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October 18, 2012

Game Up Close: The little things

In case you didn't already know, there are a number of different reasons as to why Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is one of the best in business. He has a relentless and monotonous work ethic that is unseen by most 73-year-olds. He demands discipline and perfection in a world that only cares about the flashy end result. And his players perform to their utmost potential each week.

To top it all off, he has his own formula for success. The man knows how to win football games. But at the forefront and above it all, he knows how to prepare his team for every opponent.

Snyder will likely have everything there is to know about No. 17 West Virginia memorized when his No. 4 Wildcats board the plane Friday and travel to Morgantown for this weekend's game. However, he somehow always seems to find something else to help better prepare his team. It's highly anticipated that the 21st year head coach won't stop formulating his game plan until the 6 p.m. CT kickoff on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.

As part of the preparation process, Snyder and his coaching staff break down film from every game of every opponent. It sounds crazy, but it works. So in watching film, they probably assumed that the best way to beating one of the new conference foes on the road is to keep the ball out of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's hands. And if they want a perfect example, they certainly didn't have to look much further than Texas Tech's final drive against the Mountaineers in last weekend's game in Lubbock, which the Raid Raiders won 49-14.

If there was anything that could have made coach Dana Holgorsen's day any worse, it was watching that fourth-quarter clinic Red Raider coach Tommy Tuberville and quarterback Seth Doege orchestrated.

Starting at their own 2-yard line, Doege completed passes for 18 and seven yards before Eric Stephens Jr. gained six yards of his own on the ground. After Doege completed another pass for eight yards, Stephens Jr. and SaDale Foster combined with rushes to help move the chains. Doege went to the air again, finding targets for 16 and nine yards before two more Foster rushes picked up five yards total.

THE GAME UP CLOSE:
K-STATE AT WEST VIRGINIA
WHEN WEST VIRGINIA RUNS
West Virginia's explosive air assault have stolen the headlines this season, but their rushing attack is pretty good. In fact, it's easy to say they are vastly underrated. Led by sophomore Andrew Buie, the Mountaineers average 158 yards per contest on the ground to complement their passing game. Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison are serviceable, wide receiver Tavon Austin is a viable danger on end-arounds and you can't forget about quarterback Geno Smith's ability to scramble. This is a decent running game and it can't be overlooked, but the Wildcats' have, so far, stacked up against every team they have faced fairly well. This one should be no different.
Advantage: K-State
WHEN K-STATE RUNS
Quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert were busy on the ground last week at Iowa State. Klein carried the ball 25 times for 105 yards and three touchdowns while Hubert picked up 79 yards on 22 carries against a strong Cyclone front seven. K-State might play an old fashion game of "keep away" this week to help out the defense so you could see the same number of attempts for both players to control the clock. They are one of the best tandems in the nation and they matchup well against West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense. The Mountaineers know it's coming and have been decent at stopping the run, but they've never seen a rushing attack like K-State and they won't know how handle it.
Big Advantage: K-State
WHEN WEST VIRGINIA THROWS
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has arguably been the best player in college football during the first half of the season. His stat sheet stuffing numbers of 2,271 yards and 25 touchdowns has made the Mountaineers one of the most potent and feared offenses in the country. Just adding to how good Smith has been, he has not thrown an interception and he completes over 75 percent of his passing attempts. Even with an off game last week Smith completed 29 of 55 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown. K-State's secondary, although improved, will have their toughest test all season by far as they face Smith and a pair of NFL-ready wide receivers. The key for the Wildcats will be to put pressure on the Heisman Trophy frontrunner if they want to slow this offense down.
Big Advantage: West Virginia
WHEN K-STATE THROWS
His numbers might not rank amongst the nation's elite and his throwing motion might not be the greatest, but Collin Klein knows how to get the job done. In last week's game against the Cyclones, Klein was efficient as he completed 16 of 24 passes for 187 yards in the Wildcats' 27-21 win. West Virginia's secondary has been horrendous this season to say the least. They rank 118th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs. With his nearly 67 percent completion rate and the Mountaineers' inability to stop the pass, Klein could have a breakout game through the air if he wants to.
Big Advantage: K-State
SPECIAL TEAMS
K-State's reliable special teams unit is one of the big reasons the Wildcats are undefeated. And although Tramaine Thompson muffed a punt against Iowa State, both him and Tyler Lockett remain great threats in the return game ranking 19th in kickoff returns and 2nd in punt returns nationally. Place kicker Anthony Cantele has been nearly automatic and punter Ryan Doerr has been outstanding. They are clearly the better unit, but the Mountaineers can be explosive as well. Tavon Austin is a great athlete with tremendous speed that can take a kickoff to the house at anytime. Like always, the Wildcats will need to bring their best.
Advantage: K-State
GAME INTANGIBLES
This matchup might not have the luster it did a week ago when the two teams were undefeated, but don't get it twisted, this is still an enormous game. The Wildcats will be looking to keep their national title hopes alive and the Mountaineers will be out for redemption and the chance to get back in the Big 12 title race. K-State has to travel nearly 1,000 miles to Morgantown and West Virginia is known to have a great home crowd. This game also features two of the nation's best teams and a pair Heisman Trophy candidates. Needless to say, all eyes will be glued to this one. K-State holds the advantage in this one because they have Bill Snyder and Collin Klein, two people that know how to perform their best when the spotlight is the brightest.
Advantage: K-State
PROJECTED SPREAD:
K-State BY 3.5

