Mizzou-KSU: Beyond the Box Score PREVIEW

The Big 12 North leader versus a team still scrapping for bowl eligibility.  That's what we expected from this game at the beginning of the season, right?

I'm not going to lie: it is probably a complete waste of time to try to apply statistics to explain Kansas State.  Stats HATE K-State.  Even though my projections saw good things coming from KSU this year (damn straight I'm pounding my chest on that one), they have lived up to expectations in the most underwhelming way imaginable.  Their offense has been great and atrocious.  Their defense has been a sieve and a brick wall.  They have won and lost games because of special teams.  Based on both teams' play this season, the projections have actually moved from "K-State by 0.5" in the preseason to "Missouri by 7.2" despite K-State's current 4-2 conference record (and Missouri's 1-4 record).

In other words, neither I nor my stats have any freaking clue what is going to happen Saturday morning.  It's important to be honest, no?

Offense

Kansas State: 2009 Beyond the Box Score Preseason Offensive Preview

Two good players (one of whom is a much better return man than receiver) and a quarterback whose main job is simply not to make a devastating error.  That pretty much describes KSU's offense at this point.  Here is the main BTBS data table, to be followed by a "Non-conference vs conference play" look at things, since it's pretty obvious that KSU has improved considerably in the last 4-6 weeks.

K-State Offense vs Missouri Defense
Category KSU Offense MU Defense
Close S&P+ (Rk) 91.2 (93) 104.7 (44)
Close Success Rate+ (Rk) 91.3 (99) 101.3 (53)
Close PPP+ (Rk) 92.6 (88) 109.3 (44)
Rushing S&P+ 94.6 (87) 105.5 (53)
Passing S&P+
86.1 (100) 102.7 (52)
Standard Downs S&P+ 100.3 (74) 111.1 (37)
Passing Downs S&P+
89.1 (95) 103.3 (58)
Red Zone S&P+ 104.9 (61) 105.9 (54)
Q1 S&P+ 89.9 (92) 92.2 (79)
Q2 S&P+ 110.8 (50) 129.9 (18)
Q3 S&P+ 111.3 (54) 105.2 (51)
Q4 S&P+ 88.0 (99) 113.3 (36)
1st Down S&P+ 102.5 (67) 106.6 (52)
2nd Down S&P+ 96.3 (77) 106.6 (51)
3rd Down S&P+ 92.9 (88) 106.8 (51)
Line Yards+ 106.0 (46) 97.3 (73)
Close Sack Rate+
76.6 (94) 89.6 (79)
Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
91.3 (76) /
66.7 (104)
111.9 (46) /
113.3 (49)


Looking at the numbers like this, you get the impression that KSU isn't capable of scoring at all.  Of course, let's break things out into non-conference vs conference play...

Analysis after the jump.

KSU Offense "+" Game Scores: Non-Con vs Conference Play
Category Non-Con
Conference
Close S&P+ 75.9 101.4
Close SR+ 84.1 96.1
Close PPP+ 66.2 110.2
Rushing S&P+ 77.7 105.9
Passing S&P+ 74.2 94.0
Standard Downs S&P+ 85.0 110.5
Passing Downs S&P+ 75.0 98.5
Red Zone S&P+ 82.2 120.0
Q1 S&P+ 65.4 106.2
Q2 S&P+ 93.6 122.3
Q3 S&P+ 105.6 115.1
Q4 S&P+ 83.9 90.7


Strangely, KSU's offense has improved by growing even more conservative than it already was.  Grant Gregory took over the majority of the snaps starting with the Iowa State game, and while he has been far from amazing, he has played it safe, giving KSU's defense and special teams a chance to win the game.  Aside from a false start against Texas Tech (he was sacked three times and replaced), Gregory has been a stabilizing influence that Carson Coffman was not, and that has made the biggest difference for KSU.  Gregory's passer rating is almost exactly the same as Coffman's, but while he averages a yard fewer in terms of yards per attempt, he has also been less INT-prone.  Plus, he's provided just enough of a rushing threat to take some heat off of Daniel Thomas.

