Kansas State’s season has not gone as planned thus far. The Wildcats are 3-2 on the season and look much more like a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team rather than a Big 12 conference title contender.
While the numbers generally look good (1st in pass defense, 2nd in total defense, 2nd in turnover margin), the Wildcats have had some poorly-timed turnovers, along with ranking in the bottom half of the conference in penalties. Now, Kansas State is facing a quarterback dilemma when they welcome in undefeated TCU on Saturday: Jesse Ertz or Alex Delton?
Ertz is dealing with one or multiple undisclosed injuries, but head coach Bill Snyder insists Ertz is his guy assuming he’s at or near full strength. “If he is that by the end of the week, he is our starter,” Snyder said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “He is our starter. That’s been defined. But only if his health is in the best shape.”
If Ertz’s health is in the “best shape” then he should be the starter. TCU has the best rushing defense in the Big 12, while it’s passing defense has been vulnerable at times. Ertz is a far superior passer to Alex Delton.
But if Ertz isn’t, then it must be Delton. Looking back on Saturday’s game against Texas, Ertz asked out of the game in the third quarter after he stumbled on a run. If there’s one thing we know about Jesse Ertz, he is a tough S.O.B. So for Ertz to pull himself out of the game against the Texas Longhorns tells you he was banged actually, really up. Frankly, he hadn’t looked healthy dating back to the Baylor game when he looked a step slow at times.
That brings us to offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, who has received a heavy dose of criticism in the past for questionable play calling.
While Kansas State’s system and style involves running the quarterback, it still shocked me to see Ertz receive nine carries, especially when he was having such little success, totaling four rushing yards. If you go back to the Vanderbilt loss, Ertz had 24 rushes, while Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon totaled 11 carries between the two of them.
Jesse Ertz has been injury-prone for his entire career in Manhattan, yet Dimel hasn’t made much of an effort to try and keep his quarterback as safe and healthy as possible.
So as we approach Saturday’s game in Manhattan against TCU, the Wildcats should roll with a healthy Alex Delton over a banged up Jesse Ertz.
Snyder added on Monday, “Alex has been a good player for us all along and has some experience from last year and played well last year when he had the opportunity to do so. He’s very conscientious about his preparation and always has been that way. He has a good understanding of our offense and obviously has the capacity to execute it, as well.”
So speaking of execution, if Dana Dimel is insistent on using his quarterback in the running game more than he sometimes needs to, then Delton is his guy. TCU’s rushing defense will an enormous amount of success against a banged up Ertz, at least in the running game. But Delton runs like a gazelle and was impressive against Texas with 12 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Delton’s passing attack, if that’s what you want to call it, left something to be desired (2/5 for 30 yards), so if I were K-State, my fear would be TCU stacking eight in the box and forcing Delton to beat you with his arm. However, one thing Bill Snyder has a penchant for is creativity. Kansas State might be able to be creative enough to keep up with TCU using a rushing attack balanced by Delton, Barnes, Silmon, while even utilizing someone like Byron Pringle out of the backfield, if necessary.
A loss on Saturday to TCU, and Kansas State’s chances of winning a Big 12 title, which seemed like an attainable preseason goal, will be out of the window. While it may be unusual and controversial, as gritty as Ertz is, I’ll ride the healthy and fresh legs of Delton over the veteran leader.