With the way 2007 ended, it's hard to remember that Kansas State was a pretty damn respected/respectable team around mid-October. They had taken Auburn to the limit until a late pair of quick TDs sealed the loss. They whooped Texas (in what had to be the biggest 'facade' win of the year, but still...they won). They took Kansas to the limit. They whooped Colorado, who had earlier beaten OU. They were 4-2 and in pretty good shape to make progress in Ron Prince's second year. And then the wheels came off. The offense sputtered just enough for the crumbling defense to let them down in losses to Oklahoma State (41-39), Iowa State! (31-20), Nebraska (73-31!!), Missouri (49-32) and Fresno State (45-29), and they missed out on a bowl altogether. K-State's 2008 recruiting class was littered with JUCO transfers, suggesting that Ron Prince was well aware of talent deficiencies all over the field--in the backfield, at WR, all over the defense. Let's go 'beyond the box score' to see a) what KSU's problems truly were, and b) if they're fixable in 2008.
And as always, if your eyes glaze over at the sight of all the numbers and weird stats, just skip to the bold-faced bullets.
Initial Stat Assault
Game-by-Game results by EqPts:
Game 1: Auburn 7.8, K-State 6.6 (real score: 23-13)
Game 2: K-State 25.9, San Jose State 20.4 (34-14)
Game 3: K-State 42.2, SMS 6.1 (61-10)
Game 4: Texas 22.1, K-State 15.5 (21-41)
Game 5: Kansas 28.5, K-State 17.2 (30-24)
Game 6: K-State 25.9, Colorado 14.1 (47-20)
Game 7: K-State 36.4, Oklahoma State 32.1 (39-41)
Game 8: K-State 22.1, Baylor 11.3 (51-13)
Game 9: K-State 21.5, Iowa State 17.5 (20-31)
Game 10: Nebraska 62.6, K-State 29.8 (73-31)
Game 11: Missouri 39.5, K-State 19.4 (49-32)
Game 12: Fresno State 41.9, K-State 25.2 (45-29)
So they lost two games (ISU, OSU) they should have won and easily won a game (UT) they should have lost. Their EqPts record of 6-6 might have slipped them into the Ft. Worth Bowl or something, but alas...Manhattan residents missed out on the chance to spend New Years in Dallas' homier step-brother.
It should be noted that there's a pretty big disparity between KSU's EqPts totals and real point totals. This can be explained by a couple things: 1) they had one of the top special teams units in the country (particularly in the return game); 2) they were the second-most penalized team in the country (from a points perspective); and 3) they had higher-leverage turnovers (for and against) than a lot of teams (meaning, their turnovers were worth more points on average).
Alright, let's slaughter you with stats. And to see how these numbers compared to the national average, click here.
Offense (Success Rate / PPP / S&P)
Rushing: 44.0% / 0.40 / 0.841
Passing: 46.2% / 0.29 / 0.755
TOTAL: 45.4% / 0.33 / 0.788
Rushing (close games): 43.1% / 0.37 / 0.797
Passing (close games): 45.4% / 0.23 / 0.684
TOTAL (close games): 44.6% / 0.28 / 0.726
Passing Downs: 32.3% / 0.12 / 0.444
Non-Passing Downs: 51.3% / 0.43 / 0.945
Redzone: 45.9% / 0.39 / 0.850
Q1: 49.1% / 0.39 / 0.886
Q2: 38.0% / 0.21 / 0.593
Q3: 50.3% / 0.34 / 0.840
Q4: 43.8% / 0.38 / 0.823
1st Down: 48.5% / 0.41 / 0.895
2nd Down: 43.6% / 0.36 / 0.794
3rd Down: 41.3% / 0.09 / 0.504
Line Yards: 2.91 LY/carry
Line Yards (close games): 2.65 LY/carry
- KSU racked up quite a few yards/points when the game was out of reach, as exemplified by their 0.797 S&P in close games and 0.841 S&P overall.
- They were relatively efficient in the passing game, moving the chains reasonably well. But even with Jordy Nelson roaming as a breakaway threat, their Points Per Play were poor. Without him...well...that's a concern.
- The Q1-to-Q2 margins are staggering. My general theory is that coaching (i.e. gameplanning/adjustments) is responsible for Q1/Q3 success, while Q2/Q4 goes to the best athletes/talent. So...KSU gameplanned well, but when the scripted plays ran out, they had nothing? I guess?