When KSU Has the Ball...
KSU Rushing Advantage: Push
KSU Passing Slight Advantage: Mizzou
Best Time for KSU: Beginning of the half
Best Time for Missouri: Later in the half


We'll once again start with the individual categories where Missouri has the rankings advantage.  For the most part, we'll compare Mizzou's season averages to KSU's conference averages, though there are some pretty blurred lines here.

Close SR+
Passing S&P+
Passing Downs S&P+
Q2, Q4 S&P+
2nd, 3rd Down S&P+
Sack Rate+

And for KSU...

Red Zone S&P+
Q1, Q3 S&P+
Line Yards+

Looking at things in this way, you can see a path for success for both teams--Missouri's defense could succeed by being aggressive, sending the house on passing downs, and wearing KSU down as each half progresses.  Meanwhile, if KSU's offensive line can get a good push and they can take advantage of their scoring opportunities, and if their offensive gameplan early on results in some points, they could easily score enough to win the game.

Quarterback

The candidates are plentiful.  You've got a South Florida transfer in Grant Gregory, who has spent his entire South Florida career backing up Matt "Homeless Man's Brett Favre" Grothe.  He's completed 27 of 50 passes in his career, mostly in scrub time, for 384 yards, 3 TDs and 3 sacks.  You've also got Junior college transfer Daniel Thomas and a pair of big, 3-star youngsters in Joseph Kassanavoid, pride of Lawson, MO, and Collin Klein of Loveland, CO, who came across as decent running weapon in the spring game.

Grant Gregory: 68-for-114 passing (59.6%), 731 yards (6.4 per pass), 4 TD, 2 INT; 77 carries, 254 yards, 3 TD
Carson Coffman: 71-for-117 passing (60.7%), 860 yards (7.4 per pass), 2 TD, 4 INT; 54 carries, 64 yards, 2 TD

As mentioned above, looking at basic passing stats, you really can't discern that big a difference between Gregory and Coffman.  But with Gregory making fewer mistakes and showing the ability to scramble for first downs, there is simply no question that the KSU offense has been better with Gregory at the helm.  Here's where people who hate stats will say that stats don't tell the story about who's the better quarterback, and it's all about leadership and intangibles.  Well guess what: leadership and intangibles will still show up if you're looking at the right stats, and seeing that KSU's S&P+ ratings have increased across the board with Gregory behind center tells you what you need to know.

Running Back

Yeah, I completely whiffed on this part in the preseason preview.  I wasn't sure if Daniel Thomas was going to be a quarterback or running back, so I managed to forget to mention him at either position.

Daniel Thomas: 205 carries, 1087 yards (5.3 per carry), 11 TD; 19 catches, 205 yards (10.8 per catch)
Keithen Valentine: 53 carries, 364 yards (6.9 per carry), 6 TD; 6 catches for 5 yards (0.8 per catch)
Jarell Childs: 13 carries, 79 yards (6.1 per carry)

If there is a true star on KSU's roster, it is very clearly Daniel Thomas, who has posted at least 90 rushing yards in each of KSU's six wins.  In low-scoring wins over Colorado and Kansas, the Wildcats rode Thomas to 330 rushing yards on just 44 carries.  It is pretty clear that when KSU gets a lead, they place the burden on Thomas to keep it.  Of course, when they're behind, he's still carrying a large load.  The only time he's gotten fewer than 19 touches in a game this year were in the blowout loss to Texas Tech and what started out as a blowout loss to Oklahoma (before KSU cut the gap considerably).

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

So it's safe to say that Brandon Banks produced more per pound than just about everybody else in the country.  Generously listed at 150 pounds (ESPN has him at 142), Banks was huge (so to speak) in non-conference play, with 22 catches for 463 yards and six touchdowns.  He had his moments in conference play (77-yard touchdown against OU, five catches for 95 yards against Colorado, seven for 116 against Iowa State, complete torching of Mizzou's backups...screwyouronprince), though he was less consistent (which makes sense considering most corner's covering him had 50 pounds on him); regardless, he still ended up with an impressive 67 catches for 1,049 yards.  Nothing could help him more in 2009 than a couple of other decent targets, including at least one big, possession-style receiver.  Bill Snyder's probably hoping that Aubrey Quarles (34 catches, 407 yards) and converted RB LaMark Brown fit the bill.  Brown is certainly a big guy and a decent athlete, and though he didn't really work out at RB, he might (might) have a shot to be a decent WR.

