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October 12, 2012

Game Up Close: Running Wildcats

As elementary as it might seem, scheming to slow down Kansas State's rushing offense is far from simple. All you have to do is ask the head coach or defensive coordinator for Missouri State, Miami, North Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas. They all relentlessly tried and each one of them failed miserably.

K-State running the football is as inevitable as the temperature and scenery change from the summer to fall. You know it's coming and you better be prepared for it. But through the first five games in 2012, there has been very little opponents could do to stop running back John Hubert and quarterback Collin Klein.

Behind the legs of the 5-foot-7, 191-pound Hubert (106.4 yards per game) and the 6-foot-5, 226-pound Klein (81 ypg), the No. 5 Wildcats rank ninth nationally with 263.80 rushing yards per contest. Those numbers have brought nightmares to opponents and have quickly made the two contrasting ball carriers the most dominant and feared tandem in the Big 12 Conference.

It doesn't just stop with league play, either. In fact, the duo currently ranks fifth nationally in the Football Bowl Subdivision with the combined average of 187.40 yards per contest. Only Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson and Cody Fajardo (246 ypg), Air Force's Cody Getz and Conner Dietz (239.2), Army's Raymond Maples and Larry Dixon (226.20) and Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch and Leighton Settle (197) average more yards combined than the twosome for the undefeated Wildcats.

Based solely on statistics alone, ask yourself if you believe it would be hard to prepare for that. Now, Klein will answer that question.

"I would say no doubt," the senior said. "It starts up front in just what they have been able to do for both of us, our whole offense and then being able to capitalize from multiple spots, multiple different plays and multiple different schemes.

"There's no doubt."

Klein is right. There is no doubt they have made the most of their opportunities behind the surprise play of a battered offense line. There is no doubt the offense has allowed those two to be successful and average more yards than 80 FBS programs themselves. And there is no doubt they have been capitalize from multiple different spots.

THE GAME UP CLOSE:
K-STATE AT IOWA STATE
WHEN IOWA STATE RUNS
There aren't too many bright spots in this Cyclones offense, but they are decent at running the football. Both James White and Shontrelle Johnson have proven to be effective by picking up 5.5 yards and 4.7 yards per carry, respectively so far this season. In addition, quarterback Jared Barnett is quite mobile so the Wildcats will have to respect his abilities as well. However, there hasn't been a rushing attack that K-State hasn't tamed and since Iowa State looks to run first, this plays right into their hands.
Big Advantage: K-State
WHEN K-STATE RUNS
Last week against the Jayhawks, junior running back John Hubert and senior quarterback Collin Klein powered their way for over 200 yards and six touchdowns combined. They are running the ball as good as any pair in the country and will look to take control of this game early. By and large, this Iowa State defense will be the Wildcats' toughest matchup to date, but they have had some success against them. In last year's 30-23 victory over the Cyclones, the tandem collected over 100 yards a piece. Iowa State's defense has improved and this will be the key matchup in the game, but K-State's rushing attack will prove to be too much once again.
Advantage: K-State
WHEN IOWA STATE THROWS
After a uninspiring slow start to the 2012 season, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads changed his starting quarterback last week. Instead of sticking with the struggling Steele Jantz, Rhoads gave the starting nod to sophomore Jared Barnett and it worked. Barnett completed 12 of 21 passes for 183 with three touchdowns and an interception in the Cyclones' upset win at TCU. Barnett will more than likely start once again this week against the Wildcats, a team he started against last season as a freshman. He is a mobile quarterback that can avoid a good pass rush and throw on the run, but he will have to be careful against an improving K-State secondary that is good at forcing turnovers.
Small Advantage: K-State
WHEN K-STATE THROWS
In last weekend's game against Kansas, Collin Klein only needed to throw 14 passes in his three quarters of work. The weather forecast looks ugly so you can probably expect around the same number of passes once again in this one. Iowa State's defense is solely built to stop the run so if Klein does elect to throw the football, he can take advantage of some mismatches. The Cyclones have smaller-than-usual defensive backs and their linebackers don't cover exceptionally well. Klein can surely pick them apart with short crisp passes to his speedy receivers in the middle of the field.
Advantage: K-State
SPECIAL TEAMS
For the first time all season, there might be a specialist on the opposing team that is better than anyone on K-State's roster. Not to discredit anything punter Ryan Doerr has done for the Wildcats, but Iowa State's Kirby Van Der Kamp has been stellar this season. His 43.3 yards per punt average and ability to pin the opposition deep into their own territory is a solid weapon, but K-State still has the number one punt return team in the nation. Look for either Tyler Lockett or Tramaine Thompson to have a big return at some point in the game.
Advantage: K-State
GAME INTANGIBLES
Both teams enter this game with a great deal of momentum after they each won significant games last weekend. K-State pummeled their in-state rival and Iowa State upset TCU on the road. Just to add more fuel to the fire, it's the first game played between the two schools in Ames since 2007. The emotions at Jack Trice Stadium will be at an all-time high and the severe weather could make things interesting. In the end, K-State coach Bill Snyder will outcoach his longtime friend, Paul Rhoads. It has been labeled as a trap game, but the Wildcats are as focused as ever. This is just another business trip to them.
Advantage: K-State
PROJECTED SPREAD:
K-State BY 10.5