- Those are some horrific 3rd-down and Passing Down numbers.
Rushing: 38.4% / 0.29 / 0.679
Passing: 42.5% / 0.40 / 0.824
TOTAL: 40.5% / 0.35 / 0.752
Rushing (close games): 37.5% / 0.28 / 0.652
Passing (close games): 41.8% / 0.41 / 0.828
TOTAL (close games): 39.6% / 0.34 / 0.737
Passing Downs: 30.1% / 0.28 / 0.578
Non-Passing Downs: 45.2% / 0.38 / 0.832
Redzone: 44.9% / 0.42 / 0.864
Q1: 36.4% / 0.24 / 0.602
Q2: 44.5% / 0.44 / 0.885
Q3: 41.8% / 0.30 / 0.718
Q4: 37.9% / 0.39 / 0.773
1st Down: 42.0% / 0.33 / 0.754
2nd Down: 40.1% / 0.37 / 0.766
3rd Down: 35.6% / 0.19 / 0.543
Line Yards: 2.82 LY/carry
Line Yards (close games): 2.94 LY/carry
- Solid rushing defense, poor passing defense. This is probably not news to KSU fans.
- Once again, a huge Q1-to-Q2 split!
- At least they were also (somewhat) decent at stopping 3rd downs!
K-State was #18 in scoring offense and #40 in total offense, while they were #86 in scoring defense and #69 in total defense. How does that translate toward '+' number success?
EqPts+: 98.20 (#68 in the country)
Rushing EqPts+: 107.12 (#58)
Passing EqPts+: 89.78 (#71)
S&P+: 108.53 (#46)
Rushing S&P+: 128.04 (#18)
Passing S&P+: 95.78 (#68)
S&P+ (close games): 110.86 (#47)
Rushing S&P+ (close games): 113.46 (#31)
Passing S&P+ (close games): 96.36 (#73)
S&P+ (Passing Downs): 82.02 (#88)
S&P+ (Non-Passing Downs): 106.94 (#39)
S&P+ (Redzone): 97.95 (#65)
S&P+ (Q1): 125.46 (#18)
S&P+ (Q2): 82.31 (#98)
S&P+ (Q3): 114.67 (#35)
S&P+ (Q4): 104.51 (#50)
S&P+ (1st Downs): 113.98 (#22)
S&P+ (2nd Downs): 104.73 (#52)
S&P+ (3rd Downs): 79.90 (#84)
Line Yards+: 96.12 (#78)
Line Yards+ (close games): 90.51 (#102)
- One of the best in the country in Q1, one of the worst in Q2, above average in Q3/Q4. I don't get it.
- We'll see something else as an ongoing theme here--they were solid on 1st downs, and as long as that was the case, they had a good offense. But they were #88 in the country on passing downs, and that...that ain't very good.
EqPts+: 101.91 (#59)
S&P+: 111.79 (#43)
Rushing EqPts+: 101.79 (#65)
Rushing S&P+:128.04 (#18)
Passing EqPts+: 103.30 (#54)
Passing S&P+: 94.21 (#70)
S&P+ (close games): 105.96 (#56)
Rushing S&P+ (close games): 117.96 (#32)
Passing S&P+ (close games): 88.48 (#86)
S&P+ (Passing Downs): 89.64 (#79)
S&P+ (Non-Passing Downs): 108.09 (#35)
S&P+ (Redzone): 114.86 (#35)
S&P+ (Q1): 115.34 (#35)
S&P+ (Q2): 84.32 (#94)
S&P+ (Q3): 94.64 (#70)
S&P+ (Q4): 100.19 (#62)
S&P+ (1st Downs): 102.74 (#53)
S&P+ (2nd Downs): 91.61 (#79)
S&P+ (3rd Downs): 99.45 (#64)
Line Yards+: 99.19 (#54)
Line Yards+ (close games): 103.96 (#45)
Aside from the Q1-to-Q2 thing again, there's not a lot remarkable here...about the numbers or the defense. They were solid against the run and bad against hte pass. But we knew that already.
Once again we take a look at the statistical categories most tied to wins and losses for K-State and see what storylines develop.
