The Kansas State Wildcats got off to a promising start in 2020, but then quarterback Skylar Thompson went down and the wheels fell off Chris Klieman‘s team. K-State started off 4-1, including another stunning win over Oklahoma, but then lost five in a row to end the season, finishing 4-6. But Thompson is back and the Wildcats are hoping to be the surprise team in the Big 12 Conference this fall. As we take a closer look this team, we already looked at the offensive side of the ball, so here are three things that will define the Kansas State defense during the 2021 season.
1. Replace Wyatt Hubert and Drew Wiley
Who can do it after Hubert left early for the NFL Draft and was a seventh round pick? It won’t be easy, as Hubert ranked 6th in the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 13.0. He was also third in the Big 12 with 8.0 sacks last season. Wiley was also Top 10 in the Big 12 in sacks and Top 15 in the conference in tackles for loss. So who are the new faces to get to the quarterback and get behind the line of scrimmage? Khalid Duke, Bronson Massie and Charlotte transfer Timmy Horne would be my picks to fill the void. Duke started eight games last season and had 26 tackles with three tackles for loss. Arguably his best game of the season came in the upset of Oklahoma when he had nine tackles. Massie is using his “super senior” eligibility after a solid 2020 where he had career bests in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (2.5). Timmy Horne comes in at 6’4”, 320 pounds and has 29 starts in his career at Charlotte. He was an All-Conference USA player and will try to end his college career on a high note with a big season in Manhattan.
2. Secondary Standouts?
Expect to see much more of the 3-3-5 formation from Kansas State if this secondary stays healthy. The 1-2 punch at safety of Jahron McPherson and Russ Yeast could be one of the best safety combos in the conference. McPherson was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection after leading the team with 54 tackles to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions, five total passes defended and a forced fumble. Yeast, a fellow senior, started 29 games at Louisville before transferring into the program. He was a former Top 3 prospect in the state of Indiana and was a productive player for the Cardinals. At cornerback, returning players Ekow Boye-Doe and Justin Gardener will be that much better as they hopefully take the next step in their respective careers. But the biggest addition may be Iowa transfer Julius Brents. He has great size at 6’3”, and the former Top 30 cornerback prospect in America started five games as a freshman in 2018, was injured in 2019 and then saw action in seven games last season. He was ready for a fresh start and has already received a lot of hype in Manhattan. If these five work together well and stay healthy, this entire secondary will be an impressive unit.
3. Who leads at linebacker?
Daniel Green is the obvious choice. But the former four-star prospect just hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations yet. Maybe this is the season. He does have something to build off of in 2020, as he racked up career highs with 39 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks on the year. Cody Fletcher is back for a “super senior” season and his experience will be welcomed. Eric Munoz has transferred in from Utah State where he played in 14 games over his career. Otherwise, Nick Allen, Austin Moore, and former safety turned linebacker Wayne Jones should play a factor as well as the Wildcats try to figure out the best formula for this unit.