Kansas State football: No Disney for old men

“Is that what you’re asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?” – Anton Chigurh

The Disney screenplay would have made this the season for the Kansas State Wildcats.No Disney for old men

A legendary coach battles cancer in the offseason and overcomes it in time to be on the sideline. His team is experienced and talented by all accounts — in a perfect position to take advantage of some cracks in the Big 12’s best teams and march up the polls into the national semifinal (provided a few things go right). It would have been so perfect.

As it is, there is no Disney for old men.

Kansas State should be 5-1 at this point, and there is plenty of specific blame to go around for this team sitting at 3-3. Add in a hurt Jesse Ertz and the disappointment that came with watching just how one-dimensional Alex Delton still is, and it leaves one to wonder: Injuries stink, sure, but what were we all thinking? Did we simply overvalue what Bill Snyder, Dana Dimel, and the rest of the offensive coaching staff bring to the table at this point? It’s not like this offense was humming along before Ertz’s health issues.

On the other hand, c’mon, it wasn’t that farfetched to think 2017 should have been a big season, was it?

An experienced defense was going to anchor and support an offense that didn’t have any superstars but was generally loaded (supposedly) at the skill positions. Those two units would have the safety net of all-world special teams and a staff led by Bill Snyder. And, consider this:

According to sportsreference.com, K-State has never had a weaker strength of schedule under Bill Snyder, which is saying something. (In fact, in 106 years, the 2017 slate currently stands as the 13th-worst KSU SOS ever.) This season was set, complete with a gradual increase in competition leading up to home games against TCU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

This team, which was positioned to be one of K-State’s most successful since 2012, instead has lurched and stalled like Axel Foley stuck a banana stuck in its offensive tailpipe. The Wildcats are eighth in the Big 12 in scoring offense (31.7 ppg – only Baylor and Kansas are worse), and dead last in total offense (373.8 ypg) and passing offense (186.2 ypg).

Some of that is Ertz getting injured, and some is TCU’s stellar defense. But, when the expectation for K-State overall was to win 10 or even 11 games counting a bowl, the floor shouldn’t be that low. This offense should be better. Period.

But here things are in mid-October where fans and media now pause as they work through the rest of the KSU schedule to find three wins. They pause because any guarantees of six wins and making a bowl are now not certain. The Wildcats will beat Kansas, but past that, while there are some likely wins, there are no 100-percent locks.

Nobody saw this kind of season coming, and the last month’s results have made it feel all sorts of unfair and wrong for those who banked on that Disney ending. For them, it feels as strikingly absurd as someone asking: Is that what you’re asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?

And knowing the answer is a deflating … yes.

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K-State football: Having to adjust expectations

If you were looking for some kind of restorative “make me feel better” performance from the Kansas State Wildcats against Baylor, how do you feel after?

Wins are good, obviously, but I don’t know that I feel that much better — not after a second-half performance delivered with the intensity of a stale Werther’s Original.

There were too many dropped passes by wide receivers again.* And, I admit I was surprised at how key defensive back Cre Moore apparently is to the defense. His absence was noticeable after he was ejected for targeting — especially on the long, gashing pass plays through the middle of the Wildcats defense.

*Holy self-confidence issues, Batman. There have been many past individual receiving talents much better than anyone on this roster, but this group as a whole was supposed to be, perhaps, one of the best ever assembled. Maybe the group still can be by season’s end, but Byron Pringle and crew have to figure out how to, simply, catch the damn ball.

Overall, this team is 3-1, 1-0, which beats anything less. Still, however, I’m struggling with the first four games’ evidence, dropped passes included, and reconciling that it is the base of my growing dread that I badly, optimistically misjudged what the 2017 Wildcats will accomplish.

If anything else, I don’t want to be wrong because, well, being wrong sucks. But, in this case, it also means a letdown. That’s not fun either. I want to believe this team will finish 10-2 and make it to the Big 12 Championship. I want to believe that making such a run — especially now — would mean an outside shot at a national semifinal.

Here’s the evidence I think I’m seeing that will keep that from happening.

Offensive plays. On the surface, this seems like an easy potshot at Dana Dimel, but it isn’t…not totally anyways. He’s trying, or appears to be. He continues to call passes despite receivers’ catching problems. He has dialed down the obvious “give it to Winston inside the 20” stuff from last year. But, there have been head-scratching moments when Dimel seems to go right despite the left working just fine (throwing against Vanderbilt in the second half when the run was effective).

And there is the curious lack of regular use of Justin Silmon. Alex Barnes is a stud, but Silmon has looked pretty darn good in his own right when he gets touches. There should be plenty of room for both of them, especially in an offense that values the run as much as K-State’s does.

Jesse Ertz has to forget about tomorrow. The heart of Bill Snyder’s offense drums to the beat of the quarterback’s bravado. Ertz is a capable leader, he understands the offense, and he’s better every game in terms of reading his running lanes. But, reading open lanes and fully exploiting them are different things. In fact, the past two games it seems when Ertz runs, he’s anxious to get on the ground once he gets into the open. Down the road, when one cut or one broken tackle could mean a first down or score? Hitting the ground after gaining eight yards won’t cut it – not for a team trying to fight its way into a Championship picture.