- Offensive Rushing Successes, Non-Passing Downs (0.934)
- Offensive Line Yards (0.862)
- Defensive Passing Successes, Passing Downs (0.852)
- Offensive Line Yards, Non-Passing Downs (0.848)
- Defensive Passing S&P, 2nd Downs (0.821)
- Defensive Passing PPP, 2nd Downs (0.805)
- Defensive Passing Success Rate, Q4 (0.795)
- Defensive Success Rate, Passing Downs (0.790)
- Offensive Rushing EqPts, Non-Passing Downs (0.783)
- Defensive Passing Success Rates, close games (0.768)
- Defensive Successes, Passing Downs (0.766)
- Defensive Passing Success Rates, 2nd Downs (0.754)
- Defensive Success Rates, close games (0.743)
- Offensive Total EqPts, Non-Passing Downs (0.723)
- Defensive Passing Success Rates, Passing Downs (0.721)
- Defensive S&P, 2nd Downs (0.718)
- Defensive Passing S&P+ (0.717)
- Defensive Passing S&P, Q4 (0.715)
- Offensive Total Rushing EqPts (0.715)
- Offensive Rushing EqPts+ (0.713)
Boiled down to bullet points...
- They had some defensive breakdowns on passing downs, and it cost them dearly. When you think about it, that suggests that their pass defense wasn't necessarily consistently bad--it was the breakdowns that caused trouble (I'm picturing the 3rd-and-long TD pass to a wide-open Jeremy Maclin in Q3 of Mizzou-KSU, for example). That should be somewhat encouraging to KSU fans, as with an infusion of JUCO talent and another year of experience for a lot players, that can be remedied (relatively speaking).
- Meanwhile, it was vital that their offense stayed out of passing downs, as they were quite poor at converting them. But if they were able to move the ball on the ground in Non-Passing Downs, the game got much, much easier.
- Their 2nd-Down defense was key. This is the same as with Baylor. I have not at ALL figured out the significance of second downs yet, but there's something there apparently. All I can think of is this: KSU's 3rd-down defense wasn't bad, but their passing down defense was quite bad. That suggests that they had some breakdowns on 2nd-and-long that caused a lot of problems (though, with the Maclin TD example above, 3rd-and-longs weren't foolproof).
- Their pass defense appeared to be particularly varied in Q4.
So that points me to the following questions...
Burning Questions for 2008
Will the pass defense improve in 2008?
Well, that depends. Were their passing down failures due to the lack of sacks or the lack of coverage? Being that they were #30 in the country in sacks and #89 in pass efficiency defense, I think that gives us our answer. I only asked because I think their pass rush will almost certainly improve--Ian Campbell has moved back to full-time DE, and a good number of their JUCO transfers are on the D-Line. You have to figure at least one of the four JUCO DL's (2 DEs, 2 DLs) will work out well, and the KSU line will be in good shape. Be on the lookout for DT Daniel Calvin in particular.
The secondary? It's possible that it will see improvement as well--hell, they have three new JUCOs of their own, and JUCO DBs seem to adjust almost as well as JUCO DLs do. Supposedly KSU's pretty optimistic about Blair Irvin in particular, and if two of the three work out, then they could be in good shape. But they're starting from a lower point. Not only was the secondary dragging them down in 2007, but three of their four end-of-year starters were seniors. Returnees like Courtney Herndon and Chris Carney just haven't proven much at all. They'll need at least two of the three JUCOs to be ready for action to show too much improvement here.
So it seems a safe bet that the strength of the KSU defense--the line--will be a decent amount stronger in 2008...and the weakness--the DBs--will be weaker. What could make the difference overall, however, is a stronger LB corps. Two of four starters from a decent unit return, and they'll be reinforced by, you guessed it, JUCOs like Ulla Pomele and Hansen Sekona.
In all, I see the KSU defense making more positive plays up front...and no fewer negative plays in the secondary. However, if passing down success is somewhat arbitrary like I've suggested before, that will work out in KSU's favor, as...well...their passing down defense sucked. That's a weird thing to twist into a positive, but...well, that's what I just did.
Can the offense stay out of passing downs without James Johnson?
So I'm optimistic about the KSU defense. What about the offense? Not so much.
Really, though, I shouldn't say it in that stark a manner. I'll say it like this: if Leon Patton returns back to his freshman form--and I think Mizzou fans got a really good idea what he's capable of at Faurot Field in 2006--then the KSU offense will click along pretty well. However, Patton's had a rough offseason, and that, combined with his unspectacular sophomore output, makes you wonder if he can regain that form. And if he doesn't, the offense could struggle. I mean, it was a great story to see a walk-on do so well in the spring, but I think it's safe to say that if Keithen Valentine ends up the starter, the 'Cats have problems. It's also possible that one of the three freshman RBs can contribute immediately as well, but there would almost certainly be growing pains. In other words, Patton holds the key to the offense's success...
