K-State football returns to the gridiron — or, pitch, in this instance — Saturday for the first time in almost for months for the annual Purple/White Spring Game at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, the home of Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City.
With changes up and down the K-State roster, K-State Collegian Sports Editor Tate Steinlage sat down with GoPowercat’s Tim Fitzgerald to breakdown Saturday’s game and the talking points heading into it:
Collegian: Through three spring press conferences, K-State football head coach Bill Snyder has teased that this may be his biggest undertaking since coming back to the program from retirement. Have you sensed the same from Snyder?
Tim Fitzgerald: I think his first couple of years back posed more problems because there was a glaring lack of depth and numbers in the program due to the previous coaching staff’s recruiting. He addressed this in a big part through a walk-on program that paid off the last few years with a large number of former walk-ons becoming key contributors.
What’s unique about this season is that the retooling job on the offensive side of the ball is so encompassing. There will be a new quarterback, a new starting running back, a new tight end and new go-to receivers. There is literally nothing of substance in terms of statistics returning to this offense.
Snyder has recognized that, but I almost sense he’s enjoying the challenge of trying to recreate a productive offense out of new parts. He’s the master of moving around in his playbook to find what works for his current team, and that could be vastly different than it was a year ago.
Collegian: There were high expectations for the offensive line last year, which returned several starters; however, the group struggled for large parts of the season with the run game and sustaining blocks. For the most part, the group remains unchanged heading into this season. What should K-State fans expect from this year’s offensive line?
Fitzgerald: Last year’s line appeared to be out of sync from the start. I think a big part of that was Cody Whitehair’s adjustment from left guard to left tackle. The move displaced one of the best guards in the nation and turned him to an uncertain tackle. It threw everything out of whack.
By the time Whitehair began to settle in, K-State was dedicated to throwing the ball thanks in part to Jake Waters’ injury that limited his ability to take hits and to Tyler Lockett’s effectiveness as a receiver. It appeared that the line and backs never built any rhythm or confidence last season and the running game floundered.
I think fans will see a far greater dedication to running the ball this season, and the ability to again add in the quarterback running game will help. There are a variety of options at running back, which should help too, but mostly this line must be prepared to play with the running game attitude it lacked last season.
Collegian: Freshman quarterback Alex Delton is in an interesting situation. K-State doesn’t have a standout starter yet and Snyder has praised Delton, even comparing him to Ell Roberson’s freshman year. What do you expect from the Hays, Kansas product?
Fitzgerald: The true freshman is the third option at quarterback because Snyder will greatly prefer to preserve his redshirt, but if Delton shows he’s ready to play and there are issues at the quarterback spot, he will play.
The challenge for him is closing the knowledge gap when it comes to absorbing K-State’s offensive system, which can be daunting. Junior Joe Hubener has a big lead in this area, and sophomore Jesse Ertz is in hot pursuit.
The thing is, it’s really unclear how a quarterback will apply that knowledge until the game is moving at full speed, so if Delton grows comfortable and proves he can’t be left off the field, he would likely play.
Keep in mind that Roberson was gifted but didn’t play as a true freshman. He was then a backup as a redshirt freshman and Roberson even shared the QB job his sophomore season before taking over as a junior so even using that comparison, Alex Delton could be a few years away from action.
Collegian: Spring Games are essentially just another practice and so early in the season that it’s oftentimes tough to draw any sort of conclusions from them. In your opinion, what is the value of a Spring Game and what should K-State fans be paying attention to Saturday?
Fitzgerald: If offers an entertaining glimpse for fans and the media, but we often base too much on what we see that one day. In reality, a spring game is the final of 15 spring practices and the coaches have all of that upon which to base their judgment.
It is common for spring game stars to be little-used reserves in the fall, but there are some interesting jobs open on this team, particularly on offense. The white team is typically the reserves, so if anyone shines on that team, it means they are doing it against the starters.
In addition, Snyder’s preference of playing the spring game as starters versus reserves often produces some deceiving mismatches.
Collegian: One player fans should keep their eyes on Saturday — someone who may be flying under the radar heading into the season?
Fitzgerald: I’m going to cheat and say keep an eye on the receivers because there are some unheralded players such as freshman Dominique Heath, sophomore Judah Jones and senior Andre Davis who could help fill the need for playmakers on this offense. There are also some intriguing freshman running backs: redshirt Dalvin Warmack, redshirt walk-on Justin Silmon and true freshman Alex Barnes.