K-State rushing attack vital versus strong Arkansas front seven

Co-offensive Coordinators Dana Dimel (left) and Del Miller speak to the media about the Wildcats' upcoming matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks at a press conference December 30, 2015, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

The top two rushers in the country have several things in common. They both rushed for over 1900 yards this season, they both play in the SEC West and both were held to sub-100 yard games by the Arkansas defense this season.

Yes, Alabama Heisman winner Derrick Henry and LSU stud Leonard Fournette are only two victims of the very potent Razorback rush defense, holding opponents to an average of 119.6 yards per game which is good for 16th in the country.”

“The number one thing we want to be is mentally and physically tough,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith said. “I think in order to accomplish that, which we strive for every week we have got to be able to stop the run. We commit a lot of time and effort and resource into doing that.”

While their passing defense is significantly less impressive, giving up an average of 284.5 yards per game through the air, making their secondary the seventh worst in the country. The strength of their run defense poses a threat to K-State’s clock-management style of offense, predicated on keeping the ball moving by maintaining steady run attack.

“We take a lot of pride in our run game,” senior Wildcat offensive tackle Cody Whitehair said. “We always have. As far as time of possession and stuff like that it’s imperative to run the ball. So we just have to play physical up front. Our backs have to run hard but you know we’ve been practicing that since day so I think we’ll be able to run the ball.”

Junior running back Charles Jones has been a steady force for the Wildcats after a 122 yard rushing effort against Texas helped him retake the top running back spot in the depth chart after falling behind then-surging freshman Justin Silmon.

“I think he has excellent vision in their zone scheme whenever they do their quarterback read stuff,” Smith said. “The other thing I think he has is really good patience… He can also hurt you on the perimeter.. I think (K-State’s) strength defending their entire run game. They have a good running back, they have two good quarterbacks who can run the ball and as soon as you try to commit guys to that from the second level, they’ll run/pass option off of it. They really make you defend all 11 players.”

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Junior runningback Charles Jones sneaks past a few Baylor defenders en route to a 12 yard run on K-State's first possession in the first quarter of the Wildcats' 24-31 loss to the No. 2 Bears Nov. 5, 2015, in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

It’s been a difficult road for Jones after taking over the starting position following the graduation of celebrated Wildcat running back John Hubert.

Last year, Jones never seemed to be able to get it going, only rushing for 540 yards splitting time with the now graduated DeMarcus Robinson.

“You know, last season early in the year I really thought (Jones) was starting to develop into a good player and then he had a PCL injury,” K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “It bothered him a lot last year and I didn’t see him progress. This year it really didn’t get healthy until the middle of fall camp. He became healthy and his game started to progress.”

Since then, Jones hasn’t been dominant but he’s been steady, rushing for almost 70 or more yards in each of the last six games except for the season finale versus West Virginia.

The Wildcats will be counting on Jones along with their quarterbacks, fullbacks and whoever else Bill Snyder decides to let run the ball to keep Brandon Allen and the potent Arkansas offense off the field.

If K-State can do that, they’ll be one step close to adding another notch in their bowl win column and avenging the loss to Arkansas four seasons ago.

Tim Everson was born in Wichita, KS in 1994. Before fifth grade he moved up to Manhattan for one year before settling in Riley, KS where he graduated from Riley County High School in 2012. Tim has worked for the Collegian since spring of 2014 and took over as Sports Editor during the summer of 2015. Tim loves sports, music, movies and good food when he can get it.