Note: all rankings are national
Score defense (points per game)
Nevada – 13.5 (29th)
Kansas State – 15 (34th)
Nevada is a good defensive team, their schedule (Cal and Idaho St) is similar in quality to Kansas State. That said, if you take out the Wildcat’s stunt failure in the 2nd quarter against Southern Illinois, they’re statistically the best defense. I expect Coach Klieman to play this game close to the vest and try to win a low scoring ball control game.
Total defense (yards per game)
Nevada – 305.5 – (47th)
Kansas State – 245.5 (15th)
This confirms my statement above. Nevada gave up on yards, but managed to keep the opposition out of the end zone. Kansas State didn’t give up much in their first two games, but were placed in terrible places in the 2nd quarter for the South Illinois game. The Wildcat defense was dominant, while the Nevada defense was good, but allowed the teams to move the ball. That bodes well for an offense from K-State wanting to hold onto the ball for long drives.
3rd defense down
Nevada – 42% (89th)
Kansas State – 30% (37th)
This is another encouraging statistic for the Wildcats. Nevada struggled to leave the field on the third down, and K-State’s running play should (in theory) give them plenty of third and short-lived opportunities. The goal for Kansas State is to shorten the offensive play with the running play and attack with new defense when Nevada tries to make their passing game work. If the Wildcats convert consistently on 3rd down, I like their chances of winning the game.
Fast defense (yards per game)
Nevada – 146 (80th)
Kansas State – 69.5 (22nd)
It sounds … promising. Nevada’s race defense has not been great this season. They’re going to sell to stop the race, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop the race. The Wildcats have a better offensive line than either of Nevada’s previous opponents. Connor Riley’s group need the collective MVP for a win in Kansas State.
Meters per rush
Nevada – 4.23
Kansas State – 2.24
K-State needs to be doing a little better than 4.23 yards per carry, but not much better. 5 yards per carry should be the goal, and if they hit that metric, everything else will fall into place. Howard had better have his chin tied, because he’s going to play a huge role in reaching that benchmark. He’s the X factor in the rush attack and will have to execute the play option effectively, as Nevada is going to crash on Deuce. Howard has to trust his abilities and shoot the ball when defense tells him to shoot it. If he continually slashes the defense early with the keeper, Deuce will have more room late in the game.
Pass defense (yards per game)
Nevada – 159.5 (27th)
Kansas State – 185 (51st)
Pass coverage is the strength of the Nevada defense. This shouldn’t bother a running heavy Kansas State team, in fact the Wildcats are going to force Nevada to run heavy boxes (7 or 8 in the box) more often than not. This negates the main strength of their defense. I expect Messinghman to make the safeties and turns prove they can attack, and when they get nosy he’ll go head-to-head on the outside with some action. If K-State can reach an average of around 5 yards per carry, it will prevent Nevada from using the best part of their defense and force them to defend themselves all the time. That’s the point.
Yards authorized per completion
Nevada – 7.97
Kansas State – 9.49
K-State needs to do better than 7.97 yards per completion. If things turn out the way I think they are, expect Howard to attack the field more than he did against southern Illinois. He will get unique cover on the outside when he throws the ball out of play. Nevada will go down a safety to help in the running game. It’s his job to take some big bets. I expect a low percentage, high yards per pass violation completed on Saturday. They won’t throw a lot, unless they’re forced to throw, but when they do, it goes deep. It’s the perfect match for Chabastin Taylor to return to the lineup. He’s on the depth chart this week, and his 6’4 “, 220 frame, and ability to make the contested catch, could play a huge role.
Bags (per set)
Nevada – 5.5 (3rd)
Kansas State – 5 (5th)
It was shaping up to be a battle of elite teams rushing for the passes, but Howard playing the quarterback can nullify Nevada’s pass rush, simply because they won’t have many opportunities. of assists, and I anticipate maximum protection out of the playing action when Messingham dials a pass. The Wildcats need to stay out of 3rd and long, as Nevada lives in the backfield on obvious passing situations and Howard doesn’t stay calm with a scramble to his face.
Tackles for loss (per game)
Nevada – 7.5 (32nd)
Kansas State – 8 (24th)
It’s a bit worrying. The Wildcats can’t get behind the chains by giving up tackles behind the line and Nevada is skilled enough to get into the backfield. Their defensive front will attack the line of scrimmage more than Stanford and southern Illinois combined. Teams that enjoy pulling gaps and getting into the backfield have given this attack adjustments in the past (think West Virginia) because much of the running game relies on slow-developing runs. Howard’s ability to do the correct read and in the zone options game will be crucial, he cannot enter the game with a set plan and must really perform the zone read, as Nevada will try to detonate the mesh point if possible. He can’t be afraid to shoot the ball.
Defense of the red zone
Nevada – 67% (26th)
Kansas State – 100% (89th)
Nevada has allowed six red zone attempts in its first two games. They allowed two touchdowns on the ground, a passing touchdown and a field goal. Kansas State allowed four red zone attempts and allowed two rushing touchdowns, one passing touchdown and one field goal.
Don’t panic about last place in K-State’s red zone defense (tied with a bunch of other schools). This directly tied with Hell’s 2nd quarter against Southern Illinois. Three of four Kansas state-authorized red zone appearances this year were in this quarter. One of the workouts started on the K-State 9-yard line.
Simply put, Kansas State needs to score touchdowns in the red zone to beat Nevada. When the opportunity to score presents itself, the Wildcat must end up in the end zone. I don’t know how many opportunities they will have on Saturday, but you don’t win games like this by beating field goals (or … worse yet … missing field goals). Keep an eye out for this statistic, because if this game is close, as I think, the most efficient team in the red zone should win (unless K-State is able to skip the red zone with big plays. ).
Passes by interception
Nevada – 64 attempted passes, 1 interception (63rd)
Kansas State – 58 passes attempted, 3 interceptions = 19.33 (17th)
Nevada have pulled out just one pick this season. Kansas State can’t throw the ball to them on Saturday. They did manage to overcome a Thompson and Howard interception against Southern Illinois, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do the same against Nevada. Limit Howards’ attempts, make the readings crystal clear, and stress the importance of folding and running if the first reading is not open. Howard’s problem last week was throwing at his primary receiver, regardless of defense. He needs to see the pitch better this week, and I think that means less “quick” throws and more deep throws out of play action, outside of the numbers, where readings are usually cut and dry. A pick-6 for Nevada in this game would be catastrophic.
This game will boil down to the ability of the state of Kansas to impose its racing game on Nevada, or conversely, the ability of Nevada to slow down the wildcat racing game. Efficiency is the name of the game for Kansas State on offense. They have to constantly pick up yards on the first and second downs in order to keep Will Howard out of obvious passing situations. After last week’s performances, coach Messingham can still choose to throw the ball in obvious passes to avoid steals if the game is close. Don’t get frustrated if this happens, as Coach Klieman is going to try and win this thing on defense.
Nevada has not been good at slowing down the race this year. They were much better at passing coverage. They will be put to the test on Saturday. If Howard can handle the running game, keep everything on schedule, hit a big play or two on the field, and avoid throwing the ball in the Wolf Pack defense, I like the odds for the Wildcats.
I can’t imagine K-State winning a shootout. They need to take every opportunity in the red zone and build up enough offensive consistency to keep their defense fresh enough to close in the 4th quarter. It’s all about efficiency and long, clock-hungry journeys on Saturdays. Coach Riley and the offensive line will have the opportunity to win this game. If they dominate the Nevada front and Howard doesn’t return the ball, I predict a K-State victory.