Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 12, 2018 at 9:19 am.

Wildcats need to address weaknesses up front

Anyone wondering where Kansas State failed to stack up against an imposing SEC opponent needs to look no further than up front.

The Wildcats’ offensive front, touted as one of the team’s strengths based on experience and the return of senior tackle Dalton Risner, a potential high-round draft pick, was thoroughly flattened in a 31-10 loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 8.

“That was one of the best D-lines we’re going to see all year,” sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson said.

He better hope so. Or, hope, his blocking improves.

The Wildcats managed just 213 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per snap. Their defensive line also offered little resistance. Those mismatches in the trenches must be addressed before Big 12 play. One tune-up remains, a Sept. 15 home game against UTSA (0-2), which is coming off a 37-20 loss to Baylor.

“We’ve got to fix some stuff on our defense — fit better, tackle better, stuff like that,” said defensive end Reggie Walker.

No one should be overly alarmed by that comment. The defense figured to need some time to regroup after losing a three-time All-Big 12 pick in tackle Will Geary and D.J. Reed, a star in both the secondary and on special teams before declaring early and getting drafted in the fifth round by the San Francisco 49ers.

Offensively, however, Kansas State possesses two of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12, a loaded backfield and the veteran line, which was expected to mesh well because of its cohesiveness.

Thompson did take the bulk of the snaps at quarterback after backing up junior Alex Delton in the opener, which Kansas State rallied to win 27-24 over FCS South Dakota. Neither got untracked against Mississippi State, which extended the Wildcats’ string of consecutive home defeats against ranked opponents to 12.

Still, Bill Snyder is ready to settle on a starter (Thompson) and leave him to direct the offense.

“If they’re performing well, then it’s kind of like any other position,” said the Kansas State coach. “They’ll certainly stay on the field for the vast majority of the time.”

The offensive line must be “stronger and more forceful in the initial phase of our protection so that we don’t get so much push,” said Snyder, who went on to add that his line is “just a little soft right now.”

Hardly the prescription for capitalizing on a backfield stable that should provide enough rushing production to keep opponents guessing and give Thompson more time to fire passes.

Junior Alex Barnes has been a workhorse in each of the first two games, leading the Wildcats with 75 yards on 17 carries against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs countered with a lead back, Kylin Hill, who also carried 17 times but managed 211 yards. The 384 yards Mississippi State gained on the ground was the most rushing yards Kansas State allowed since 2010 against Nebraska.

The Kansas State offense has produced just two touchdowns in two games and ranks 113th in total offense (310.5 yards) while also committing five turnovers.

UTSA figures to provide a benevolent drop in competitiveness. Still, the Roadrunners drew within 27-20 early in the fourth quarter against Baylor.