(By the way, did you happen to notice the difference in spark level with Alex Delton behind center at the end of the Baylor game? If you say no, you’re either lying or didn’t see it.)

The Do-it-all-defense isn’t all that deepK-State leads the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense, but the way it was gashed in the middle by Baylor for big plays after Moore left makes me wonder if the secondary can withstand any missing pieces over the next eight weeks. It will probably show well against Texas. After that, TCU and especially Oklahoma are going to be a challenge.

That said, is it impossible for all starters to be available all year? Of course not. But, it’s a precarious spot.

The Commodores clue. I’m not usually a fan of basing one team’s potential on how an opponent fares, but I think there’s some value in it here. Vanderbilt is in that same Top 25’ish soup K-State is in. So, considering how evenly the two teams played each other, I’ve paid attention to Vanderbilt as it took on other ranked foes. In watching No. 1 Alabama destroy the Commodores, 59-0, and No. 21 Florida following up with a 38-24 win, it left me really unimpressed with K-State’s ability to score just seven points against Vandy.

If I believe K-State is Big 12 Championship quality after those results, then it means Vanderbilt is good enough to win the Big 12. I don’t believe that. So, the other side is K-State isn’t good enough to win the Big 12. That, unfortunately, feels more correct.

Teamrankings.com currently projects K-State to finish 7-5. I don’t think it’s that dire, but I’m thinking I should prepare myself for eight or nine wins as the ceiling for this team, as opposed to the 10 or 11 I thought was on the table at the beginning of the season.

K-State football: The Dimel phenomenon

Neither opposing defense nor weather has stopped the Kansas State Wildcats from putting up points in bunches the past two weeks.

dimel

KSU Co-Offensive Coordinator Dana Dimel

With 63 against Florida Atlantic and 35 in two quarters against Missouri State, there have been plenty of scoring chances for everyone.

Well, more so for one more than others.

After scoring six touchdowns in the past two games and matching his total from 2015, sophomore fullback Winston Dimel has bulldozed his way to the top of the Big 12 scoring list and is tied for 13th in Division I FBS – averaging 12 points per game. Through three games, he has 60 percent of K-State’s 10 rushing touchdowns. Nobody else has more than one.

Usually, this would just be kind of fun and worth celebrating the fullback still has a place in a college game bastardized by things like Kliff Kingsbury. But, this situation has a slight film on it to me, maybe because I’ve been on teams in my life where you knew plays were called because so-and-so was a coach’s favorite or a coach’s son. And, I know the reaction to those situations in those locker rooms were never a unanimous “it’s all good.”

The hard part about all of this, of course, is that calling Dimel’s number largely has worked the past two games. His success, plus the lopsided scores, have left some fans asking me why I would question something that’s worked so well. Usually, I would 100-percent agree with that line of thinking. However, that the calls worked isn’t really applicable here because any call should work against K-State’s recent opponents, and that’s the point: If you know that, why not spread the love?

In three games, the Charles Jones/Dalvin Warmack/Justin Silmon trio has combined for 265 yards on 45 rushes (5.9 ypc) and one lonely touchdown.* Inside the red zone, Dimel has had 13 plays called for him, outpacing the trio’s total of 5 play calls. Outside of the red zone, it’s the opposite. The trio has had 52 times where the ball was intended for them through rush or pass, with Dimel recording just 3 opportunities. My takeaway: It’s interesting that the weapons of choice up and down the field aren’t Dimel, who then reaps the reward.

*After three consecutive Dimel runs inside the five-yard line were stopped short of the goal against Missouri State, Charles Jones finally got the running backs a touchdown in the season’s third game … but nearly didn’t before replay had to prove he crossed the goal line before dropping the ball. Seriously dumb stuff, Charles, but hey, when you hardly ever get the chance to score, I can appreciate the want to celebrate.

Nobody legitimate is going to think less of Winston Dimel if he only scores two touchdowns instead of six. He was a preseason All-Big 12 selection, after all. And, to the argument that showing the entire Dimel playbook will give defenses more to think about in goal situations … maybe? But, how often is K-State really going to put Dimel in the Wildcat during Big 12 play?*

*I mean, they won’t do that, right? Someone tell me no … please? Please tell me no.

In the interest of sanity, let’s say this isn’t what the game plan will be in higher-leveraged situations. So, if that’s that’s the case, then why shy away from rewarding your running backs and giving them the satisfaction that comes with capping a great drive they played a direct role in?

Or don’t …

Don’t reward other guys and hope like hell in the short term that wins keep coming. And hope long term that future (legitimate) running back recruits aren’t paying that close of attention to how the scoring scales obviously have been tipped toward the sophomore son of a coach who likely will be in Manhattan for a couple of more years.