Kansas State takes on the Nevada Wolf Pack at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in its final non-conference game after beating Stanford and Southern Illinois the past two weeks.
The Wolf Pack are 2-0 after beating California in Berkley, California, and FCS Idaho State at home behind head coach Jay Norvell, offensive coordinator Matt Mumme and defensive coordinator Brian Ward.
Mumme is the son of Hal Mumme, one of the founders of the Air Raid offense. The younger Mumme was a quarterback under his dad and Mike Leach at Kentucky and also serves as the quarterbacks coach.
Nevada runs a true Air Raid scheme, complete with wide offensive line splits to create horizontal space, fast tempo and quick, short routes to supplement the run game. Norvell has blended in some I-formation and more power running approaches to complement the passing attack.
Helming the Wolf Pack offense is junior quarterback Carson Strong, a legitimate NFL prospect with a strong, accurate arm. He’s up for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Maxwell Award and the Davey O’Brien Award.
His targets are all big, experienced pass-catchers, including 6 foot 6 inch senior tight end Cole Turner and 6 foot 4 inch fifth-year wide receiver Elijah Cooks.
Ward’s 4-2-5 defense should be familiar to K-State head coach Chris Klieman. Both have worked with the same coaches at different times, including former K-State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton and current linebackers coach Steve Stanard as recently as 2019.
Klieman mentioned that they know each other quite well and are friends from the same coaching tree in his midweek press conference.
Their four-man front is big and disruptive, which has helped them hold their two opponents to 4.3 yards per rush and only 147 rushing yards per game.
The Wolf Pack base defense trades a linebacker from an extra defensive back to combat more pass-heavy offenses. That leaves six players “in the box” instead of the traditional seven.
Where there’s a Will…
The Wildcats will rely on sophomore second-string quarterback Will Howard to lead them against Nevada, and they will need a much better performance than this past week. K-State should scheme to Howard’s strengths and include him more in the rushing attack to try and take advantage of Nevada’s lighter box and perhaps open up some holes in the play-action game.
K-State’s defense has to play at least as well as they did against Stanford for the Wildcats to have a chance in this game. Slowing down Strong and forcing him into mistakes will be a key part of giving their offense a chance — which is easier said than done.
To have a chance, K-State needs to dominate the non-point indicators of football success. Things like time of possession, penalty yards, turnovers and non-offensive scores go a long way to helping a team win in the one stat that actually matters — points.
K-State’s defense does its part at first, but the Wildcat offense just doesn’t have the horses to hold onto the ball, and the defense gets gassed late. Carson Strong feasts on a tired K-State secondary. Nevada wins a shootout 35-28.