The Texas Tech Red Raiders and Kansas State Wildcats don’t typically have much in common. One program relies on a high-flying, spread-em-out offensive style, while hoping like hell the defense can just get that one stop when its needed. The other team traditionally has been a defense-first program, with an offensive style that would make Walter Camp proud.
But as we enter the 2018 season, Texas Tech and Kansas State will be relying on certain sides of the ball that will make their respective fan bases wonder where their team(s) went?
Texas Tech will kick off this fall with far more certainty from its defense than its offense. Kliff Kingsbury told HCS’ Derek Duke at Big 12 Media Days that finally having some continuity has helped stabilize the unit, saying, “We had such a revolving door at the defensive coordinator position for so many years that it was impossible to develop a culture and identity on that side of the ball and a sense of pride. Having coach Gibbs going into his fourth year, now he has recruited for his scheme and all his guys are juniors and seniors. There’s an expectation that we aren’t going to take a backseat to anybody and we are going to play at a high level. The only way you get there is with continuity and having a guy who plays multiple years.”
Now, the Red Raiders have a potential Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate in linebacker Dakota Allen, along with eight other starters on that side of the ball that saw its points per game allowed drop from 43.5 to 32.2 from 2016 to 2017. The Red Raiders also had a 54-spot jump in run defense from 116th to 62nd and jumped 106 spots in turnovers gained from 112th to sixth. The turnover battle was in large part thanks to a ball-hawking secondary that includes Jah’Shawn Johnson and Justus Parker.
However the other side of the ball has question marks on offensive line, depth issues at running back with Tre King leading the way, but curiosity on if Da’Leon Ward is the player he was when he last played in 2016, oh and then there’s the quarterback. McLane Carter? Jett Duffey? Are either one of these players the answer that Kliff Kingsbury is looking for in a must-win season. That remains to be seen.
Meantime, 600 miles to the northeast, the Kansas State Wildcats prepare for a season where the offense is likely to lead the way, with plenty of concerns and question marks on defense. Bill Snyder appears to have two fantastic options at quarterback in Sklyar Thompson, the better passer, against Alex Delton, the better runner. Both quarterbacks participated in Big 12 Media Days, showing the confidence that Snyder and his staff obviously has with both players.
The Wildcats also return their entire offensive line, a stable of running backs led by Alex Barnes, but also including Justin Silmon, Dalvin Warmack and Mike McCoy. Also, there will be new faces at wide receiver like youngsters such as Chabastin Taylor, who is getting lots of offseason attention. But there are players who are ready to step into the role and leader of the unit, which starts with Isaiah Zuber and Dalton Schoen.
Yet as we transition to the other side of the ball, the Wildcats have a ton of questions. Last season, the Wildcats ranked 6th in the Big 12, allowing 427 yards per game. K-State was third in rush defense, giving up 118 yards per game, but was dead last in passing defense, but a wide margin allowing 309 yards per game. To make matters even more difficult, K-State loses a couple of veteran linebackers in Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby, along with defensive tackle Will Geary. The linebacker unit actually could be improved if players like Elijah Sulivan, Da’Quan Patton and Justin Hughes live up to expectations. But there is an unknown around the unit right now.
At defensive back, D.J. Reed is gone, who was by far the best cover corner of the group. Veterans back in the saddle include Duke Shelley, Kendall Adams and Denzel Goolsby. But the Wildcats need to either improve this unit’s cover skills, or get more pressure up front, because Kansas State finishing last in the Big 12 Conference in passing yards allowed per game is simply unacceptable and very un-Wildcat like.
So as we gear up for the 2018 season, Lubbock, Texas and Manhattan, Kansas are two places where down is up and up is down, at least to start the season. Red Raiders fans will be anxiously counting in their defense to make that “big stop” late in the fourth quarter, while Kansas State fans will be hoping a fourth quarter comeback can be facilitated by Alex Delton or Skylar Thompson in a game that has already combined for 75+ points. Unusual? Sure. But each program still has the potential to have a very good season, if they can get the side of the ball that has historically been successful to reach its full potential.
**Sign up here for our HCS weekly e-mails for a chance to win FREE Heartland College Sports and Big 12 team gear!!**