WR Brandon Banks: 43 catches, 529 yards (12.3 per catch), 1 TD (?)
WR Attrail Snipes: 22 catches, 339 yards (15.4 per catch), 2 TD
WR Lamark Brown: 13 catches, 171 yards (13.2 per catch), 2 TD

TE Jeron Mastrud: 21 catches, 233 yards (11.1 per catch), 1 TD

If KSU has any offensive acumen whatsoever on their coaching staff (and there's no reason to think they don't), and they have watched any film whatsoever from Mizzou's two bad defensive performances this year (Texas and Baylor), they will be throwing a bevy of sideline passes Brandon Banks' way.  Banks has been rather inconsistent as a receiver this year.  Here are his reception totals from Big 12 games: 4, 1, 6, 3, 9, 1.  You have to figure, though, that he will be utilized as much as possible on Saturday, taking advantage of Missouri's apparent problem in tackling quick receivers like Baylor's Kendall Wright and Texas' Jordan Shipley.  If they don't go to Banks on the short routes, it's hard to be too scared of the KSU passing attack.  It has improved since Grant Gregory took over at QB, but it has still been below average overall, Banks' explosion against OU (9 catches, 156 yards) notwithstanding.  It seems that defenses are going out of their way to deny Banks the ball whenever possible, and even though that has apparently led to better rushing lanes for Daniel Thomas, no other receiver has really stepped up to accept a large burden.  Snipes, Brown, and Mastrud have all had their moments, but we'll just say that you can take your chances covering them one-on-one as long as you're accounting for Banks.

Offensive Line

By far the highest-rated unit on K-State's offense, the offensive line carved out a Top 15 finish thanks to their outstanding sack rate.  Guess we'll find out how much of that was due to Josh Freeman's elusiveness and sack avoidance skills, huh?  If there is a decent line in this mix, it gives Snyder something to work with--Nick Stringer could be very good at one tackle position, though losing Brock Unruh for the year will hurt.  Stringer will combine with a young but relatively talented supporting cast, and if Clyde Aufner and Colten Freeze can continue to thrive after serving as part-time freshman starters, then this becomes a downright good line.  Lord knows it needs to be good, what with an inexperienced QB (whoever wins the job) and little discernible talent in the backfield.

The K-State offensive line has been decent in run blocking and average in pass blocking on Standard Downs, but it appears that they are vulnerable to blitzes, as they are one of the nation's worst at avoiding Passing Downs sacks.  This opens up an opportunity for Mizzou to employ their Colorado strategy, sending a ton of guys (from a ton of different directions) on second- and third-and-long to try to get to Gregory.

We all know how Mizzou was torched against the pass last week, but one of the key matchups of the game could be who wins the run blocking battle.  If Thomas is running through pretty big holes and Mizzou has to bring guys up to account for the run, then suddenly the pass becomes a viable weapon.  But even though Nick Florence torched Missouri, on standard downs and passing downs alike, last week, KSU does not have the overall speed in the receiving corps that Baylor does, and if Mizzou is stopping the run, they will likely stop the pass too.

