Kansas State is set to take on Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Wildcats ahead of the game.
1. Jordan Willis, Not Myles Garrett, Causes More Damage in NRG Stadium
In the battle between two of this season’s premier pass rushers, Willis will outplay Garrett. Garrett will get the last laugh in April, but Willis has more to prove, and will seize the opportunity to steal the spotlight from the possible top overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He’ll turn heads by beating star Aggie LT Avery Gennesy to the pocket multiple times with his quickness and motor. Plus, with what’s at stake for Garrett in the coming months, it’d be hard to knock him if he taps the brakes a little to protect his health and future.
2. No Letup in the K-State Ground Game
The Wildcats finished the regular season by winning five of six. The reason? The running game helped narrow the divide between the offense and the defense in Manhattan. Quarterback Jesse Ertz and young backs Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon helped spearhead a downhill running game that’ll continue in Houston. Kansas State cranked out more than 300 yards on the ground in three of the final four games, despite minimal threats from the passing game. The Cats will amass another 250 yards between the tackles against an Aggie D that was punctured by Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and LSU’s Derrius Guice last month.
3. Size Matters in the Wildcat Secondary
D.J. Reed was a First Team All-Big 12 pick in his first season out of Cerritos (Calif.) College. The sophomore has a bright future. But the Wildcats had issues in pass defense this season, allowing 23 touchdown passes, including five apiece to Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. And while Trevor Knight is neither Mayfield nor Rudolph, he’ll challenge Reed and Duke Shelley who are both 5-9. The Cats will have their hands full with 6-4 Josh Reynolds, 6-5 Ricky Seals-Jones and Christian Kirk, one of the most explosive playmaking receivers in the country.
4. Ertz’s Arm to Be Tested
Kevin Sumlin and John Chavis will have a month to prepare for the one-note Kansas State offense, so they’ll naturally stack the box liberally with Aggie defenders, like talented safeties Justin Evans and Armani Watts. At some point, Ertz will have to connect downfield, especially if the Wildcats fall behind after halftime. He’s completing only 50% of his passes in games outside of Manhattan, and he was a non-factor as a passer in K-State’s four losses. Ertz will be a horse on the ground, but through the air he’ll once again be a liability for the attack.
5. Bill Snyder’s Postseason Woes Continue
Snyder is one of the iconic coaching figures in college football history, and he’s a longtime miracle worker in Manhattan. But he’s been a mere mortal in the postseason, dropping six of his last seven bowl games. And he won’t turn things around against a Texas A&M team that’ll benefit from a break in the action. The Aggies needed to get away from the game for a while, to clear their heads from a rotten finish and to get Knight back to full strength again. The Wildcats, on the other hand, will lose some of the head of steam they’d amassed in the final turn, falling to a more balanced and athletic opponent.