Can the KSU offense actually convert any better on passing downs?
...because without running success, passing success could be hard to come by. I mean...they were bad on passing downs last year, and that was with a future Packer in Jordy Nelson catching passes. I wasn't overly impressed by leading returning receiver Deon Murphy, and while I think he's a good slot/complementary receiver, if he's the go-to guy for Josh Freeman, Freeman's numbers aren't going to be too hot. Nelson not only caught 122 of KSU's 322 completions (38%), but he was also the only KSU receiver to average more than 12 yards per catch. Plus, Murphy's the only returning receiver who had more than 60 yards receiving last year--TE Jeron Mastrud, RB James Johnson, WR Daniel Gonzalez, and FB Mike Pooschke were Freeman's other main targets, and they're all gone.
So it's going to be Murphy, sophomore Lamark Brown (returning from injury after a wasted freshman year), and...yup, JUCOs. Four, to be exact. Of Aubrey Quarles (4-stars), Adrian Hilburn (3), Attrail Snipes (3), and Brandon Banks (3), at least two will need to become legitimate targets for KSU to have a threatening passing game. One will suffice if Patton is on his game and KSU is avoiding passing downs...but signs point to maybe-at-best on that one.
Of course, the other piece of the rushing AND passing games is the blocking up front. KSU had what I think was an extremely underwhelming O-line last year. Their sacks allowed total was pretty strong, but I think that had as much to do with Josh Freeman being a giant as anything else. He got hit a lot but was able to stay on his feet long enough to either throw the ball away or attempt to find a receiver. That, combined with their very poor showing in the Line Yards+ categories above, makes me think that the fact they return four starters isn't a great thing. Probably their best overall lineman, Alesana Alesana (a name so nice they named him twice!), seemed to average even more penalties per game than Phil Loadholt. The others? Meh. Naturally, two JUCOs are being added to the mix, but...again, meh.
In other words, I don't think too highly of KSU's 2008 offensive output.
And hey, how is the special teams unit looking?
Deon Murphy and Jordy Nelson's tremendous punt return average led KSU to finishing #15 in my special teams rankings. The James Johnson/Leon Patton tandem returning kickoffs was pretty decent, plus Brooks Rossman was a strong FG kicker and Tim Reyer was a tremendous punter. Of that group, Rossman returns, as do Murphy and Patton. I don't think much of Murphy as a receiver, but he's a solid return man, and it wouldn't totally surprise me to see them giving him a shot at KR's as well. Assuming Patton's the #1 RB, it wouldn't surprise me to see them stick somebody else on KR duty.
The main question mark for this unit is at punter, but KSU should still manage to swing a Top 40 finish in the special teams category.
So how far can KSU get in 2008 with a stout front seven on defense, a decent QB, solid special teams...a shaky secondary, and question marks everywhere else on offense? Again, I think the onus falls on the running game. If Patton (or whoever) can move the ball reliably, the schedule is rather manageable. Three wins in non-conference is a given, with North Texas, Montana State and UL-Lafayette doing their best mid-'90s Chronic Fatigue University impression...
...god I love that picture.
Anyway, an undefeated non-con slate certainly isn't out of the question, as that trip to Louisville doesn't seem as daunting as it might have a year ago.
KSU starts the conference slate with a 4-of-6-on-the-road stretch--if they can win one road game out of trips to College Station, Boulder, Lawrence, and Columbia, they should consider it tremendous progress. Meanwhile, their two home games in that stretch are against Texas Tech and Oklahoma. OUCH.
So really, I'd say the best-case scenario for KSU is to be 2-4 at that point (best best case is 3-3, as for some reason I think the KU-KSU game will be a dogfight, even in Lawrence). If they're, say, 1-5 at that point and 4-6 overall (or, even worse, 0-6 and 3-7), I'd say it won't matter that they finish with home games against ISU and NU. The players might be in full mail-it-in stage as they were last November, and the Prince administration could be on its last legs.
A total collapse is certainly a reasonable scenario with that schedule, but another decent start to the season, and 4-4/8-4 is reasonable too. I'll hedge my bets and predict a 7-5 record here, with an undefeated non-conference slate and conference wins over NU, ISU, and...uhh...someone else. CU, maybe. Or Tech. Somebody.