WVUIE97: At first, generic, glance K State and WVU have a lot in common this season, both replacing a large quantity of talent and fighting to get to or stay at .500. Has the season gone as expected along the lines of preseason expectations (the NDSU loss notwithstanding)?
Jon: No, we're pretty disappointed thus far, and even if we'd beaten NDSU we still would be. Our expectations at this point were to either be 4-2, or 3-3 with Texas getting revenge, and at first blush that would seem to contradict what I just said... but hindsight and the flow of the season both also play a huge role here.
Given the shape Texas was in when we ran into them, we should have trounced the Longhorns; instead, the coaching staff walked into that game with a ludicrous game plan which utterly failed to exploit Texas' known weakness. Then there was the Oklahoma State game, which we'd expected to be a loss pre-season, but as things progressed seemed more like a potential win, and coming up short was a disappointment.
That said, in the larger sense we're right where we expected to be (or, depending on who you ask, within a game of it) as far as our record if you ignore the NDSU result.
WVUIE97: We can certainly also relate with a revolving quarterback situation (ours seems to have been settled at the moment). Do the two quarterbacks bring distinctly different skill sets to the team or are they comparable? Which seems to be the most capable running the KSt offense?
Jon: They are VERY different quarterbacks, and if they could both shake the one characteristic they seem to have in common they'd make the perfect platoon tandem. Jake Waters is essentially a pro-style quarterback. He can hit both short and long passes with touch, and reads through his progressions extremely well most of the time; on the ground, he's not a great runner on designed plays but scrambles for yardage pretty well when his targets are covered.
Daniel Sams is right out of the old Ell Roberson mold. He's got an arm, although his passes are never particularly pretty. He, also, is pretty good in the short passing game, but struggles with the deep ball. Sams' strength, however, is his legs. He's a freakish runner, and he'd be the perfect tailback if he had some more bulk and durability.
The problem the two share is that late in games, when K-State is in a desperate situation, the two have combined to commit absolutely terrible turnovers in three straight conference games. Within the fanbase, we're pretty terrified now when we see Sams drop back and cock his cannon; likewise, we get really nervous when Waters is in the game when we're in the opponent's red zone. A lot of this has to do with playcalling more than the actual abilities of the players. The coaching staff just doesn't seem to be maximizing their respective skillsets, nor have they given the two the best chance to succeed.
In general terms, the offense works better under Sams. In more realistic terms, the offense tends to work a little better with Waters in between the 20 yard lines -- with the caveat that this only applies when he's got Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson available to throw to, and he hasn't for two weeks -- and a LOT better with Sams inside the 20s.
WVUIE97: What kind of wizardry did Coach Snyder cook up to keep Baylor in check? Seriously though, was there anything in particular that you noticed that KSt was able to do to them to limit their effectiveness that no one else has been able to do thus far?
Jon: Two things: On defense, the Wildcats stopped the Baylor run game, and limited short passes to short gains. On offense, K-State was able to extend drives and eat clock. Time of possession doesn't mean as much in its raw form as most people think, but in this case it did serve its designed purpose of limiting the raw number of plays Baylor was able to run. And running a ton of plays is a huge part of the Baylor offense (as well as Oregon's, and other teams with similar philosophies).
WVUIE97: Who are some of the lesser known guys on the team that could have an impact on the game result?
Jon: I'll assume that Waters, Sams, Lockett, Thompson, and John Hubert need little introduction. First and foremost, you're going to want to look at the receiving corps. Torrell Miller and Collin's little brother Kyle Klein have had to step into the breach to replace Lockett and Thompson. Miller had an atrocious first four games of the season, including an infamous play where Waters, facing Miller directly, hit him right in the hands with a pass which bounced off and was intercepted. But with the Oklahoma State game, and with Sams taking over the majority of the snaps, Miller suddenly came alive and has become effective. The third primary member of the receiving corps is Curry Sexton, who's somewhat a Wes Welker type -- he's the guy the QBs tend to look to right past the sticks on third down, and he's really dependable in that role.
You're probably aware of our fullback, since his big brother is pretty famous. Glenn Gronkowski, a redshirt freshman, has quickly adapted to the blocking schemes required in Snyder's defense and has also scored on two separate 50+ yard touchdown receptions.
On defense, you'll obviously remember FS Ty Zimmerman, and he's about all you're going to remember since he's the only returning starter on defense. On the line, DE Ryan Mueller has come into his own this year and despite what some media outlets will try to sell you has been the best player on the unit. Travis Britz has started to do some good work at DT as well. Blake Slaughter is all heart, and despite having some speed challenges has settled down to anchor the MLB position; he's no Arthur Brown, but then who is? Mike Moore isn't a starter, but the backup LB also comes in occasionally as an extra lineman, and has shown a lot of promise. Finally, assuming he's recovered from being nearly decapitated in the Baylor game, CB Kip Daily is worth watching.
WVUIE97: What concerns you about WVU in this week's matchup?
Jon: Really, what concerns me the most is that I've been able to watch the Mountaineers play for about 10 quarters this year and I still just have no idea what they're truly capable of. I'm concerned about West Virginia's ability to beat K-State deep, but I don't know whether that's just a result of watching the second half of the Baylor game. I'm concerned about the 'Eers ability to squelch our offense, but I don't know whether that's just because I watched the dysfunctional Oklahoma State offense stumble over itself.
WVUIE97: Do you expect a hostile crowd? What kind of environment can both visitors and the players expect?
Jon: That depends entirely on what you mean by "hostile", I suppose. K-State crowds tend to be very cordial to opposing fans, and very intimidating to opposing players. They are loud, they are fired up, and they'll put the team on their backs. But the energy is almost entirely aimed at the Wildcats. I say this with all sincerity: I can count the times I've heard of a legitimate complaint about K-State fan behavior from an opposing fan during the Snyder era on one hand.
And since y'all were extremely gracious hosts on our first visit to Morgantown last year, I'd expect our fans to be on even better behavior than they normally are.
WVUIE97: How do you see the game playing out?
Jon: Man... I just don't know. I can say that I do expect K-State to win this game, primarily because the Mountaineer defense is suspect and isn't particularly strong against the run. It's really all going to depend on whether West Virginia can run on K-State. I think that after the Baylor game that presents an open question, even taking into account the fact that K-State was selling out the run to neutralize Lache Seastrunk. If the run isn't effective against base defense, I think the passing game can be stopped, and K-State should win big. If West Virginia is able to force the Cats into stacking the box, it's going to be a shootout because the secondary just can't cover the numbers.