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Scouting The Kansas State Wildcats

How much do we know about Kansas State? For most of us, the answer is very little. Playing in the Big 12, most Auburn fans catch KSU on television maybe once a year.

Today we are fortunate to have Tye from Bring On The give us a scouting report on the Wildcats from Manhattan, Kansas. There are few people that know more about the K-State program than Tye.

He breaks down every position for us and tells us what to look for Saturday night. It's a great report.

I've done the same thing for him over at his site. I've given my scouting report on Auburn. I'd love to hear if you agree with it. I think it's pretty fair.

Let's see what Tye has to say about Kansas State...

Josh Freeman returns for his sophomore season, looking to improve his 4-4 record as a starter, not to mention his TD:INT ratio of 6:15.  He has the arm to put some zip on the ball, as well as a nice touch, and showed a little running ability a year ago.  There were some conditioning issues at the beginning of camp (he failed to pass the conditioning test for three days), but that’s probably behind him now.  By most indications, he focused too much on the weight room and neglected his cardio workouts.  Fall conditioning has probably taken care of those problems.

The Cats have zero proven depth at the quarterback position.  Backup Chase Coffman (a former grayshirt) played well in the spring game, but has not played a down during the regular season.  K-State will have to rely on Freeman’s physical stature (he’s officially 6’6", 250 pounds) to keep him from getting dinged up.

Running Backs

James Johnson and Leon Patton are the features of this group.  Neither are big backs, although Johnson runs tough at 5’11" and 200 pounds.  Patton isn’t afraid to take a hit either, but is more reminiscent of former Wildcat Darren Sproles with his ability to make people miss.  Johnson is atop the depth chart right now, and was the primary starter at the end of last season, but the Auburn defense will see both backs during the game.

Wide Receivers
Senior Jordy Nelson is the player to watch in this group.  He is a former walk-on who ran the 100 meters in 10.63 in high school.  He also has pretty good size (6’3", 217 pounds) and often lines up in the slot, where he creates speed mismatches with linebackers.  Last year he struggled with a hamstring injury most of the year and only caught one touchdown pass, but in 2005 he caught eight TD passes and was honorable mention all-conference.  He should be back to 100 percent for Auburn, meaning he will be K-State’s go-to receiver.

Other than Nelson, the Cats return little in the way of receiving production, and lost playmaker Yamon Figurs.  Daniel Gonzalez and Cedric Wilson made minor contributions a year ago and may be asked to fill a bigger role this year.  If they fail to do so, the coaches probably won’t hesitate to throw new recruits Lamark Brown, Deon Murphy and Ernie Pierce into the fray.  All these players are unproven, but bring exciting athletic ability to the field.

Tight Ends

By now, everyone should know that K-State tight end Rashaad Norwood has been suspended indefinitely from the team for a domestic incident last week.  The Cats run a lot of double-tight sets, meaning having good TEs is vital, not to mention Norwood was the team’s second-leading receiver last year.  However, K-State returns sophomore Jeron Mastrud (17 catches, 235 yards, including a 66-yard reception), junior Brett Alstatt, and senior Michael Pooschke.  Someone from this group, probably Mastrud, needs to step up and be a threat as a receiver, but run blocking will be equally important.

Offensive Line
This is the most serious area of concern for the Wildcats.  Last year, the line led the way to only 115 rushing yards per game and gave up 28 sacks.  For purposes of immediate help, head coach Ron Prince brought in JuCo transfers Alesana Alesana and Ben Liu.  It appears Alesana will start at left tackle, while Liu is currently projected to back up Nick Stringer at right tackle.  As a unit, the two-deep averages 6’4" and 298 pounds.  This group needs to pick up where it was during the middle of the season last year, including games against Iowa State, Colorado and Texas.  

With this being year two under the system of Ron Prince and offensive coordinator James Franklin, we should see some improvement from this group, although the season opener will probably be a little rough.  Prince was also an offensive line coach before he moved up to offensive coordinator at Virginia, so the hope in Manhattan is that his knowledge and a year of work will help coach-up some of these guys.

Defensive Line
Defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar has switched the Wildcat defense to a 3-4 look this year.  The biggest change will be Ian Campbell, who had 11.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss at defensive end last year, moving to linebacker most of the time.  This move will leave Rob Jackson (4.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL) as the primary playmaker on the d-line.