It was ever so apparent during the 56-16 drubbing of in-state rival Kansas last Saturday as both Hubert and Klein were able to gain over 100 yards on just 10 carries a piece and score six touchdowns combined.

On the contrary, however, there is no doubt that Saturday's game will be the most physical one all season as K-State, 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12, will travel to Ames, Iowa, for the first time since 2007 to take on the No. 25 Iowa State Cyclones, 4-1 and 1-1, at 11 a.m.

Sure, there is an uncountable list of storylines to follow in this game. But the one that will be truly define the outcome of the contest will be K-State's potent rushing attack against the stingy run defense of Iowa State.

Entering the game, the Cyclones rank 18th nationally in total defense and 30th against the run. They have allowed just 579 yards on 173 carries and have given up only two rushing touchdowns through their first five games. It's been an impressive start to the season and they will look to continue that this weekend.

"They play extremely hard and they're very fundamentally sound and very responsible sound," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "Everybody is in their place where they're supposed to be and they don't get out of position. They match up well.

"They're a physical front seven and have two all-world linebackers that really deserve all the accolades that they receive because they play so hard and smart as well."

Snyder, of course, was alluding to Iowa State's A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. The two linebackers have been the catalyst for the Cyclones' defense and have been able to piggyback their struggling offense all season. Their play is something that has caught Snyder's attention.

"They play extremely hard and they're intelligent young guys that fit in the system so well, and they play at maximum speed," he added. "They probably don't have better 40 times than a lot of guys, but by the same token they play extremely fast. They play like 4.5 guys."

The tough-nosed and blue-collar approach by the Cyclones is evident to the K-State players, too.

"From what I've seen so far, they are not going to make too many assignment errors," senior tight end Travis Tannahill said. "They are going to have someone in every gap where someone is going to have to get movement and that's obviously difficult to do when they are a tough team."

In order for the Wildcats to win this game, they will need to exactly what they have done to start the 2012 campaign. The offensive line will have to impose their will while Hubert and Klein efficiently move the chains. And although Hubert has been the standout so far, this one will all be up to Klein.

"Collin Klein is a very big man," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "He's a very smart football player. He's a very strong football player."

It's not just Klein's physical nature or his second-effort runs that he makes that impresses Rhoads, either. It's his patience.

"It's uncanny," he added. "You sit there and watch and see how long it takes a play to develop. He waits, he has great vision and he lets it expose itself and then he gets it.

"In running an offense that way, they put themselves in so many manageable down-and-distance situations where you get on your heels as a defensive football team because it feels like you can't ever get off the field and stop them. He's the reason for that."

If the current weather forecast proves to be true, this matchup will most certainly be the deciding factor in the game. The forewarning of severe thunderstorms and forceful wind conditions will likely make K-State run the football, which is something they were probably going to do most of the time anyway. So if Iowa State can play up to their potential and somehow bottle up the run, this game at a sold out Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday could get very interesting as the two dominant forces clash.

"Every day is a challenge for us, I can assure you of that," Snyder said. "Saturday will be no exception whatsoever. They offer a challenge for everybody that they play and I can assure you they will for us."

It's a challenge the Wildcats have accepted and in order to overcome it, they will have to run the football like they have so far this season.







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