October 26, 2012
By Adam Rosen
1. THIRD AND SHORT
The Wildcats' 24th ranked defense doesn't have many holes or flaws for opposing offenses to attack. They essentially excel at almost everything, but there is one tiny glitch in their system.
Through seven games, Wildcat opponents have been in third and short (1-3 yards) on 35 different occasions. While there are various factors that determine whether or not a team prefers to run or pass to convert on third down, there is a sizeable difference in success rate one has over the other against the Wildcats' defense.
Out of the 35 plays, Kansas State opponents have opted to run the ball 23 times, netting 33 total yards (1.43 YPC) and picking up nine first downs (39 percent conversion rate). For the sake of comparison, Alabama, the country's top ranked defense, is allowing 1.93 yards per carry and a 71 percent conversion rate in this same scenario. Calling the Wildcat run defense stout in this situation would be a vast understatement.
However, when opposing offenses have chosen to throw the ball to pick up a few yards for the first down, the results have been less than stellar for Bill Snyder's defense.
Out of the 35 plays, Kansas State opponents completing 11 of 12 passing attempts, for 140 yards and eight first downs (67 percent conversion rate). Using the same comparison, teams trying to pass for a first down against Alabama in that scenario are only converting 13 percent of the time.
That's not only a huge difference between run and pass, but it's also been a recent trend for their defense.
Kansas State had similar splits in 2011, which left them vulnerable to passing situations on third and short. Teams were 16 of 20 for 189 yards and 15 first downs (75 percent conversion rate) against the Wildcats' defense.
Neal Brown's offense has found a lot of success on third and short this season, both running and passing the ball. Overall, the offense is converting nearly 78 percent of their plays for first downs, the best in the Big 12.
Tech has 19 rushing attempts for 94 yards (4.9 YPC) and has converted for a first down 79 percent of the time. On the flip side, the offense has completed 7 of 8 passing attempts for 75 yards, with six attempts converted for first downs (75 percent conversion rate).
It could be an anomaly in Snyder's defense or a systematic flaw. Either way, it's worth pointing out.
Given Kansas State's stout success against the run and their weakness defending the pass on third and short, the Red Raiders may find converting with the pass a better option in those short yardage situations on Saturday.
2. FOCUS ON STOPPING THE PASS
I thought the Red Raiders did an excellent job last week against Trevone Boykin, practically eliminating the threat of him as a runner after he had a couple of long rushes in the Horned Frogs first two series to start the game.
While Collin Klein is a handful to shut down in the running game, let's face it, he isn't going to run away from a newly disciplined Tech defense under Art Kaufman. Keeping the play in front of them is what they do best.
As defenses load up to stop the Kansas State run, the emergence of Klein as a passer has burned them. His improvement throwing the ball has been the main difference between their dominance this season compared to last season. Don't be fooled by his awkward throwing motion, either.
He doesn't have as many attempts as most, but when he throws, Klein had made it count. Against FBS competition this season, the Heisman front runner leads the nation in quarterback rating, yards per attempt and is fifth in completion percentage. Compare those numbers to last season, where Klein ranked 71st, 67th and 83rd, respectively, and it's an easy thread to see his vast improvement as a passing threat.
Tech is going to have their hands full in a grueling physical matchup on Saturday. If the Chain Gang sells out against the Wildcat rushing attack they may be able slow it down. However, they aren't going to stop the bread and butter that has pushed Kansas State to No. 3 in the rankings and a 7-0 season -- 17-3 with Collin Klein at the helm.
Handicapping the entire offensive picture by shutting down the Kansas State passing attack, may be enough to yield one less score for Seth Doege and the offense to overcome against a very tough defense.
3. MAKE THEM EARN IT ALL
I won't dive into much detail here since Tech's four turnovers and the 14 free points gifted to Kansas State early in the 2011 matchup have probably remained fresh on the mind of fans since last season. However, limiting those mistakes will obviously be a key component in this game.
The breakdown is simple: Kansas State is plus-14 in the turnover margin (7th overall) and only commits 26.9 penalty yards (3rd overall) per game. Generally, they take advantage of extra yards and possessions teams give them in each situation — something they desperately need to win games.
On the other hand, Texas Tech has room for improvement. The Red Raiders currently sit with a minus one turnover margin (68th overall) and commit 67 penalty yards (102nd overall) per game.
Coincidentally, the road splits are little better for Tech in terms of a plus six turnover margin (10th overall) in three games this season. However, the 86.7 penalty yards (118th overall) on the road are something they need to clean up against Kansas State.
I don't think it's any secret that if Tech can limit their mistakes in Manhattan on Saturday, their chances of victory increase tremendously.