---

Defense

Kansas State: 2009 Beyond the Box Score Preseason Defensive Preview

K-State Defense vs Missouri Offense
Category KSU Defense MU Offense
Close S&P+ (Rk) 92.0 (84) 112.4 (41)
Close Success Rate+ 93.2 (85) 106.1 (44)
Close PPP+ 90.5 (77) 124.5 (35)
Rushing S&P+ 99.7 (67) 98.1 (80)
Passing S&P+
85.8 (95) 124.8 (21)
Standard Downs S&P+ 92.3 (92) 108.8 (48)
Passing Downs S&P+
95.9 (73) 115.2 (44)
Red Zone S&P+ 77.0 (112) 76.4 (111)
Q1 S&P+ 90.2 (84) 122.0 (40)
Q2 S&P+ 85.5 (104) 109.9 (54)
Q3 S&P+ 94.9 (76) 111.2 (55)
Q4 S&P+ 103.7 (56) 102.1 (66)
1st Down S&P+ 94.6 (77) 105.6 (53)
2nd Down S&P+ 85.9 (104) 113.6 (44)
3rd Down S&P+ 95.6 (80) 118.9 (35)
Line Yards+ 93.7 (86) 94.8 (87)
Close Sack Rate+
68.3 (102) 136.8 (33)
Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
97.6 (60) /
82.0 (87)
210.9 (14) /
108.3 (57)

 

When Missouri Has the Ball...
Missouri Rushing Advantage: KSU
Missouri Passing Advantage: Mizzou
Best Time for KSU: Second Half
Best Time for Missouri: First Half


Once again, the first month of the season was a complete disaster statistically, and KSU has turned things around a bit in conference play.  They have been great at times, holding Colorado and Kansas to a combined 16 points, while they've still struggled occasionally, giving up a combined 108 points to Texas Tech and Oklahoma...the same Texas Tech and Oklahoma held to a combined 34 points by Nebraska.  It appears that gameplan is everything with KSU--if it works, it really works; if not, it really doesn't.  That, or this is simply a speed thing.  Fast offenses can move the ball, while more plodding attacks (and at this point, KU qualifies as plodding, strangely enough) cannot.  In other words, Mizzou may yet again be relying on Danario Alexander to stretch the field like no other Mizzou player can.

KSU Defense "+" Game Scores: Non-Con vs Conference Play
Category Non-Con
Conference
Close S&P+ 77.8 101.5
Close SR+ 82.9 100.0
Close PPP+ 79.7 97.7
Rushing S&P+ 100.8 99.0
Passing S&P+ 80.4 89.4
Standard Downs S&P+ 90.4 93.6
Passing Downs S&P+ 86.8 101.9
Red Zone S&P+ 62.8 86.5
Q1 S&P+ 77.7 98.5
Q2 S&P+ 63.4 100.2
Q3 S&P+ 129.5 71.8
Q4 S&P+ 134.2 83.3


MU's advantages:

Close S&P+, SR+, PPP+
Passing S&P+
Standard Downs, Passing Downs S&P+
Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4 S&P+
2nd, 3rd Down S&P+
Sack Rate+

KSU's advantages:

Red Zone S&P+
Line Yards+

The phrase "Bill Snyder defense" strikes fear in the heart of most fans of other Big 12 North schools, but even with improvement in conference play, the Wildcats' defense is still quite vulnerable.  Mizzou holds the advantage in most categories, though KSU's two major advantages--in run blocking and the red zone--could work tremendously to their favor.

Defensive Line

Despite Brandon Harold's performance, clearly this line was only average.  Whatever success they had rushing the quarterback was negated by not standing up well to the run.  The line gets a reinforcement this year in the form of Virginia transfer Jeffrey Fitzgerald.  At 280 pounds, he's far from a giant, but his athleticism was on display his two years in Charlottesville.  His freshman year in 2006, he was third on the team in tackles (as a DT!), racking up 16.5 TFL/sacks, intercepting two passes (!), and recovering two fumbles.  In 2007, he was even better--while falling to fourth (gasp) on the team in tackles, he managed 18.5 TFL/sacks, picked off two more passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered one.  At his size, it wouldn't surprise me to see him struggling on a down-to-down basis against good offensive lines (like Missouri's), but he's a playmaker, and he lines up next to another potential playmaker in Harold.

DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald (Sr.): 24.0 tackles, 8.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 3 FF, 2 FR, 3 PBU
DT Daniel Calvin (Sr.)
: 19.5 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 2 PBU
DE Antonio Felder (Jr.)
: 18.5 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH
DT Raphael Guidry (So.)
: 14.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FR

Due to injury, Brandon Harold has had something of a lost season.  He's played in one game and registered just one tackle.  Lucky for him, Jeffrey Fitzgerald has been as good as advertised.  He is far from an every-down attacker like Ndamukong Suh or Aldon Smith, but he picks his spots, averaging about one tackle-for-loss per game and showing the ability to be a strong, disruptive force once or twice a game as well.  Basically, he's a bigger, more disruptive Brian Coulter (Coulter has 23.0 tackles in one fewer game).