Doege, Stephens Jr. and Foster alternated again before Doege found Darrin Miller in the end zone for a touchdown.

It was an impressive 98-yard drive that took 15 plays and ate up 8:22 off the clock. It took the wind of out of the Mountaineers' sails for good and it probably made Snyder chuckle while reviewing game film.

Why? It's because K-State does that to other teams time and time again.

That final Texas Tech drive was, by and large, the longest drive against West Virginia in six games this season. In fact, it was only the fourth scoring drive that eclipsed four minutes against the Mountaineers' defense that ranks 114th nationally out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools and allows nearly 500 yards and 37 points per game this season.

This plays perfectly into the hands of Snyder and the Wildcats this Saturday. In 2012, K-State's offense has produced 11 scoring drives of over four minutes, including six for touchdowns. So if the Wildcats want to keep the ball out of the hands of Smith, the current Heisman Trophy frontrunner, they will need to produce long, sustaining drives that end in points or switching field position.

"What's important to us is for that to happen, we'll have to be a well-balanced offense," Snyder said. "That's just the nature of it. If we become one-sided in our approach, then that makes it that much more complex for us and that much easier for our opponent to defend just one side of your approach.

"If you can hold onto the football for a long period of time and move it and have some success with it so that you get the ball into the end zone and if not, that you're able to create field position for your defense, that's a significant thing."

Snyder prepares his Wildcats to do that week in and week out. Led by senior quarterback Collin Klein and junior running back John Hubert, K-State has been able to successfully run the football and capitalize on opportunities while chewing up the clock. The tandem is where this offense starts and they need to get it going early if they want to win on Saturday.

"It's going to be very vital," K-State fullback Braden Wilson said. "That's the main part of our offense right there so that's the first thing we are going to have to do is establish the run game and get the ball moving so we can get rolling."

Holgorsen and the Mountaineers know the Wildcats are going to run the football. All they have to find a way to stop it. They have done a decent job in six games this season only allowing 158 rushing yards per contest, but they haven't faced anything like K-State or anyone like Klein.

"They are going to huddle, they are going to sub, they are going to get their personnel groups in, they are going to go to the line of scrimmage, they are going to try to draw you offside, they are going to make sure that they are in the right play and they are going to play ball," Holgorsen said. "We are going to have to do a good job of being patient and making sure that we take advantage of our opportunities."

Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, it's hard to top the patience of Klein.

"He might be the most patient runner I've ever seen," West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber said. "How he can just sit back there and sip their drive is just unreal.

"What we need to do is attack, get after him from the get go. I see a lot of teams that he has played in the past and they just sit back and wait for him to make a move. I think if we attack him and play on their side of the ball, I think we'll be all right."

Defensively, West Virginia lines up in a 3-3-5, which is normally structured to halt explosive passing attacks. Ironically enough, that's not the case with the Mountaineers. They are fairly solid against the run and atrocious against the pass. A lot of that has to deal with the size of their starting linebackers that are approximately 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds on average.

So with the Moutaineers' gameplan scheming to stop the run and their linebackers built to do so, the biggest key for K-State winning this game is blocking on the outside. As arbitrary as it might seem, it's true. If the offensive line is able to perform like they have this season, it will be up to tight ends Travis Tannahill and Zach Trujillo as well as wide receivers Chris Harper and Torell Miller to pave the way for Klein and Hubert.

Harper knows it, too.

"It starts off with me blocking well," he said on Tuesday. "That's probably where it is because we are going to have to establish the running game no matter who we are playing.

"That's going to be big with the receivers on the edge to spring John and Collin. That's where we can start off."

That's something Snyder preaches in practice.

"That's part of being a good wide receiver," Miller said. "You have to be able to block before you can go out there and run routes."

Just like that final drive by Texas Tech, the Wildcats can control the clock and keep the ball out of Smith's hands if they block down field and allow Klein and Hubert to pick up yards and move the chains. And once they do that, Klein can exploit their struggling secondary with whatever pass he wants.

"If we can use the clock but be successful in terms of getting points on the board, at the end of the day, that's what really counts," Snyder said.

It's about scoring one more point than the other team and it's doing the little things that win big games.

You better believe Snyder has prepared the Wildcats to do just that.





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