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2009 Nov 20
A trip to Dallas? (Arlington for our Nat Geo types.) A date with the biggest jumbotron this side of a Japanese arcade in JerryWorld? Two weeks of contemplating vengeance against Texas for 1996?
Then finish it Saturday, in a game that won't test Nebraska's talent as much it will its patience.
Let's be blunt: Kansas State, 6-5 and clawing for its postseason life, is a shade more talented than Iowa State. The Wildcats remain, 11 games into their season, a work in progress. It's Ron Prince's parting gift to leave behind an undersized-if-energetic defense. The offense has two key playmakers – Brandon Banks and Daniel Thomas – who have to account for the lion's share of KSU's yards and points. Quarterback Grant Gregory is a better story – sixth-year transfer from South Florida makes good – than he is player.
Bill Snyder's 2009 team is not terribly unlike his last one in 2005. Fairly stingy at home. Weaker on the road. Run-heavy. Patient. Opportunistic on the special teams. But not a great team - and not one that should, with everything that's at stake Saturday, beat Nebraska, on Senior Day.
A loss for the Cornhuskers on national TV – with a berth to the Big 12 Championship on the line – wouldn't be a casual thing. This is, again, one of those defining moments. Good coaches – good teams – find ways to close out these games. Pundits talk about comparing the 2009 defense to 1999. Well, that 1999 bunch stoned top 20 teams – Texas A&M (37-0) and Kansas State (41-15) – in back-to-back weeks to help secure a Big 12 crown. KSU was still undefeated, in fact, at the time of its game with NU.
All the 2009 version has to do to is overcome a thoroughly mediocre Snyder club.
Just a little perspective – before the pressure sets in.
On to the keys:
To the Banks: KSU receiver Brandon Banks is the Wildcats' one true home run hitter. He's the punt and kick returner, for one – and he's dangerous enough in that arena. But his speed makes him sneaky tough to cover on deep routes, and his shiftiness makes him a pain to tackle in the flat. Kansas State tries to get him five-ten touches per game in a variety of ways – screens, sweeps, deep shots, quick slants. Nebraska needs to know where he is, successfully mark him and then – tackle, tackle, tackle.
Power Play: Both teams will line up in heavy formations, try to put “hat on hat,” and grind out clock and yards. And both teams will try to use their playaction passing game off of the power game. And both teams will do so out of a variety of formations, motions and personnel groupings. In short, plan to see two offense with the same goals, equally good running backs, and equally iffy quarterback. The difference?
Front Four: We're about to find out just how good Nebraska's much-praised defensive line really is at accepting the challenge of a straight-ahead running game with a big, talented, physical running back in Daniel Thomas. This isn't going to be a “flash” game for Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick so much as a test of guts, strength, pad level and sheer technique. Again – great defenses eat one-dimensional teams like KSU for lunch. Behind the front four, NU's linebackers – expect plenty of Phillip Dillard, Sean Fisher and Will Compton, and maybe even Eric Martin – need to wrap Thomas and drive with their legs.
Zac Attack: Nebraska fans better hope Zac Lee's strong play at Kansas wasn't a one-week wonder. Not only does Lee need to keep NU in down-positive situations with timely scrambles and smart throws, he needs to continue on an improvement curve toward that game in Dallas, where Texas promises its own brand of nasty.
The Snyder Factor: Snyder is a major storyline in the game. But his best strengths are, in truth, minor, understated touches on gameday.
The man prepares well and gets his assistants to do the same. His offenses usually take care of the ball and rely on field position for points. His defenses aren't flashy from a sacks/tackles for loss perspective, but they tend to have guys in the right place against the run, relying on the athleticism of the secondary against the pass. The special teams are across-the-board strong. KSU conservatively clings like a leech to a small lead.
The Wildcats aim to win the hidden details, all while giving up yards, sacks and style points. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and his staff may be tested by this mindset. Or, the Huskers could jump out in front and run away with a three-touchdown win.
It may depends on which team can taste Dallas the most.
Is Nebraska as good as we remember? Saturday night - two contenders become one.
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2009 Nov 17
You don't have any eligibility left, do you?
Banks had just burned the Sooners for 351 total yards – 195 on kickoff returns alone – returning a kickoff for a touchdown. It was his fourth of the season, which leads the nation. Banks is apparently hard to avoid, as well, as he averages 3.27 returns per game – first among any kick returner in the nation's top 20.
NU head coach Bo Pelini knows Banks' skills firsthand. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown vs. Nebraska last year in a 56-28 loss – at the time, it was the first in his career.
The best defense, Pelini joked, is a “60-mile-an-hour wind” at the back of kickoff specialist Adi Kunalic, who's currently fourth in the nation in touchbacks. Short of that, Pelini said, the Huskers will have a plan for dealing with Banks “based on the weather conditions.”