Up front, Fitzgerald is more or less alone in terms of play-making.  KSU's d-line hasn't been particularly adept at either stopping the run or rushing the passer even with Fitzgerald.  And unfortunately for them, their two most productive players are seniors.  There is plenty about which opposing fans can be wary regarding the K-State defense, but the line really is not much of a concern (knock on wood).

Linebackers

If there's immediate hope to be derived from this unit, look at Alex Hrebec.  As a freshman last year, he racked up 49.0 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks, a forced fumble, and a long interception return.  Having Hrebec for another three years has to excite Snyder at least a little.  And really, I probably shouldn't sell Ulla Pomele short either.  He's a senior, and he's probably already peaked, but he did manage 47.5 tackles and 8.5 TFL/sacks last year, plus two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.  The two of them should provide the base for a decent LB corps, though you'll notice the same problem as with other units--too much of the wrong kind of experience.  Of the six LBs (and Rovers, in the case of maybe Boswell and Tigner) listed above, four are seniors.  In 2010, Snyder will be working with Hrebec, Tigner and a host of newcomers.  As I mentioned yesterday...how long does Snyder plan to stay this time around?  He'll need quite a few years to get a team full of experienced Snyder recruits.

John Houlik (Sr.): 35.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 FR, 2 PBU
Ulla Pomele (Sr.)
: 34.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FR
Troy Butler (Jr.)
: 33.5 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FR, 2 PBU
Alex Hrebec (So.)
: 25.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU
Kevin Rohleder (Jr.)
: 22.5 tackles

Four KSU linebackers have registered more tackles than their leading D-line tackler, Fitzgerald, showing that a) the main purpose of KSU's D-line is probably to free up the LBs, and b) the LB corps really is pretty solid.  They are not tremendously disruptive, having only forced two fumbles and intercepted one pass (all of which came from John Houlik), but they make tackles.  Plus, looking at the unit-by-unit breakdown here, it does appear that one of their major functions is a bit of bend-don't-break, making tackles and forcing teams to run as many plays as possible in the hopes that the secondary will eventually make a play.  It has worked somewhat--just look at how many INTs the secondary has--but this front seven is not nearly as aggressive as what we're used to from a KSU defense.  That is probably by necessity, of course; there is obviously not a ton of talent here (Ron Prince did recruit most of these players, after all), and credit goes to KSU's coaching staff for figuring out how best to utilize the talent on hand.

Secondary

At 62nd in the country, the secondary represented the strength of the K-State defense in 2008.  The biggest reason for that: Joshua Moore.  From the cornerback position, he led the team in tackles (not always a good thing for a cornerback to be doing) and racked up a pretty nicely disruptive stat line: 5.5 TFL/sacks, 3 INTs, 12 passes broken up, 15 passes defended, and a fumble recovery.  He displayed enough skill that I'm going to say that the high tackle level was a good thing--that he wasn't just adding the tackles up by giving up a lot of receptions.

Consider me a big fan of Joshua Moore.  Everybody else?  Um...well, Courtney Herndon (6.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INTs) is really not too bad.  Tysyn Hartman is young and relatively athletic.

CB Joshua Moore (Jr.): 42.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 2 INT, 1 FF, 10 PBU
SS Tysyn Hartman (So.)
: 41.5 tackles, 4 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 6 PBU
FS Emmanuel Lamur (So.)
: 41.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 2 FR, 2 PBU, 2 Blkd Kicks
CB David Garrett (Jr.)
: 21.0 tackles, 1 FF
CB Stephen Harrison (Jr.)
: 16.0 tackles, 8 PBU
CB Courtney Herndon (Sr.)
: 10.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks, 2 PBU

