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November 16, 2012

Game Up Close: Defenseless Bears

According to Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, some things are relatively equal at this point. And to a degree, he's absolutely correct.

"What happens is as you progress through the season you have more and more exposure to what you do," the 73-year-old coach said on Tuesday. "Consequently, opponents have more to study and more to define who we are just like we have more to find what they are.

"Players might say it gets harder and somebody on the opposing team might be saying the same thing. It might get harder for them as well. There's an equivalency factor there."

So as the Wildcats, who rank No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings for the first time in school history, travel to Waco, Texas to take on Baylor at 7 p.m. at Floyd Casey Stadium on Saturday, both teams will have broken down a similar and substantial amount of film.

And if you were a coach looking at the tape this week, you would have realized two things rather quickly. First, K-State's offense is deceptively good. Secondly, Baylor's defense is absolutely atrocious.

This matchup is not even close to being equal and it truly couldn't be any more night and day. K-State, 10-0 overall and 7-0 in Big 12 play, ranks eighth nationally in scoring offense (42.2 points per game), 20th in rushing offense (213.6 yards per game) and senior quarterback Collin Klein ranks seventh in passing efficiency by completing 69.7 percent of his passing attempts this season. Simply put, the Wildcats are really good and they have made solid defenses look quite bad.

On the other hand, there's Baylor's defense. The Bears, 4-5 and 1-5, rank 115th in scoring defense (39.4 ppg.), 96th in rushing defense (198.7 ypg.) and 108th in pass efficiency defense. They have let opponents do whatever they have wanted to all season.

After struggling on the ground in the first half of the season, the Bears have really come on strong as of late. Collectively, they have ran for at least 250 yards in three of the last four contests, including a 252-yard and four touchdown performance in a loss at Oklahoma last Saturday. Led by sophomore running back Lache Seastruck, who has five total touchdowns in the past two contests, Baylor has finally found the balance this explosive offense has needed. However, they could run into a buzz saw on Saturday when they face K-State. The Wildcats are coming off one of their best defensive performances all season at TCU and they will be out to shut down yet another high-octane offense. If Bill Snyder's bunch can slow down Seastruck, Jarred Salubi and quarterback Nick Florence in the run game and force them to be one-dimensional like they have every other opponent, the Wildcats will have them right where they want them.
Advantage: K-State
Running the football is still the main focus surrounding Bill Snyder's methodical offense, but it hasn't been the same rushing attack that everyone was accustomed to seeing at the start of the season. Whatever the reasons are for that, don't be alarmed. Even if the Wildcats haven't had a rusher eclipse the century mark for over a month, they still have one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the country with quarterback Collin Klein and running backs John Hubert and Angelo Pease. This is a perfect game for K-State to get back on track as the Bears currently rank 96th in stopping the run and allowed Oklahoma to run the ball with ease. The player to watch in this matchup is Hubert. Teams have really cracked down on the junior after a hot start, but don't be surprised if he has another breakout game. Plus, he's a Waco native and there is no better game for him to play well and show up the team that passed on him.
Big Advantage: K-State
No Robert Griffin III? No problem. Baylor has done quite well offensively this season with quarterback Nick Florence leading the charge. Florence has put rather impressive numbers and currently leads the FBS in total yards with nearly 400 yards per game. However, Florence struggled last week at Oklahoma. He completed only 12 of his 33 passing attempts for 172 yards and no touchdowns with the underlying problem being that Baylor's defense has played so bad that it has forced the senior signal caller to play catch-up nearly all season. Even with an off game, K-State needs to be careful. Florence is very dangerous and his receivers are fast. It will be crucial for the Wildcats to stay true to their bend-don't-break style and not allow Florence to throw the deep ball and get into a rhythm offensively. The absence of safety Ty Zimmerman could hurt so it's up cornerbacks Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman to step up and get the job done on Saturday.
Advantage: Baylor
Coming off an injury, quarterback Collin Klein looked a bit rusty last week at TCU. He completed just 12 of 21 passes for 145 yards and no touchdowns with 62 yards coming off a deep strike to wide receiver Chris Harper in the first half. Klein also threw his first interception in Big 12 play on the Wildcats' opening drive and was sacked four times. But if there is a game for the Heisman Trophy frontrunner to bounce back, it's against Baylor. The Bears are the worst defense in college football statistically. They give up nearly 520 yards per game, including over 320 through the air. For most of the season, Klein has done well at reading defenses and exploiting their weaknesses. Look for that to happen this week when K-State's deceivingly explosive offense takes the field on Saturday. It could be a fun time for Klein and his host of wide receivers.
Big Advantage: K-State
K-State doesn't rack up as many yards on offense like the other explosive teams, but they haven't had to because of their special teams unit. Week after week, the Wildcats return game gives Klein and the offense great field position as they rank No. 2 nationally in punt returns and No. 3 in kick returns. Tyler Lockett is questionable with an ankle injury, but if he doesn't play, Tramaine Thompson is more than capable to carry the load on his own and shine against Baylor's mediocre special teams. Like always, place kicker Anthony Cantele will need to be on point and if and when Ryan Doerr has to punt, it will be important for him to pin the Bears deep in their own territory. Although they are considered one of the nation's best, K-State's special teams are vastly underrated and a big reason why they have remained perfect to this point.
Big Advantage: K-State
The 1-0 mentality and businesslike approach this K-State team possess is truly remarkable. They don't get caught up in the hype and they shrug off the fact they boast the No. 1 ranking in the BCS for the first time in school history. Bill Snyder has this team focused, disciplined and determined to keep their national title hopes alive. They do whatever it takes to win each week and this Saturday will be no different. Art Briles is a great coach and the Bears will be out to knock off the nation's top-ranked team, but the Wildcats have been here before. They have won tough road games and they will be ready for another battle. K-State is clearly the better team and if they execute, will enter their bye week undefeated and one step closer to their ultimate goal.
Big Advantage: K-State
K-State BY 16.5

