K-State vs. Stanford: 3 things to watch

Then-sophomore quarterback Jesse Ertz looks downfield for open receivers in the fourth quarter of the annual Purple-White Spring Game on April 23, 2016, in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (File Photo by Parker Robb | The Collegian)

In one of Kansas State’s biggest nonconference games in history, many questions loom about the team. Here are three things to watch for as the Wildcats take on the Stanford Cardinal.

1. Jesse Ertz

In Monday’s Big 12 teleconference, K-State head coach Bill Snyder named junior quarterback Jesse Ertz the starter for the Wildcats’ opening game at Stanford, beating out senior Joe Hubener and redshirt freshman Alex Delton.

While it is the second year in a row Ertz has been named the opening day starter, he has little game experience. Ertz was only able to play two snaps a year ago before a knee injury forced him out for the rest of the season. K-State fans have only seen flashes of Ertz’s ability in recent spring games, so it will be interesting to see how Ertz will handle starting against another team for virtually the first time.

Also, note that the first pass Ertz throws will be his first collegiate passing attempt. If there’s one position on the field where it is beneficial to have a great deal of experience, it’s probably at the quarterback position.

2. Offensive line inexperience

If there’s a second area that needs more experience, it’s on the offensive line. The only returning starter from last year’s squad is sophomore Dalton Risner, who started at center in all 13 games last season for the Cats.

Although Risner by far has more experience than any other lineman on the team, he too will be getting used to something different; right tackle. Although it’s a possibility Risner gets some snaps at center, he will start at right tackle while junior Reid Najvar will take over the snapping duties.

The starting offensive line will look like this: redshirt freshman Scott Frantz at left tackle, redshirt freshman Tyler Mitchell at left guard, Navjar at center, senior Terrale Johnson at right guard and Risner at right tackle. We all know that the success of the running game, and passing game, starts with the play of the offensive line. Despite being young across the line, Snyder seemed positive.

“It’s not necessarily the most desirable thing, but I like the way they have come along and progressed,” Snyder said at Tuesday’s press conference. “They will probably see the brunt of Stanford’s defense and movements and all that goes along with it.”

3. Defensive Backs

A place where K-State returns, and gains experience from, is the entire defensive side of the ball.

One place that will be key for the Wildcats’ success will be in the secondary, where the unit will get a huge boost, getting All-Big 12 senior safety Dante Barnett back from a shoulder injury.

Most expect Barnett to step in after the time off and make big plays for the defense. Sophomore Kendall Adams will return to play alongside Barnett at the other safety spot.

While it was expected that sophomore Duke Shelley, who had his redshirt pulled in the middle of last season due to injuries, would be at one of the cornerback positions, the real question was who was going to be the other.

Junior-college transfer sophomore D.J. Reed has won that spot for now, but there is plenty of talent on his heels in redshirt freshman Johnathan Durham and senior graduate transfer Cedric Dozier. Senior Donnie Starks returns at the nickelback position.

It will be interesting to see if this unit can contain Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey. Barnett said he knows the task at hand.

“He is so versatile,” Barnett said of McCaffrey. “He can line up in the backfield and he flexes out at receiver. He can do pretty much anything. He can do anything on the field, so you just have to be aware and be up for the challenge.”