Defense ready for tough test against McCaffrey

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey takes the ball downfield during the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016. (Photo Courtesy of Rahim Ullah | The Stanford Daily)

A strong team with College Football Playoff aspirations awaits K-State this Friday in No. 8 Stanford.

With that comes a match-up with 2015 Heisman runner-up running back and 2016 Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey’s statistics from the 2015 season read like something from a horror film created specifically for college football defenses. He ran for 2,019 yards in 14 games last season. That’s more than the total yards of K-State’s top four rushers last season combined.

And it wasn’t just his rushing numbers that traumatized defenses. The Heisman runner-up finished with 3,864 all-purpose yards last season, which broke the single season all-purpose yards record set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Sanders went on to become what many consider the best professional running back of all time.

To put it another way, McCaffrey’s all-purpose yards last season gave him more yards than all K-State’s rushers and top five receivers combined.

Still, K-State players remained confident when they addressed the media Tuesday.

Senior linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said McCaffrey’s status as a former and current Heisman candidate excites the defense.

“Our defense is ready for him,” Moore said. “We’re very ready.”

Which is not to say the defense is unaware of what McCaffrey brings. Moore said the team talks consistently about how they need to flock to the ball and not let McCaffrey get any open space.

“(McCaffrey’s) very versatile,” Moore said. “He’s a great runner, he’s quick on his feet, he has good jukes, he’s just an all around great running back.”

Senior defensive end Jordan Willis said McCaffrey’s patience is what has most impressed him, particularly the way McCaffrey waits for his blocks to develop before breaking free.

“Once he gets open, he just goes,” Willis said. “He doesn’t rush into anything.”

Yet while the Wildcats are well aware of what makes McCaffrey special, Moore wasn’t the only defensive player who said the defense was ready to face McCaffrey. Moore said the team has faced good running backs before, and senior safety Dante Barnett said many of the skills McCaffrey brings are similar to those the team has encountered in running backs they have played.

Friday’s game, of course, will not be won or lost solely by McCaffrey. Football is inherently a team sport, and junior linebacker Elijah Lee said the team’s game plan is created based on the entire opponent, not just one player.

“You have to game plan their whole team because they have a whole team full of playmakers,” Lee said. “If you just focus on (McCaffrey) then that’s just going to take the focus off the receivers or the tight ends, and they’re also pretty good players.”

Shelton grew up in the desert southwest. A native of Lancaster, California, he mostly grew up in south Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado before moving to Kansas and graduating from Junction City High School. He started working as a news writer for the Collegian in 2009 before taking a three-year break from college. He returned to K-State in 2013 and has since worked for the news desk, feature desk, as a copy editor and now as a sports writer. He enjoys tap dancing, writing anything possible, reading court opinions and watching Arizona Coyotes hockey.