September 4, 2008

Game Up Close: Montana St. at K-State

Two years ago, Kansas State learned that FCS teams, such as the Montana State squad it well host Saturday, can be scary. The Wildcats narrowly avoided embarrassment by escaping a season-opening home game against Illinois State with a one-point win in their 2006 opener, reminding everybody on the team and the coaching staff of the slanted stakes. A blowout victory over the Bobcats this weekend won't do very much to validate this year's K-State team as a Big 12 power, but a loss, on the other hand, could do some serious damage to its image.

The Game Up Close: Kansas State (1-0, 0-0) vs. Montana State (1-0, 0-0)

Saturday, Sept. 6, 6:05 p.m. kickoff
Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan
Fox College Sports

Montana State rush offense vs. Kansas State rush defense
The numbers:
KSU rush defense: allowing 105 yards per game, No. 51 nationally
MSU rush offense: averaging 278 yards per game, (FCS/I-AA)

The breakdown: Montana State moved the ball efficiently in its 59-3 opening-game thrashing of fellow FCS team Adams State, doing most of its damage on the ground. The Bobcats' offense was slightly skewed toward the pass a year ago, attempting 40 or more passes in five games. The heavy attention to the ground game may have been a wrinkle in last week's game plan, but either way, Montana State tailbacks Demetrius Crawford and C.J. Palmer combined to account for 187 yards last week. The Bobcats return four starters along their offensive line this season, so coach Rob Ash's running game should be more productive than it was a year ago, when it averaged 115.8 yards per game. Still, nowhere is the difference between Division I and FCS football more obvious than in the trenches, and, despite struggling at times a last week, a bigger, stronger K-State front should effectively put the clamps on the Bobcats' ground game.

Kansas State rush offense vs. Montana State rush defense
The numbers:
KSU rush offense: averaging 165 yards per game, No. 52 nationally
MSU rush defense: allowing 50 yards per game, (FCS/I-AA)

The breakdown: K-State's inexperienced tailback tandem of junior college transfer Keithen Valentine and true freshman Logan Dold combined to gain 120 yards on the ground in the season opener, and the two will have a chance to find their footing against another lesser opponent this weekend. Despite battling injury problems and appearing shaky at times last weekend, the experienced K-State offensive line should have no problem bullying a Montana State defensive front that lost a pair of starters from a year ago. At 309 pounds, Bobcat nose tackle Chris Kolne is the largest defensive player on the depth chart, but it's defensive end Dan Fletcher who will demand the most attention. Fletcher recorded 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2007 and is a candidate for FCS All-American honors in his junior season. It's a shame Fletcher can't be everywhere, however, as the K-State offensive line should have the majority of their opposing counterparts outmanned at all times.

Montana State pass offense vs. Kansas State pass defense
The numbers:
KSU pass defense: allowing 100 yards per game, No. 19 nationally
MSU pass offense: averaging 144 yards per game, (FCS/I-AA)

The breakdown: If the Wildcats dominate the line of scrimmage in the manner they are expected to, Montana State sophomore quarterback Cody Kempt, a transfer from Oregon, should have to go to the air early and often on Saturday. K-State failed to force a turnover in its week-one win, but this Saturday may be the perfect time to make up for that. Kempt, who, despite playing sparingly in the Pac-10 a year ago, has little experience in front of a hostile BCS-sized crowd, could lose his composure early, and interceptions should follow. The K-State secondary, though relatively inexperienced, will be the fastest Kempt will see this season by far. Montana State wideout Brandon Bostick caught five passes for 72 yards in his team's opener, finding the end zone on three separate occasions. If Kempt gets caught staring down his favorite receiver too often this weekend, however, he will likely be made to pay for it.

Kansas State pass offense vs. Montana State pass defense
The numbers:
KSU pass offense: averaging 306 yards per game, No. 20 nationally
MSU pass defense: allowing 62 yards per game, (FCS/I-AA)

The breakdown: K-State's greatest strength plays right into what looked appeared to be the Bobcats' strong suit a week ago. The Montana State secondary held Adams State to just 62 yards through the air in week one, while picking off a pair of passes, The bad news for Bobcats, however, is the fact that Adams State quarterback Stephen Baca and Kansas State's Josh Freeman are different people … very different people. Freeman should have little trouble shredding the Montana State defense for big chunks of yards this weekend, while wide receivers Brandon Banks and Aubrey Quarles could be in for big days in their second game as Wildcats. Deon Murphy, K-State's top returning wideout, was limited to special teams play last week, but should return to full-time duty on Saturday.

Kansas State special teams vs. Montana State special teams
The breakdown: K-State coach Ron Prince voiced some concern over his special teams unit following last week's game, and this weekend is a perfect opportunity to get everything back on track. The Bobcats averaged just 7.8 yards per punt return against FCS competition a week ago, and Montana State punter Eric Fisher, despite not seeing much action in last week's runaway victory, has had some problems with seeing his kicks blocked in the past. K-State kicker Brooks Rossman looked sharp against North Texas, and punter George Pierson started the process of proving he's worth the scholarship Prince award him by averaging more than 40 yards per kick on three attempts in his debut.

What to expect: This game, much like last week's contest, should be over early. K-State holds a significant advantage at every position on the field, and, as simple as it sounds, the Bobcats just don't have the horses to run in a BCS race. Cat fans should show up out to see a Wildcat victory and stay to see their favorite backups get some reps. Baring a major meltdown, K-State should easily go to 2-0.

Predicted Spread: K-STATE by 33

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