After a number of offseason questions, the Kansas State Wildcats are ready to provide some answers as they open the 2016-17 season in Palo Alto, California, against the Stanford Cardinal.
After another three-way quarterback battle throughout spring and fall practices, on Monday, head coach Bill Snyder named junior Jesse Ertz the starting quarterback for Friday’s game against Stanford.
“He’s in all reality just been more consistent than the other two (quarterbacks competing),” Snyder said in the weekly Big 12 teleconference. “The consistency part of it going into the first ballgame is extremely important to us and (Ertz) has demonstrated that to a greater degree.”
A year ago Ertz won the same competition and was set to lead the Wildcats before an injury sidelined him for the season after two plays. Ertz has the offense down and the confidence of his teammates, yet still lacks real game experience. Still, Snyder said he’s confident in his quarterback.
“Obviously we feel comfortable with (Ertz), in regards to how he can throw the football as well as manage the offense, but again you know he hasn’t been on the field yet,” Snyder said. “I think he has that poise that’s just part of his demeanor that’ll allow him to work through any of the shortcomings one might have by being a first-time starter.”
The line in front of Ertz will be a work in progress against the Cardinal; all five linemen will be new starters to their positions. Sophomore Dalton Risner started all 13 games last year at center but was moved to right tackle in fall practices to accommodate junior Reid Najvar into the lineup.
“They don’t have the experience that you’d like, but they’ve had a significant amount of practice experience,” Snyder said of his young linemen. “So we’re doing the kind of work that we need to be doing and the practice with the environment and how we organize it. I think there will be some carry over for them into the ballgame.”
Offensive experience may be in question, but no such thing can be said about the K-State defense. Experience is abundant on the defensive side of the ball with nine starters returning, the most Snyder has returned on that side of the ball in his second stint as head coach.
Included in that returning group is senior safety Dante Barnett, who was injured in the opener a year ago and sat out the rest of the season. Barnett said he is ready to lead the defense, and even more ready to play.
“They all mess with me and act like I’ve been here for eight years but I let it go; I’ve seen a lot while I’ve been here so they kinda listen when I tell them things,” Barnett said. “I feel like I haven’t missed a beat since I was out.”
Barnett and his teammates are excited about facing Stanford standout and Heisman trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey. K-State defenders are wary of his talent but ready for the challenge.
“He’s very versatile; 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 linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said. “We have to do what we have to do to stop him. We cannot let him get loose in open space and everybody has to fly to the ball. That is what we talk about, everybody getting to him, all 11 players on defense getting to him.”
Junior linebacker Elijah Lee said they need to approach McCaffrey like he’s any other player.
“He puts his pants on the same way we do, he ties his cleats the same way we do, so you just have to be confident in your abilities and what you can do,” Lee said.
After a long offseason, the Wildcats are ready for the one of the biggest nonconference games in recent history.
“I have great respect for Stanford, and we all know where they are in the rankings, certainly well deserved,” Snyder said. “It’s obviously a challenge, but it’s an excellent opportunity for the young people here.”
K-State kicks off the season against Stanford on Friday at 8 p.m. CST in Stanford Stadium.