The Kansas State Wildcats face their first road test this weekend against Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt has long dwelled in the SEC East cellar, but this year the Commodores are a team that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Commodores finished their season 6-7 last year, earning a spot in the Independence Bowl against North Carolina State. They boasted a win over the University of Tennessee and a close road win at the University of Georgia in their 2016 campaign. They return 18 starters from last season.
One of those returning starters, junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, is someone that the Wildcats need to be wary of. He’s thrown for 498 yards and seven touchdowns this season, and he completed 83.3 percent of his pass attempts last week to set a new school record.
Shurmur was one of the top arms in the conference through the first two games and ranks ninth in school history in career passing yards. He is also the son of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur.
Senior running back Ralph Webb owns nine school rushing records and is sixth amongst active rushers in career yards in the country. He put up 103 yards on 37 rushes for two touchdowns last week against Alabama A&M.
Derek Mason, head coach, is in his fourth year at Vanderbilt. Mason was a defensive coordinator under David Shaw at Stanford and coached some top 15 defenses while he was there. Mason is one of two head coaches in the country that also serves as defensive coordinator.
The Commodores’ defense this year ranks number one in the country in red zone defense and opponent third down conversion percentage. They have recorded eight sacks already this year after only sacking the quarterback 15 times last year.
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Smith is who the Wildcats need to be worried about on the Commodores’ defense. Smith leads the team with 16 total tackles this season.
The Wildcats, with senior quarterback Jesse Ertz and sophomore running back Alex Barnes, certainly have a big task on their hands if they want to move the ball. Likewise, the defense will need to have a good day if they want to limit Shurmur’s effectiveness.
The Wildcats are kind of a wild card coming into the game. They outmatched an FCS team and a Conference USA team in Manhattan to start the season, but didn’t show much of their playbook in either game.
The Wildcats boast a number 18 ranking in the Associated Press poll, but Saturday will be the first chance for the world to see if K-State is really a top 25 team.