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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Revisiting Kansas State-Nebraska

Last night’s one-sided affair sent a clear message to the rest of the F.B.S.: Kansas State lacks athleticism. No, that’s not true; the message came from Nebraska, and the intent was clear: Oregon’s pretty good, as is Alabama, Ohio State and Boise State — but so are the Cornhuskers. To be fair, I thought the 48-13 win would be closer. Not that I thought Kansas State would win, but I believed that if a stout rushing attack could both offset Nebraska’s strength in the secondary while keeping the Nebraska offense along the sideline. Well, how did things turn out? Let’s investigate, using yesterday’s keys as the starting point.

How well can Kansas State run the ball? When it mattered, not well at all. The total numbers are respectable: the Wildcats rushed for 180 yards, near their average of 215.3 yards per game. The numbers, in this case, don’t tell the story. Nebraska’s Bo Pelini tailored his game plan to stopping the run, and it showed. Daniel Thomas ended his day with his worst performance of the year, if not his career: 63 yards on 22 carries, with a long of only 13 yards. Not what K.S.U. wanted, not what it needed, not when facing the nation’s best pass defense.

The total yardage output is even more misleading when taking into account a late 36-yard run by Carson Coffman, as well as a 22-yard run from Collin Klein, his backup. The Cornhuskers, on the other hand, were unstoppable on the ground. How’s 451 yards? That’s a turn-back-the-clock performance from Nebraska; it was actually quite enjoyable to watch, to be honest. In the third quarter alone, the Cornhuskers scored on an 80-yard run and 68-yard run, not to mention on a 79-yard touchdown pass off of play-action. Yes, dominating.

What does Bill Snyder have in his bag of tricks? Nothing, surprisingly. Perhaps had the game been closer, Snyder would have thrown a strange play into the mix. When you’re down by 30 points in the second half, the fake punt doesn’t make much sense.

Can K.S.U. win if the game comes down to Carson Coffman making plays? As predicted yesterday, no. Coffman ended his day completing 14 of 22 attempts — not bad so far — for only 91 yards. That’s par for the course for the nation’s best secondary. I can’t begin to describe how impressed I’ve been with the Nebraska defensive backfield thus far; just shutdown, pure and simple. The nation’s best. I can’t stress this enough.

What if Thomas loosens up the defense first? If Thomas could have had more success on the ground, there’s no doubt that Coffman could have found a receiver deep. Washington did this once against Nebraska, finding a receiver on a deep post off of play-action after loosening up the Cornhuskers on the ground. Of course, Thomas found little room on the ground. Strangely, Thomas had the best day of his career as a receiver, making a career-best eight receptions.

Maybe Kansas State out-thought itself here. The early game-plan looked for Thomas often out of the backfield, perhaps thinking that Nebraska, so focused on stopping him as a ball-carrier, would lose track of him in the flat. That didn’t really happen; Thomas only had 36 yards receiving. Aubrey Quarles had a nice day, making 5 receptions for 57 yards, but no other K.S.U. receiver had a nice day.

What will we see from Taylor Martinez? The best day of his career. A Heisman-like performance. No, I don’t think Martinez is a Heisman guy — it’s too early, for starters, but other quarterbacks are more deserving, as of now. You can’t ignore last night’s numbers, on the other hand: 15 carries for 241 yards and 4 scores; 5 of 7 for 128 yards and a score through the air. Those are Eric Crouch numbers — better than the legendary Nebraska quarterback, in fact.

Let’s see if Martinez can duplicate these totals against Texas next week. For now, however, let’s give credit where credit is due. And Nebraska fans, you can give offensive coordinator Shawn Watson a break, at least for the next eight days.

Can Nebraska put a full game together? Yes. From start to finish, a dominating performance. Dominating is the word of the day, I think.

Kansas State will win if… Here’s what I wrote in yesterday’s post:

It rushes for more than 200 yards; controls the clock for more than half the game; is plus-two in the turnover margin; and stops Nebraska on first down.

The Wildcats rushed for only 180 yards. They did a nice job on ball control — more than 34 minutes of possession — but that far more to do with Nebraska’s quick-strike offense than K.S.U.’s offense. The Wildcats were minus-one in turnovers, which wasn’t terrible. As for stopping Nebraska on first down: Kansas State didn’t stop the Cornhuskers on first, second or third down. I doubt it could have stopped Nebraska on fourth down, had it come to that.

Nebraska will win if… Here’s what I wrote yesterday:

Kansas State rushes for less than 125 yards; if its own offense passes for more than 175 yards; if the defense forces Kansas State into passing situations on third down; and the special teams prevent K.S.U. from breaking a big play, trick or otherwise.

Kansas State didn’t rush for less than 125 yards, but it didn’t matter. The Nebraska offense threw for 136 yards, but it didn’t matter. The defense did a terrific job of forcing K.S.U. into passing situations on third down, which was key. At that point, Nebraska was able to bring pressure to great results. Nebraska was poor on special teams, which was strange to see. If there’s one area where K.S.U. won the game, it was on special teams.

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  1. jjtiller says:

    Where is Jim Narby? :)

    Paul: No comment from Narby, I’m sure. Where have you been, jj?

  2. mike says:

    ESPN gameday comentators said they saw Taylor get run down from behind. We’re they watching the same game?

  3. jjtiller says:

    I’m reading this great blog day by day, but from July I’m in “only read” mode because of work & school… and I’m very happy for the lots of columns about the mid-majors, hope tonight ULL will upset the Pokies :)

  4. HuskerHound says:

    Taylor was indeed caught from behind. Of course, he also ran 54 yards on that play, and it was the only time they caught him.

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