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October 6, 2011

What to Watch: Balanced Mizzou

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."

Missouri at No. 20 K-State
The numbers say Missouri's Josie Henry, who is averaging more than 12 yards per carry, is the most formidable tailback the Wildcats have seen thus far, and the total balance in the Tiger offense is predicated on him moving the football on the ground. K-State's rush defense has looked vastly improved, but will need to take another stand against the Tigers, a squad with a knack for rattling off big plays on the ground from both the running back and quarterback positions.
While tailback John Hubert has provided solid production out of the running back spot this season, make no mistake, K-State's featured runner is its quarterback. Junior Collin Klein has gained 232 yards over the course of the last two games, but will run up against a Missouri defense that is yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season this weekend.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin has thrown for more than 200 yards in three of his first four starts, but it's what he hasn't done that's most impressive. The sophomore signal-caller has tossed just one interception in 126 attempts this season, showing an ability to limit the kinds of mistakes the Wildcat defense has thrived on in 2010. K-State has already collected six interceptions this year, so something on that front will need to give this Saturday. If the Tigers are able to keep themselves out of dangerous down-and-distance situations, Franklin, who has been solid on the road thus far, is composed enough to avoid mistakes in Manhattan.
Klein's ability to run the football effectively has never been in question, so most of the progress he's shown as a junior has come in the passing game. Coming off a win over Baylor that saw him throw for 146 yards and two touchdowns, it's fair to wonder where the ceiling on his progress resides. The Missouri defense he'll be asked to dissect this weekend is allowing opposing passers 262 yards per game and has recorded eight sacks while forcing four interceptions through a very difficult chunk of its schedule. Any measure of success through the air against the Tigers would represent another forward step in the Wildcat quarterback's progression.
Bill Snyder says he's not concerned with his special teams, but to onlookers, the third facet of K-State's game still seems a mess. The trend of blunders continued in the team's win over Baylor last week, as a missed field goal, poor kick coverage and another short punt almost cost the Wildcats a close game. If things don't get straightened out, the units seem destined to cost Snyder's squad eventually.

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."

Mississippi State NEWS


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