Win Two Free Tickets to NU's Last Home Game of the Year!
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2009 Aug 03
We rank the teams 12 to 1 in overall strength. Then we’ll provide for you the North/South breakdown – and the preseason All Big 12 team, as well.
Today: No. 7 Kansas State
Coach: Bill Snyder
2008 Record: 5-7 (under Ron Prince)
What’s Changed Since 2008: Heh – everything. Prince was fired – and deservedly so. Snyder was brought back to heal the family. Then, in the spring, it got really crazy, with secret deals to Prince and audits, and firings and resignations and turmoil. KSU is in a hurtin’ place as an athletic department.
2009 Non-Conference Schedule: Snyder worked a little magic, as UMass and Tennessee Tech worm their way onto the slate. A game at Louisiana-Lafayette shouldn’t be a sweat, and the game at UCLA, poor, no-offense UCLA, is winnable.
2009 Conference Schedule: Highly favorable. KSU hosts Texas A&M, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas, plays at Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas Tech (all losses there) and plays Iowa State in Kansas City, which will probably end up being a home game for the Wildcats. We see 4-5 wins in there.
Coordinator: Del Miller and Dana Dimel. Don’t be surprised if Snyder’s imprints are all over the offense, though. Miller worked at San Diego State for the last three years, while Dimel was at Arizona. Both know their way around a spread passing offense; Dimel built a balanced attack at Zona last year. Preferably, Snyder would like a mobile QB who can run and pass, but he’ll settle for a guy who keeps the Cats out of bad situations.
Strength: Wide receiver Brandon Banks (1049 receiving yards, 126 rushing yards) is the kind of dynamic player Snyder loves, and he’ll get 10-15 touches per game. One way or another, Banks will be the team’s primary offensive weapon. KSU has intriguing running backs, too, in Logan Dold, Keithen Valentine and transfer Daniel Thomas, a JUCO guy who could play QB in a pinch.
Weakness: Quarterback. After the Josh Freeman show for three years, Coffman essentially takes over, and while he’s not terrible – he was actually decent in spot duty last year – he’s not a guy who can beat you by himself. On the offensive line, arguably KSU’s best lineman, Brock Unruh, was lost for the year to a weight room injury.
Coordinator: Co-coordinators again, with Vic Koenning, Clemson’s former DC and Chris Cosh, the former DC at Maryland, which was one of the few teams to shut down California running back Jahvid Best. This was an awful defense in 2008. We sense that, at some point, KSU simply gave up on that side of the ball, especially the linebackers, who played with little overall discipline.
Strength: The defensive line could be very good, with super-soph defensive end Brandon Harold (45 tackles and 3 sacks as a freshman) and University of Virginia transfer Jeffrey Fitzgerald at an inside defensive tackle. But this bunch didn’t get great push last year. That part of it has to improve. With Fitzgerald, who started 25 games at UVA, we think it will. The secondary, led by cornerback Joshua Moore, might be, fair, too. Moore was the best pure cover guy on the team last year, and one of the best in the Big 12 outside of Norman, Okla.
Weakness: The linebackers are a little undersized, a little slow, and were really chewed up by the spread last year. Then again, they seemed to be getting some iffy coaching as the year went on (like when Nebraska ran the same zone read play over and over, and the Wildcats refused to adjust to it) so maybe that will change. The co-DCs may try to counteract that by getting an extra safety on the field.
Beyond that, the Wildcats are in need of a better pass rush.
Special Teams It was good under Prince, and it’ll remain good under Snyder. Banks is an excellent return man for kickoffs or punts. DJ Fulhage returns as punter, and freshman Ryan Doerr now becomes the kicker. KSU coverage units should be pretty good, too; Snyder likes to populate those units with JUCO guys.
Intangibles: By year two or three of the “Miracle in Manhattan,” Snyder found a way to keep his Wildcats in games where they were severely overmatched. A few years later, KSU was winning those games. Few coaches prepare like this guy. He never strays too far from the plan, his teams don’t often get blown out, and Kansas State will commit to a solid running game. You watch. The formula typically works.
Best-Case Scenario: Kansas State wins nine – all four non-conference games, and five more in the league. Long shot, but doable.
Worst-Case Scenario: Last in the Big 12 North.
Our Take: Same record as Kansas, with the tiebreaker going to the Wildcats on head-to-head matchup. The Wildcats simply get a favorable schedule this year. They’ll need it, and take advantage of it.
See other Big 12 Breakdowns: No. 12 ISU, No. 11 A&M, No. 10 CU, No. 9 BU, No. 8 KU, No. 7 KSU, No. 6 Texas Tech
Agree? Disagree? Tell us about it.
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