(TNS) — This game will be a litmus test for both teams. Kansas State has beaten up on Central Arkansas and Charlotte. Vanderbilt has dominated against Middle Tennessee State and Alabama A&M. The Wildcats and Commodores have both looked good, but what does that mean against soft competition? We will find out how good these teams really are on Saturday.
K-State keys to success: Pressure quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who is completing 76.1 percent of his passes. Keep running back Ralph Webb in check without stacking defenders near the line of scrimmage. Convert third downs against a defense that has forced 17 punts this season.
Vanderbilt keys to success: Start fast and take an early lead the same way it did in the first two games. Get Webb going for more than the 51.5 yards he has averaged so far. Pressure quarterback Jesse Ertz into some mistakes.
Vanderbilt player to watch: Senior running back Ralph Webb has gotten off to a quiet start on the ground, rushing for just 103 yards and two touchdowns this season, but he has made up for it through the air, catching three passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Webb is Vanderbilt’s top playmaker, and his career statistics prove it. A three-year starter, he leads Vanderbilt in all-time rushing yardage (3,445). Opposing defenses have put extra attention on him this season, allowing Shurmur to complete 35 of 46 passes for 498 yards and seven touchdowns.
Key matchup: K-State’s offensive line vs. Vanderbilt’s pass rush. The Wildcats have done an excellent job protecting the quarterback this season, yielding two sacks on 62 passing plays, but things might not be so easy against the Commodores. Behind Charles Wright, they have piled up eight sacks on 60 passing plays in their first two games. Ertz has looked great so far, but he will need good protection to throw for big yardage in Nashville.
Kellis Robinett’s prediction: Kansas State 31, Vanderbilt 24. The Commodores are good enough to play with the Wildcats, especially at home, but K-State is the better and more experienced team. That should lead to K-State’s first road nonconference victory over a power-conference team since a 28-24 win at Miami in 2011.