Wildcats' D next up to try to stop No. 25 Texas Tech's air raid
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
Kansas State has built its defensive reputation over the years with an all-out commitment to stop the run.
Texas Tech, seemingly, couldn't care less about advancing the ball on the ground.
And yet when K-State travels to Lubbock, Texas, to face No. 25-ranked Tech at 11 a.m. today at Jones AT&T Stadium, don't look for the Wildcats to abandon their philosophy to tackle one of the nation's most prolific passing attacks.
"If we focus on the pass so much and not on the run, there could be a big play in the run that we weren't expecting," said K-State junior linebacker Jonathan Truman. "So we just have to be sound all around in the pass and in the run."
Tech, which, at 7-2 overall and tied for fourth in the Big 12 at 4-2, is trying to keep pace with league leaders Baylor and Texas, has hitched its offensive wagon almost exclusively to the passing game. The Red Raiders trail only Baylor in the conference and nationally while averaging 414.2 yards per game through the air.
The running game ranks 103rd in the nation at 124.2 yards, but the total offense is seventh with a 538.4-yard average.
First-year Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury played quarterback in Lubbock for Mike Leach, a leader of the Big 12 movement toward spread offenses over the past decade-plus. He also was on the Houston staff with West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, who has ties of his own to Oklahoma State.
So K-State (4-4, 2-3) won't be going in completely blind against the Red Raiders.
"You see a lot of similarities in the offenses," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "He and Dana were together, so they all have some input in the structure of that kind of offensive package.
"There are a great deal of similarities with all of them. They spread you out and try to find open areas, and they've got a multitude, almost a plethora of offense, things that they can do."
Most of that offense has been generated through the passing game, with true freshmen quarterbacks Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield combining for more than 3,700 yards with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Mayfield started the first five games and Webb the last four.
Their favorite target and one of the most feared receivers in the Big 12 is 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end Jace Amaro, who leads the league with 79 catches for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns.
"He's a great athlete," K-State safety Dante Barnett said. "He's one of the best tight ends in the Big 12 or really in the nation, so getting to guard him and play against him, we really enjoy it."
Enjoy might be a strong word.
"He's a very skilled tight end," said Truman, who, like Barnett, could find himself matched up with Amaro. "You could consider him a tight end and you could consider him a receiver if you wanted to.
"He just has a larger body than a receiver, but just as fast and just as skilled in my mind."
While Amaro is the most feared receiver, senior Eric Ward has 54 catches for 627 yards and Jakeem Grant 44 for 562. Even running backs Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington have combined for 49 receptions.
But the two backs have been less of a threat as ball carriers. In fact, the Red Raiders' longest run from scrimmage is 38 yards while only three players have a carry of 20-plus yards.
On the other hand, seven different receivers have made plays of over 40 yards.
"For a team that's coming off throwing the ball 70 times in a ballgame, taking 100-and-some-odd snaps every once in a while, you know they're going to cast the ball downfield," Snyder said. "It's not always just the deep throws.
"It can be those 5-yard throws that result in 80-yard plays, so they have the ability to do all that."
Texas Tech is coming off back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State after a 7-0 start. K-State, which started 2-4 overall and dropped its first three league games, now has won two straight at home against West Virginia and Iowa State.
The Wildcats have improved dramatically on defense in recent weeks and now rank 30th nationally overall. They also have shown diversity with their two-quarterback offense as Daniel Sams ranks fourth in the league in rushing with 637 yards and Jake Waters fourth in passing with 1,391.
Sams said the key for the Wildcat offense is to capitalize on every opportunity.
"We can't walk away with field goals," he said. "Tech has an explosive offense.
"We want to try and keep them off of the field, as well. It is really just finishing drives inside the 20."