The secondary doesn't appear to me to be a tremendously deep unit, and it should be noted that a cornerback leading the secondary in tackles isn't the most encouraging thing in the world, but there's no question that Joshua Moore and the two sophomore safeties, Hartman and Lamur, are the best players on this defense.  They are disruptive and active, and with a crafty coaching staff, this is a bit of a concern.  If they can pick off a couple of Gabbert passes like Colorado did, that will buy their offense that much more time of possession and that many more Daniel Thomas carries.  I'd say Mizzou's secondary receivers like Jared Perry, Jarrell Jackson and Wes Kemp could be huge factors against the cornerbacks not named Moore (assuming he'll be on Danario quite a bit), but I'm still miffed with them over last week's drops, so I'm not even going to hint that they could be an asset.  They have to prove it to me again.  I'm bitchy like that.

Special Teams

If it is determined that Brandon Banks can handle a monster load of touches--60-80 catches, plus both kick and punt returns, he's definitely the best option returning kicks/punts.  If not, I would assume that Aubrey Quarles will resume his kickoff return duties.  He only averaged 21.0 yards per return over 26 kicks last year, and he's not as explosive an option as Banks, but again...Banks is so freaking little!!  How many hits can he take?  Maybe I'm making too big a deal about his size, but...150 pounds!!  And that's a kind estimate!!

Punt Returns Rank: 44th (Brandon Banks: 14 returns, 9.3 avg)
Net Punting Rank: 77th (Ryan Doerr: 35 punts, 40.7 avg)
Kickoff Returns Rank: 4th (Brandon Banks: 31 returns, 31.4 avg, 4 TD)
Opponents' Kickoff Returns Rank: 41st

Field Goals: 113th (Josh Cherry: 7-for-13, long: 47)
PATs: 100th (29-for-32)

For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT KICK THE BALL TO BRANDON BANKS.  Employ the Marcus Herford strategy from the 2007 MU-KU game.  Pop the ball up and give it to them at the 35-40 every time.  I mean, a) that would still make them drive 60-65 yards to score (it's not a given that they can consistently do that), and b) it's better than seven easy points.  Banks has just been insanely good in the return game this year.  He is a decent punt return and just about the country's best kick returner.  Last week we joked that kick returns would be Baylor's best offensive play (that ended up biting us, of course, when Baylor's offense provided plenty of great offensive plays), but this week it could actually be true.  Do. Not. Kick. To. Brandon. Banks.  Especially with the way Mizzou's kick coverage team played last week.

Beyond Banks, the special teams unit is...okay.  Josh Cherry has rebounded from a disastrous start of the season.  He missed five of his first six field goals on the season but has come around to make six of his last seven.  He hasn't necessarily made a game-changing difference in any one game, but his two chip-shot field goals kept Colorado at arm's length, and the fact that he's made two 45+ yarders (against Texas A&M and Kansas) show that he is an infinitely more confident kicker than he was a couple of months ago.

Meanwhile, it is a shame that Missouri will likely be incapable of taking advantage of another KSU weakness, punt coverage.  KSU is average in the punting game, but word is that Brandon Gerau will be returning punts instead of Carl Gettis, who has been dinged up for most of Big 12 play.  Gerau is obviously reliable in cleanly fielding the kick, and obviously that's the most important thing, but he has yet to prove he is any sort of return weapon.

Special teams cost KSU the UCLA game and won them the Iowa State game.  Their single most dangerous weapon is the kickoff return.  If Mizzou can at least force a draw in the special teams battle, they put themselves in much better position to win.

---

Three Keys to the Game

MU Defensive Line vs KSU Offensive Line

In conference play, Missouri has given up just 77 rushing yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry.  Looking at only running back stats (since typical college football stats stupidly include sacks), opposing running backs are averaging just 3.46 yards per carry in conference play, and if you take out Roy Helu's 41-yarder as time ran down at the end of the Nebraska game, it's 3.11 yards per carry.  Baylor and Colorado running backs combined for 48 yards on 30 carries.  Of all the problems Missouri has had in conference play, run defense has absolutely not been one of them.

