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Q & A with Bring On The Cats

Thanks to TB from Bring on the Cats for doing a little Q & A with DTN.

Bringonthecats_medium 1.  Head coach Bill Snyder inserted Grant Gregory into the starting lineup last week against ISU, what does he bring to the table that's different than Case Coffman?

Mostly, he seemed to make better decisions.  One of our biggest frustrations with Coffman was that he took too many sacks by standing in the pocket and not eluding the rush.  Gregory showed a very nice ability to sense the rush, avoid it, buy some time, and keep his eyes downfield.  He also had a better sense of when to tuck it and run.  We've seen a couple times this year when Coffman has 20 yards of open space in front of him and he still looks for someone to throw it to.

On another K-State message board, there's a serious debate raging right now as to who has a better arm between the two.  Suffice it to say, neither of them are going to get into a gunslinging contest with Josh Freeman, but Gregory was pretty sharp Saturday.

2.  Thus far, the defense has really limited opponents thus far (7th in passing defense and 38th in rushing defense), who has performed above expectations and what, if anything, can the defense do to improve?

Only Tysyn Hartman has really exceeded expectations.  He was converted from quarterback to safety last year, and has done a tremendous job back there.  After last week, he ought to have two more interceptions, but somehow let two certain interceptions go right through his hands while playing centerfield against Iowa State.

Other than that, everyone's a little better, but nobody has exceeded expectations.  The biggest difference this year is scheme and positioning.  Nobody is blowing open 10-yard wide holes in the middle of the defense.  The tackling fundamentals are still generally subpar, but at least first contact is being made at the line of scrimmage or a yard or two downfield, rather than deep into the secondary.
As for getting better, we really, really need DE Brandon Harold to get healthy.  He was injured during fall practice and hasn't played yet.  Harold was a freshman All-America last season, and this defensive line desperately needs some help.  If Harold were in there, other teams would be forced to double him, opening up Jeffrey Fitzgerald and Daniel Calvin to make plays.  I don't think he'll be back this week, but we could really use him if we're going to get pressure on Tech's QB with our front four.

3.  The offense has done a great job rushing the ball this year, is this a case where the offensive line is doing a better job, the running backs are playing better, or a general change in philosophy.

It's a little of all three.  Our offensive line was projected to be a strength coming into the season because it was supposed to be experienced.  Injuries have hampered the development somewhat, but overall the line play has been solid, if not spectacular. 
It's probably a dead heat between a change in philosophy and better running backs.  Clearly, Bill Snyder has decided that we are going to pound the rock, control the clock, and thereby take pressure off our defense.  I think we still lead the country in time of possession.
Of course, you can't overlook what Daniel Thomas has meant to this team.  Coaches and teammates alike raved about his abilities in fall practice, and he hasn't disappointed, ranking 16th in the nation in rushing yards per game.  At 6'3", 227 lbs., he's solid, and he isn't slow.  In junior college, he played some quarterback, so you'll likely see him take some snaps in the Wildcat formation (we can go ahead and call it the Wildcat, rather than Wildhog or Wildhorn or whatever ridiculous nomenclature other teams use), although he hasn't thrown very many passes out of that formation yet.

4.  Speaking of change in philosophy, what is the biggest philosophical change that Snyder has implemented with KSU?  Perhaps one item from the field and one item off the field.

On the field, it's undoubtedly a focus on the running game.  We use a fullback, we run some zone read, a little option, and some rushing out of the Wildcat formation.  It's a huge change from Ron Prince, where the idea was "let Freeman sling it all over the field and see what happens."  Freeman was an incredible talent, but he didn't have a great supporting cast, and without any balance it would have been hard for any quarterback to do anything well.
Off the field, I'm not sure I can differentiate among the things that have changed.  I'll go ahead and say that the biggest change is that he knows how to manage a roster.  We no longer worry that we'll burn somebody's redshirt in the ninth game of the year so he can play on two special teams plays.  Despite Snyder's reputation, I also no longer fear that he'll bring in 19 junior college recruits as some desperate ploy either to save his job or send Freeman to the NFL with a bang.

5.  General thoughts about the game on Saturday, what do you expect Kansas St. to try to do both offensively and defensively.

Offensively, it'll be more of the same.  Snyder is going to try and run the ball down Tech's throat.  I'm sure he's seen the film of Tech against Houston and New Mexico, and both games reveal that Tech's defense has apparently gone missing since the trip to Austin.  Further, he adheres to the old cliche that the other team can't score when they don't have the ball.  Just like Nebraska did in Lubbock last year, Snyder is going to try and control the ball for 35-40 minutes and hope that Tech doesn't have 20 one-minute scoring drives.  If he can get the running game established, K-State may actually have a chance here, because I can see a few well-timed play-actions or Grant Gregory-scrambles working out well.
On defense, we are not a team that's going to blitz you to death.  Vic Koenning and Chris Cosh are content to let the front four try and get pressure -- it hasn't worked very well this year -- while focusing on sound assignment football with the linebackers and secondary.  Our secondary actually is pretty solid this year; the linebackers are another story.  And as we all know against Tech, it doesn't matter how good your secondary is, because if your line doesn't get pressure, Tech's QB (whomever it is) will pick you apart.  If Harold isn't back for this game, we need to hope for a combination of an off game for the Tech playmakers and some good coverage from our secondary.  Josh Moore is a very good cornerback on one side, which should reduce the options available each time the ball is snapped.