CB Marcus Williams vs. S Ty Zimmerman
The Wildcat faithful should be more than familiar with senior Ty Zimmerman at this point. As one of two returning starters on the defense, and a three-year starter at that, Zimmerman is the face of the K-State defense. His presence is felt all over the field, as he made clear last season with 50 tackles and five interceptions. Four of those five picks came in consecutive games, and he tied for the Big 12 lead in that category despite missing two games at the end of the season.
Marcus Williams is a name that few people in Manhattan are bound to know, but that could change tonight. Williams is the Zimmerman of the Bison defense. Both play in the secondary and both are one of, if not the best player on their respective defenses. The 5-11, 192 pound senior from Minneapolis was a consensus All-American, national Defensive Player of the Year, and Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the year last season in D1-AA. Williams intercepted seven passes last season and deflected another 11, making him one of the best cover corners in D-II and will be in the back of K-State junior quarterback Jake Waters’ mind all game.
Edge: Zimmerman. While Williams is probably the better of the two when it comes to pass coverage, Zimmerman’s largest impact may be in the running game, where the strength of the Bison offense resides.
RBs Sam Ojuri and John Crockett vs. RB John Hubert
Senior John Hubert has put together two straight seasons with over 900 yards rushing, both while being the second-leading rusher on the team. Without Collin Klein around, Hubert will be the featured rusher for the Wildcats and will be challenged by the Bison defense. As he strives for his first 1,000-yard season, this game will show us how he handles being “The Guy” for the Wildcat offense.
Sam Ojuri and John Crockett are returning to North Dakota State after both having 1000-yard seasons last year. Senior Ojuri racked up 1047 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per rush, while junior Crockett finished with 1038 yards and 9 touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Between the two, both of which stand at six feet tall and just over 200 pounds, the overhauled Wildcat defense will have their hands full.
Edge: Ojuri and Crockett. While I have every confidence that Hubert will be everything we want and more this season, two 1000-yard rushers are hard to say no to, even against lesser competition.
Bison DL vs. Wildcat DL
K-State has plenty of fresh faces along the line, which is not the most ideal, but head coach Bill Snyder has done more with less before. Ryan Mueller and Marquel Bryant will start at end, while Chaquil Reed and Travis Britz will start inside at tackle. Mueller, a junior, appeared in all 13 games last season, finishing with 14 tackles and two sacks, while his sophomore counterpart, Bryant, recorded three tackles in five games. Reed notched one tackle in four games last year after transferring to K-State from Butler, but has formidable size at 6-3, 309 pounds. Britz is also big, 6-4, 293 pounds, and totaled six tackles in 11 games as a sophomore last year. This group is raw, but has promise.
Where the Wildcat front four lacks experience, the Bisons’ has it in droves. On one end is senior defensive end Cole Jirik, coming in at 6-5, 248 pounds. As a junior last season, he piled up seven and a half sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, while adding 10 quarterback hits. Across from him is fellow senior Kyle Emanuel. The 6-3, 246 pound junior appeared in every game last year but only started 10 games, totaling five sacks and 12 tackles for loss. K-State will catch a break in defensive tackle Leevon Perry’s suspension for the game, but the Bison have surprising depth for a D1-AA team, and the drop off will not be huge.
Edge: North Dakota State. K-State’s defensive line will have to prove that they can play, while their Bison counterparts have already done so.
WR Ryan Smith vs. WR Tyler Lockett
In 12 games, senior Ryan Smith caught 49 passes for 549 yards and three touchdowns last season, while averaging 10.5 yards per punt return, including a 76 yarder for a touchdown against Youngstown State. In 13 games, junior Tyler Lockett caught 44 passes for 687 yards and 4 touchdowns while averaging 32.8 yards per kickoff return, including two touchdowns.
Both receivers are diminutive, Smith checking in at 5-7 and Lockett at 5-11. Both are dangerous with the ball in their hands, whether on offense or special teams. Both made the Second Team last season in their respective All-Conference Teams. Both are no doubt hoping to start out the season with a bang and are no doubt capable of doing so.
Edge: Lockett. Lockett has shown that he is a truly dangerous threat against any and all competition, and has been doing so since his freshman season, while Smith has only stared 20 of the 44 games he has played in for his career. Lockett’s long-term consistency gives him a solid edge on Smith.