But now Missouri's vastly improving front four will face an offense more dedicated to running the ball than anybody on the schedule since Nebraska.  KSU will continue to use Daniel Thomas to pound away at opponents until they absolutely have to pass.  If Missouri holds Thomas to what they've been holding other opponents, Kansas State will really struggle to move the ball.  As I said, Brandon Banks has been inconsistent in the passing game, and they don't have another go-to passing weapon.  If the Wildcats can't run the ball, they will face a lot of passing downs; and if they face a lot of passing downs, guys like Aldon Smith are going to have another huge day, and Mizzou will likely win.

Standard Downs

Against the run or pass, KSU's defense has been below average in terms of defense on standard downs (i.e. first downs, 2nd-and-6 or less, 3rd-and-4 or less).  As you would expect from a Bill Snyder team, they take advantage of mistakes, but if Missouri can generate consistent yardage on standard downs, run or pass, then they should be able to move the ball rather well.  This goes for any game, but especially one that includes a Missouri offense that is talented and fast, but young and lacking confidence.

Meanwhile, for the MU defense, they must succeed just the same.  If KSU tries to implement the same type of short passing that worked for Baylor and Texas, that's fine, as long as Mizzou is playing sound and tackling well.  As Sean Weatherspoon said a couple of days ago, the young players on defense apparently needed to learn that you have to prepare well to play well, and hopefully they got that message last week.  If they do, and Mizzou's defense simply plays more fundamentally sound, then they've got the defensive weapons necessary to slow or completely stop KSU's offensive attack on standard downs (and, therefore, on passing downs as well).

Brandon Banks

Quite simply, if KSU makes a big offensive play or scores an easy touchdown, the odds are good that Banks was behind it.  Granted, he has only one receiving touchdown on the year (how does that happen??), but he is quick and fast, a lot like Baylor's Kendall Wright, only faster and smaller.  If KSU is able to get him in the open field, then this offense becomes infinitely more dangerous.  And, um, I think I've already covered how scared of him I am in the kicking game.  Seriously, just kick it out of bounds.  I'd much prefer them getting the ball at the 40 than Banks getting a chance to go 100 yards.

Prediction

As always, I let my numbers make the predictions.  The numbers say Mizzou by 7, so we'll go Mizzou 28, Kansas State 21.  That said, I have been scared of this game since the offseason, even before I saw the kind of slump Mizzou would be in hitting town.  I don't have to tell you that Bill Snyder has never lost to Gary Pinkel, and before the season I hinted that Missouri would probably lose the following games: Texas, Oklahoma State, maybe Nebraska or Kansas, and an upset.  Most of that has come true, but I figured the most likely upset was at KSU, obviously not at home to Baylor.

Young, talented teams go from good to bad (and vice versa) at random times, which makes it damn near impossible to predict what will happen on Saturday.  All I know is that, strangely enough, Mizzou has played very well away from home this year.  They whipped Illinois in St. Louis.  They put away Nevada when they had the chance.  They were two drops away from taking OSU to the wire in Stillwater (which was impressive considering the kind of bad shape Blaine Gabbert was in at that point), and they performed a devastating first-half throat stomp on Colorado two weeks ago.  Whatever mental blocks this team suffers, it is apparently as or more likely to happen at home than on the road.  And maybe that also has something to do with what Weatherspoon told Dave Matter--on the road, the young players buy into the focus and preparation, but they're more easily distracted at home.

Or not.  Who knows.

Mizzou still has every opportunity to bounce back, get to 8-4, and have a shot at a nine-win season in the bowl.  But they must bounce back immediately.  Outside of Banks, KSU is not a particularly fast, athletic team; but they are tremendously well-coached and know how to take advantage of opportunities.  If Mizzou plays like they did against Colorado, even with the second half offensive problems, they will probably win (though it will be closer than the 19-point margin against Colorado).  But if they make the same "young team" type of mistakes they've randomly made this year--missing tackles, dropping passes, etc.--then they will absolutely lose this game.  That's really all I can say at this point.  Play well, win.  Play poorly, lose.  Play just okay, probably lose because KSU is so well-coached.

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Join Rock M Nation

You must be a member of Rock M Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Rock M Nation. You should read them.

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