To top it all off, Baylor ranks dead last (120th) in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense by giving up nearly 520 yards per game. Yes, there is actually a team in college football that has a statistically worse defense than Colorado if you can believe it.

However, Snyder's seen some improvements in Baylor's defense led by coordinator Phil Bennett, the former defensive coordinator for the Wildcats from 1999-2001.

"Yes, I think they have gotten better," Snyder said. "At midseason, I think they went down that road. They had a lot of injuries to begin with, so consequently, they had youngsters that hadn't been on the field. But you can just see them get better and better and better as they gain some experience and consequently have become a better defensive football team.

"They didn't play badly against Oklahoma."

They might not have played bad in a loss to the Sooners last Saturday, but they didn't exactly play well either. The Bears still gave up 42 points and 460 total yards, including 183 on the ground. And with their offense being one of the best in the country, the defense has had to be on the field a lot in 2012. It's a lot to ask for a depleted defense and they have struggled because of it.

To be fair, though, K-State's offense hasn't been all that great the past two weeks. The Wildcats' offense stalled when Klein got injured in 44-30 win against Oklahoma State two weeks ago and seemed flustered in last week's 23-10 victory at TCU.

Sure, Snyder has openly admitted to being conservative and not opening up the playbook, but give the opposing defenses some credit, especially the Horned Frogs, because they have definitely frustrated members of K-State's offense.

"We just got to go out there and execute," senior wide receiver Chris Harper said this week. "Last week was the first time that a defense had played tougher than we were… I think we took it personal.

"That's where we're at now. It's not just about winning games. It's about playing as well as we can play. Everybody was upset. Our offense, we were upset about how we played."

With that said, it's a perfect game for the Wildcats to get back on track offensively. And it all starts with Klein, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.

"He's got maturity and a great sense about him from a teammate to leadership to production," Baylor coach Art Briles said of K-State's signal caller. "What you see is what you get and what you see is a guy that's very engaged with everybody on the football team, makes intelligent decisions with the football, sacrifices himself when he needs to, protects himself when he has to and is very, very confident and productive.

"I don't see many negative plays when he has the ball in his hands… He's as good of a dual-threat quarterback as there is in America without question, maybe the best."

If Klein can get going, the Wildcats' offense will be hard to stop. And although that should make everyone lick their chops, no one should be salivating more than running back John Hubert.

For the 5-foot-7, 191-pound junior, this can be a statement game. Not only could it be the chance for him to eclipse the century mark for the first time since racking up 101 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas on Oct. 6, it will be his first game in his hometown of Waco since committing to K-State. If he can find a way to implement himself into this game, he can show Baylor what they passed up on.

"He's tough, just like he was in high school," Briles said. "Tough kid, grinds out yards, got enough speed to turn the corner. If he gets through a hole in the middle you know he can pop it.

"He's had a great career. He's done a great job."

Although important, Snyder says statistics aren't everything.

"Just play the way that John plays," he said. "The statistical things, that's part of when you talk about balancing your offense. The statistical things are a part of that because balance, if indeed we have that in our offense, it allows them to move in a variety of directions based on what defenses may force you to do. It may mean that John or Angelo Pease of Collin might now have the same kind of numbers week in and week out.

"The best thing John can do is keep working hard and keep trying to improve."

Whether it is on the ground or through the air, the key to this game is for K-State's offense to have long, sustaining drives that milk the clock and keep Baylor's offense off rhythm and to capitalize on every opportunity in the red zone.

In nine games this season, the Bears have allowed 40 scores in 47 attempts when their opponents are in the red zone, including 31 touchdowns. In turn, K-State is 97-of-105 in red zone opportunities, with 72 touchdowns over the last 20 regular season games dating back to last season. If they can continuously punch it in, it won't matter how many points Baylor might score come Saturday.

In order to accomplish that, they must execute.

"A lot of it depends on what the defense gives us and what we are trying to exploit on that down and distance and that situation in the game," Klein said. "We're just trying to score one more than they do. Whatever that looks like or however we got to do it, we'll figure it out."

If for some reason Baylor's defense forces K-State to punt a couple of times early in the game, don't be alarmed. It will just be a matter of time before this defense cracks. They've shown it time and time again.

Snyder's right. Some things are equal at this point of the year. And with a No. 1 ranking in front of their name on the road, Baylor will be looking to pull off a miracle. But rest assure, this matchup is not even close to being equal and K-State will prove it this weekend.

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