The great folks at the Kansas State SB Nation Site Bring On The Cats were good enough to give us a little look behind the curtain just before the Valero Alamo Bowl. Many thanks to Jon, the managing editor at their excellent site, for spending the time to answer some of our questions. Swing by Bring On The Cats for the best info and insight into our Alamo Bowl opponents.
Bruins Nation: Which QB (if any) that Kansas State faced this year reminds you the most of Brett Hundley and how did your defense adjust to him?
Bring On The Cats: That's a tough question, because I didn't get to see enough of Hundley to make what I consider to be an accurate comparison. The two most obvious candidates are Nick Marshall and Trevone Boykin. With Marshall, the defense mostly adjusted by shutting down Auburn's run game and then focusing on keeping him from passing. With Boykin... well, they obviously didn't adjust to much at all.
BN: Few teams have had much success containing Tyler Lockett this year. How would you defend him if you were our defensive coordinator?
BOTC: All you can do is try to double him. One-on-one, his stutter move is devastating; last year, he completely pantsed two first-round draft picks with it. Opponents have tried to shut that off by focusing too much on him this year, which has freed up space elsewhere.
BN: Aside from Lockett and QB Jake Waters, who are the single players on offense and on defense who you think had the biggest impact in K State's almost top 10 finish this season?
BOTC: Speaking of which: offensively, Curry Sexton is the most unheralded and important part of the offense. Lockett's covered, no room to run? Sexton's open. Third down? Sexton's waiting a foot past the sticks. Sexton's had almost as many 100-yard games as Lockett this year, and he's just a few yards short of joining Lockett as a 1000-yard receiver this year. If he gets there Thursday, they'll be the first pair of Wildcat wideouts to accomplish the feat together in one season.
On defense, it's been a total team effort. Ryan Mueller was the big breakout last year, and while he's been perfectly acceptable this year as well, his stats are way down. That leads to a perception that he's not doing much, but the reality is that he's been getting double-teamed. That's allowed the rest of the defensive line to do their jobs much more effectively. Travis Britz broke out this year himself as a result, although we still don't know whether he's going to be able to play Thursday.
The other big contributors on defense are JUCO transfer Danzel McDaniel at corner; he's a beast supporting the run game, and if you're a receiver you do not want to catch the ball anywhere within three yards of him. It will hurt. Dante Barnett has taken over Ty Zimmerman's role as the director in the backfield; he's got a hands problem which has kept him from racking up interceptions, but on the bright side we know he's got a hands problem because of how many interceptions he's managed to drop. In other words, he breaks up a ton of plays. I should also note Elijah Lee, who comes in on passing downs and wreaks havoc. He's a true freshman, which if you know anything at all about Bill Snyder speaks volumes about Lee in and of itself.
BN: Do you think the lack of a Big 12 conference championship game killed the Playoff chances for TCU and Baylor, or were they both doomed after Ohio State rolled over Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game?
BOTC: It sure didn't help. Prior to the playoff committee, my argument was always that the Big 12 didn't need a title game because their potential representative was always scheduled for a high-profile game on the first weekend of December anyway. With the BCS system, this meant that if they were already in position, they were still in the eye of the voters, and anything they accomplished would also reflect in the computer rankings.
The committee has changed that, because as is patently obvious now being #3 heading into the final week doesn't mean you're going to be defending the #3 position in that conference room Sunday night. The committee is more able to say "Okay, Ohio State played 13 games, TCU played 12." And that's going to be a huge hurdle going forward.
BN: On the surface, Manhattan does not look like one of the most high profile or glamorous destinations for high school athletes. Despite that, Kansas State consistently fields highly competitive and excellent football teams. Do you think that you get a different type of student athlete at KSU, and does the location actually work in your favor by attracting players with a more sincere commitment to the school instead of to their own career?
BOTC: Well... yes.
First, one thing people who haven't been there don't understand is that Manhattan is a really fun place. In fact, if there's one place I've spent a lot of time which I can most accurately compare to Aggieville, it might be Westwood Village. No, there's not a lot to do elsewhere, and I can understand how that's a drawback to some recruits. But I'm sure you've spent many a night just hanging around the Village, bar-hopping, dining, whatever; it's a very, very similar experience in Manhattan.
Second, it's less the city than the program. Yes, K-State attracts a certain kind of student-athlete. That's by design with Bill Snyder. He WANTS guys who are under-appreciated and want to work hard. He seeks out guys that have slipped through the cracks for whatever reason; the best example I can offer here is Zack Reuter, a 2014 commit from Columbia (MO) Rock Bridge who had NO rating whatsoever at any of the big sites before he signed. The kicker? Statistically, the kid's indistinguishable from Dorial Green-Beckham. He just somehow didn't get seen and rated, and as a result the only schools sniffing at him were K-State and Missouri.
That's the sort of gambit K-State runs in the off-season, and they recruit for character rather than stars. End result? Teams which perpetually over-perform expectations. Even fellow Big 12 media and fellow coaches, all of whom know precisely how Snyder goes about his business, almost always miss; they'll pick K-State to finish sixth, and then they'll win the conference title or come in second. It's a running joke with us now.
BN: Obviously, much of the credit for the ongoing success goes to Head Coach Bill Snyder. Not to look too far ahead, but is a coach like Snyder replaceable? Once he eventually retires from coaching permanently, what do you think will happen to the Kansas State football program without arguably the greatest football coach in history at the helm?
BOTC: This is one of the most persistent topics of conversation over in our neck of the woods, for obvious reasons. There's massive concerns about the eventual replacement. Snyder wants his son, Sean, to take over; people don't like that idea because Sean's never been a head coach at any level whatsoever, but Bill's been dropping hints that Sean's actually been running the program for three years. John Currie, K-State's AD, is also an issue here. Obviously, Currie wants to make the Big Bang hire when Snyder leaves, presumably to raise his own stock. (The conventional wisdom is that while Currie cares a lot, he would really like to land a gig running an SEC athletic department.)
So there's a lot of gears at work here. Can Bill Snyder be replaced? Sure, but more than any other job in America I think that replacing Bill Snyder will require either plucking something from his own orchard one way or another, or deliberately seeking out a coach with a similar approach (Craig Bohl, for example). Time will tell, and it doesn't require much imagination to guess how anxious we all are about the situation.
BN: If you had asked Bruin fans before the season if they would be excited about playing in the Alamo Bowl, you'd probably get a mixed review, as many were hoping for a Jan 1 bowl and even more. What were KSU fans thinking about this season and how is the fanbase feeling about the Alamo Bowl?
BOTC: Well, K-State finished 9-3, and in the off-season the prevailing opinion was that K-State was going to finish 9-3. (As the season approached, that drifted toward 9-2, with folks starting to assume a win over Oklahoma. Folks were right; they just didn't count on TCU being TCU.)
So I think that most people were overlapping "making a New Year's Six bowl" and "getting the Alamo". That being the case, this isn't really a disappointment based on pre-season expectations. However, the way things played out, with the Big 12 coming OH SO CLOSE to having three teams in the New Year's Six bowls... it's a bit of a disappointment. Also, older fans have, shall we say, bitter memories of 1998. That's not helping matters any.
Once again, our huge thanks go out to Jon for taking the time to answer our questions and to all the good folks over at Bring On The Cats. Go visit their site, say hello, and see what else they are saying about this Friday's Alamo Bowl. You can also check them out on twitter at @BringOnTheCats