. Athletic and disruptive, Sullivan could take full advantage of UTSA’s inability to pick up the blitz.
Despite a loss to Baylor last week, the Roadrunners likely left last week’s contest with more confidence than they’ve felt all year. The Bears escaped the Alamodome with a 37-20 victory but UTSA was within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. UTSA still has a lot of work to do if they want to reach bowl eligibility this year but their improvement from week one to week two was a step in the right direction.
Head Coach Frank Wilson settled on Cordale Grundy at quarterback, letting the JUCO transfer take every snap last week. Grundy went a modest 18 of 33 for 157 yards but his decision making and pocket presence in the face of an aggressive pass rush was commendable. Wilson expressed a desire to get backup quarterback DJ Gillins into the game this week but we’ll see if that’s just posturing or if the Roadrunners are sticking with a two-QB system yet again.
The Roadrunners’ skill positions showed their promise against Baylor, with running back BJ Daniels and wide receiver Greg Campbell enjoying their best games at UTSA. While the offense moved the ball much better in week two, the offensive line still struggled to pick up blitzes as Cordale Grundy repeatedly had to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge away from unchecked free blitzers. The big nasties (as well as the blocking backs) simply have to do a better job to afford the offense the ability to throw down field. Kansas State has only generated one sack this season so perhaps this is the week where the protection finally holds up and Grundy can find his deep targets for big gains.
UTSA’s defense followed up a sloppy start against Arizona State with a relatively solid showing against Baylor. The Roadrunners held up against the run and were stingy on third down but for the second straight week, UTSA’s opposition feasted on the lack of physicality from the Roadrunners’ cornerbacks. With Kansas State lacking any standout receivers, the UTSA defense could finally be in for a break this week.
Kansas State Q&A with Bring on the Cats
Underdog Dynasty: 27 years for Snyder. What is the fan consensus toward the Snyder regime this year, and how has it changed in recent seasons?
Gracey Terrill: Let’s just go ahead and get this part out of the way: Bill Snyder is a legend. A living and breathing example of hard work, dedication and every single one of his “16 Goals.” Snyder’s already shown he has what it takes to be in the HOF, yet he continues coaching. While I would like to see a changeup in the front lines, I have yet to find the right person to take over the job from Bill Snyder. The fans love his passion for football, his drive to succeed and improve daily. I believe Snyder’s time at K-State is going to continue as long as he wants to keep coaching, because he’s the boss at the end of the day. Fans have full faith in Coach Snyder and the faith has seemed to only grow stronger through the years. Roll Snyd.
UDD: Like UTSA, K State introduces two new coordinators to the sideline this year. What are Andre Coleman and Blake Seiler doing differently and what are your grades on them so far?
GT: Andre Coleman’s intense involvement at K-State over the years and Blake Seiler’s commanding yet youthful approach is a welcomed change for K-State. So far this season the play calling has been improved while the execution has been lackluster. Players have pinned it on themselves for why the the play call makes sense and yet the squad falls flat in delivery. After watching the first two games of the season, I’m not sure there is a solid grade out on either coach as of right now. Witnessing the unraveling of K-State’s defense and lack of intensity from the O-line was enough for me to be completely confused by this K-State team. One week they looked lost and tired the next week they looked lost and tired and overpowered. Before the start of the season I thought this team had everything imaginable to be Big 12 dark horses and now I’m starting to just hope we finish in the top half of the conference. No grades yet, look forward to playing UTSA and seeing how things fall in line for our players & coaches.
UDD: Despite a strong upfront, there’s been a some jarring problems moving the ball outside of Alex Barnes. What’s the biggest reason why the offense hasn’t had success?
JT VanGilder: Well the biggest issue for K-State right now is that the front hasn’t been strong. The Wildcats returned all five starters from a line that ended 2017 looking like world-beaters, and features a nearly sure-fire early round NFL Draft pick. Except they haven’t played like it to start 2018. It’s strange, maddening, and frustrating to both them and the fans. Behind that, neither QB has looked great, either through lack of running holes or a clean pocket. And even when there’s been a cleanish pocket, it often appears as though the QB and receivers aren’t always on the same page. When they have been we’ve gotten two really great touchdown passes, so it’s possible that they just need to work on communication.
UDD: I’ve heard other fans rave about Skylar Thompson’s ceiling, but K State has been cycling him and Alex Delton so far. Thompson appears to be the sure permanent guy going forward, what is he truly capable of?
GT: Watching a dual quarterback set up is painful for your eyes and 4 out of 5 optometrists do not recommend it. I’ll be the first to tell you that dual quarterback systems have been the bane of my existence for a few years now. Flashback to Jake Waters vs Daniel Sams and I might actually break out into hives.
Alright, got that out of my system. Thankfully, Snyder announced Thompson to be the starter from here on out and now we can focus on getting him in place for UTSA. What do I think about Skylar Thompson? I like his tenacity, quick moving feet and ability to work with a mostly mediocre O-line and still perform well under pressure. This whole season has been a confusing hypothetical. What I am looking forward to the most this weekend is seeing what Skylar Thompson is able to do when he gets to STAY the quarterback and get into an actual rhythm.
UDD: Could you tell us about Kansas State’s defensive strong suits? Give us a “who to watch for” from each position group.
JTV: Right now there are questions all over the defense, but the defensive backs appeared to improve quite a bit in pass coverage from game one to game two. Duke Shelley, A.J.Parker, and Walter Neil, Jr. have created a pretty formidable trio at the corner spots, and there also hasn’t been a ton of slip ups when the reserves come in. Wyatt Hubert, a redshirt-freshman, has also made a name for himself up front at defensive end, and recorded one of the few highlight plays against Mississippi St. when he caught an interception off a ricochet.
UDD: UTSA and Kansas State have some starking similarities this season. From what you’ve gathered, what do you think Kansas State needs do differently against UTSA and how does UTSA scheme to get an upset?
JTV: There are so many areas that need correcting that it’s hard to narrow it down, but the coaches need to open the playbook a little bit, and stop relying so heavily on zone-read plays and deep throws. There are no slants right now, screens are rare, and no “real” runs outside of runs between the tackles. If the playbook was vanilla against South Dakota, there wasn’t much more flavor against Mississippi State.
Over on defense, the Wildcats just need to keep playing assignment-sound football and stop trying to play hero ball. There were too many over-runs and poor angles against MSU, and when you’re physically out-matched you can make mistakes like that.
For UTSA, on defense they need to keep pressure on receivers, and not be afraid to send six players against the QB every play. If the front six can create even a bit of pressure, then it could be a long day for the Wildcat offense.
On offense, the Roadrunners need to target the middle of the field, as the Wildcat linebacker corps is easily the weakest unit right now. If the line can create a seam, even a small one, runners will likely get several yards of green turf before finally facing a safety 6-8 yards downfield.
I’m willing to bet it’s going to be an ugly, low scoring game in Manhattan. Punt and penalty yardage should be a difference maker in this one as I question both teams’ abilities to generate long plays from scrimmage. I think UTSA will excel on defense but fail to get much going on offense. Kansas State should eventually wear UTSA down with their Power Five depth.
UTSA 10 Kansas State 17