OPINION: Wildcats in for a tough game Saturday

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Senior running back Harry Trotter runs in a touchdown during K-State's 52-0 victory against Bowling Green in Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State will start its 2020 season 11 a.m. Saturday at home against Arkansas State. This will be the third match-up between the two teams, but the first since Arkansas State made the jump to FBS — then called Division I-A — in 1992.

The Red Wolves have the distinct advantage of coming into this game having already played one game this season — a 37-24 loss to rival Memphis. With all of the changes to the schedule due to COVID 19, playing one game already awards an advantage to Arkansas State.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Red Wolves.

Head coach Blake Anderson enters his seventh season in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Anderson has won two Sunbelt conference titles during his tenure — outright in 2015 and shared in 2016. He also added a co-division title in 2018.

Anderson is an offensive-minded head coach and develops high-scoring offenses wherever he goes. The Red Wolves have scored 30 or more points in 65 percent of their games and have put up over 400 yards in 69 percent of their games played under Anderson.

They run a pretty standard hurry-up spread offense. In their game against Memphis last week, they lined up with three receivers, a running back and a tight end-full back hybrid they call TE-Y or Y back. Even in obvious pass situations, they keep a running back in the formation for pass protection.

The Y back lines up a couple of steps behind the guard and is used primarily as a lead blocker, but also goes out into the pattern on passing plays and is occasionally used in pass blocking.

The Red Wolves run to set up the pass and use a lot of play action in the passing game. A lot of pass plays include some sort of play fake to the running back, who then sags back to pick up blitzers.

On defense, they run the 3-3-5 lineup — three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs — which is getting popular as a way to stop spread offenses. The secondary features a third safety who either flows to the ball or drops in coverage.

The 3-3-5 relies on stout run-stopping up front to free up defenders to cover receivers and rally to the ball on short passes.

Senior defensive lineman Forrest Merrill, a transfer from Missouri State, anchors the center of their defense. He’s big — 6-foot-1-inch, 338 pounds — and athletic. He gets penetration on run plays and forces the running back to bounce outside into their linebackers who are crashing.

He recorded seven total tackles last week, including one for a 13-yard loss.

KEYS TO THE GAME

In the trenches

K-State’s offensive line is inexperienced, but huge. The starters for this season average a touch over 320 pounds, according to GoPowercat’s D. Scott Fritchen. This will be the heaviest line since 1997 for the Wildcats.

Merrill feasted on the comparatively smaller Memphis offensive line last week, but will he be able to penetrate K-State’s beefier line this week? If he struggles, K-State should be able to run the ball between the tackles and attack the middle of the defense.

Schematically, K-State’s power-run game is a good match-up for the 3-3-5. If the running lanes open up, Arkansas State will likely end up having to commit the extra defensive back to stopping the run, opening up the play-action passing game.

Slow start

Arkansas State hung around with Memphis until midway through the third quarter last week when Memphis’s talent advantage started to show.

K-State had an abnormal offseason, but they cannot afford to let that show early against the Arkansas State hurry-up offense. If K-State has massive miscues due to the Red Wolves’ tempo, they could find themselves in a hole early.

Likewise, K-State will have to avoid major mistakes on offense in the center-quarterback exchange and the mesh point on handoffs.

QB Controversy

Arkansas State has two quarterbacks at the top of their depth chart: sophomore Layne Hatcher, a transfer from Alabama, and junior Logan Bonner.

Bonner got the start last week, but both quarterbacks played a similar number of snaps while the coaching staff evaluated them. Hatcher played a more efficient game, he threw for a higher completion percentage and more yards, but Bonner had the only touchdown pass.

Truthfully, I could not tell much of a difference between the two skill-wise in the Memphis game. They both throw similar deep balls and have similar arm strength.

PREDICTION:

K-State struggles to move the ball early as the offensive line gels, but their size and talent are enough to get the job done. In the second half, the talent disparity at skill position shows up and K-State pulls away.

K-State wins 31-14.

Nathan Enserro is the Collegian assistant sports editor and a graduate student in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, an alumnus from Olathe, Kansas. I graduated in spring 2022 with a Masters in Mass Communication, and I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. I covered K-State sports for the Collegian for four years.