The biggest loss on the line was Junior Moran, who left two weeks ago for personal reasons.  Steven Cline played and started multiple games last year, but Moran’s departure leaves us with untested players behind Cline, including a true freshman at No. 2 on the depth chart.  The fact that the freshman, Gabriel Crews, weighs 310 pounds provides a little comfort.

Right now senior Moses Manu is the projected starter at the other end, but his stats last year (one sack, 3.5 tfl) were nothing to crow about.  To sum it up, we have one playmaker at end and two positions with question marks on this line.

Speculation abounds at the linebacker position.  The Cats lost their two best linebackers, Zach Diles and Brandon Archer, to the NFL.  Ian Campbell will move to LB, and is a known quantity rushing the passer, but nobody (except me, apparently) seems to be wondering if he’ll be able to defend the pass adequately.  The other starters at linebacker figure to be Eric Childs, Justin Roland and Reggie Walker.  It would hard to call any of them experienced.  Walker is probably the best returnee, although both Roland and Childs had some decent stats last year, as far as backups go.

The player to watch for most K-State fans is JuCo transfer Chris Patterson.  He is listed as Ian Campbell’s backup right now, meaning he probably won’t see a lot of the field.  But when he does, we will see if he lives up to the recruiting hype he garnered.  He was a five-star high school player and the No. six JuCo linebacker last year.  If he impresses early, the coaches may have to find a spot on the field for him.

This is probably the strength of the team.  At one cornerback is freshman all-conference player Joshua Moore.  Moore will line up against each opponent’s top receiver this year.  Ray Cheatham is currently listed as the other starter at CB, although he’s a fairly unknown quantity.  The backup cornerbacks include Byron Garvin, Bryan Baldwin and Justin McKinney, who last year combined for 21 starts.  You’ll likely see a lot of those three players giving the starters a break.

At safety, the name to know is Marcus Watts.  The kid is fast, likes to hit, and has a nose for the ball (three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one huge blocked punt against Oklahoma State).  The other starter at safety is the rather ordinary Andrew Erker, who was at times solid, at times mediocre last year.  His backup is much-hyped JuCo transfer Gary Chandler.  If Chandler can live up to his hype at all, I would guess he’ll supplant Erker soon.

Special Teams
Given the at-times atrocious offensive numbers and the merely fair defensive numbers the Cats put up last year, some wondered (often aloud): "How in the hell did K-State win seven games?"

One answer is special teams.  The Wildcats averaged 27.1 yards on kickoff returns and took three to the house.  They also took three punts to the house and averaged 13 yards per return.  The man who grabbed the most headlines for returns was Yamon Figurs, but sophomore running back Leon Patton was a threat as well, returning a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma State.

Patton will probably reappear in his role as returnee.  The depth chart indicates cornerback Justin McKinney will probably be returning kicks.  During fall practice, the man most talked about was JuCo transfer Deon Murphy, who is said to be a blazing playmaker in the mold of Figurs.

At kicker, the situation is a mess after the graduation of Jeff Snodgrass, who won the game against Texas last year with a 50+ yard field goal in the fourth quarter.  Tim Reyer is a solid and experienced, if not spectacular, senior punter.  At least when he remembers to take the field; he was the one who was on the sideline when we snapped the ball to no one against Oklahoma two years ago.

Outlook for Auburn  
I see this game shaping up as a low-scoring slugfest due to the skill of each teams’ defenses and the question marks along each teams’ offensive lines.  Auburn has to have the edge due to talent and homefield advantage; K-State was abysmal on the road last year.

While I like to think Prince is a pretty good coach, I have a lot of respect for the abilities of Tommy Tuberville and his staff, so you can probably throw a coaching advantage in there, too.  If Freeman and the offense cannot sustain drives, Auburn will wear down the K-State defense and pull away for a win.  If the K-State offense can do just enough to give the defense a rest and not lose the game with turnovers, the game will come down to special teams.

One thing I’ve noticed about Auburn and other SEC teams that concerns me, however, is that your teams rarely beat themselves.  I watched your entire game against LSU last year, and that was a classic example of two teams who waited for the other to flinch.  LSU finally did and that was all she wrote for the Bayou Bengals.  I’m afraid Auburn is a much more disciplined team than K-State and may simply wait for the Wildcats to beat themselves.
Auburn 21, K-State 10