1. I'm sure you get this a lot, but, seriously - what make Collin Klein so special? Watching him play, he doesn't possess elite speed. He's not the most athletic player on the field. He is not an elite passer. Yet, he's one of the top players in the country.
Klein (7) has an uncanny ability to reach the first down marker.
While nobody, West Virginia defenders included, should shortchange Klein's physical skills, give the man's mental ability mad props here. Since finally settling into the quarterback position (he bounced back-and-forth from receiver to QB early in his career), he bought into the massive task of truly learning Bill Snyder's system; something he has described in the past as trying to drink from a fire hydrant.
As part of that understanding, he can check at the line, of course, but he most importantly realizes how crucial it is that he does not turn the ball over. That thought process equally helps his pass reads and his running decisions. Then again, being 6-4, 230lbs doesn't hurt, either. On top of all that, he simply fights for every available yard — an intangible trait that not every player has.
Oh, and his teammates love him, too. So that helps the whole leader thing.
2. Running back John Hubert is likely not a player that many WVU fans are familiar with, but they should be. What kind of back is he? What other weapons do the Wildcats have on offense?
He is the kind of back that rushed for 1747 yards and 22 TDs as a high school junior before breaking LaDainian Tomlinson's city single-season rushing record of 2524 yards his senior year. That fact hides under his 5-7, 190lb frame. Snyder said it again this week that Hubert surprises you with his ability to get yards you wouldn't think a guy with that build could get; that he loves his lower-body strength. He seeks out contact, and loves to break a tackle or two before finally getting pulled down.
Other weapons: In Snyder's ever-changing offense (based on the notion that your best plays are the ones the defense allows you to have success with), the wide-outs are sometimes in play and feature Oregon transfer Chris Harper (who returned closer to his Wichita, Kan., home), diminutive but speedy Tramaine Thompson and freshman All-American Tyler Lockett, whose dad, Kevin, and uncle, Aaron, both played for Snyder as well. Then, you have tight ends Travis Tannahill and Zach Trujillo, both of whom have been on the receiving end of big plays this season.
3. While West Virginia seemingly fell for the "trap game" this past weekend, Kansas State stumbled a bit, but came out victorious. Do you think they were looking forward a bit to this game? If not, what was it that Iowa State did that kept the game close?
It's possible that some guys were looking ahead, but I think Iowa State is just "that team" for K-State; one that matches up well beginning at attitude and heart, and going all the way down to how they approach field position, penalties, etc. KSU has now won the past five games against the Cyclones, and the largest margin of victory has been only eight points. K-State has improved as a team in each of those years, but so has ISU under Paul Rhoads.
This year, it was a big-game atmosphere in Ames, with the largest home crowd in school history. Put that in play along with soggy conditions, uncharacteristic KSU penalties (nine in the game, which matched the team's season total through five games) and a little bit of field position, and it was just another typical fight-to-the-end KSU/ISU tilt.
The difference? K-State eventually flexed its experience and discipline in outpacing the Cyclones, putting together an 8:10 drive in the fourth quarter and converting seven of its first nine third-down plays in the second half.
4. Klein gets a lot of the hype, but, personally, I feel the defense deserves just as much credit for KSU's success this season. What kind of scheme do the Wildcats run and do they have the players in the secondary to slow down Geno Smith and company? Does Grandpa Bill Snyder have any surprises in store?
The Wildcats run a base 4-3, with the easy ability to move to replace a linebacker with a third defensive back if necessary, which will likely happen on Saturday. The secondary started this season off slowly, with me questioning its ability to defend the pass. However, as games have gone along, Allen Chapman has really blossomed as a perfect corner compliment to All-American Nigel Malone. Both make plays on the ball, and Chapman has proven to be a hitter at the position.
Behind them, junior safety Ty Zimmerman has started since his freshman season (when he picked up freshman All-American honors from Phil Steele). He has three interceptions in his past three games — a result of his honing his ball-hawking abilities and allowing himself to break free from the confines of a called defense to go make a play on the ball. (That's not to say he leaves space unattended; rather, he sees the ball in the air and goes.) Next to Zimmerman is new starter Jarard Milo, a second-year junior college smasher. A walk-on at the start of his KSU career, his pass defending skills have come on as of late, and he brings the added bonus of liking to smack guys around with his 6-2, 200lb build.
All of this said, can they flat stop the WVU offense? I'll say not by themselves. But, if they get some help from the guys up front, then they've developed to the point that, yes, they can certainly hang long enough to make plays on balls in the air when it gets to that point. In terms of surprises, that's not really what K-State likes to do. They may try a different blitz, or line up linebacker/athlete Justin Tuggle at an end spot if they like the matchup, but they are usually okay with staying within their responsibilities and letting their athletes make plays in front of them.
5. What does Kansas State need to do to win this game on Saturday night? Are they treating this game any differently than any of the others? Do you have any predictions?
I like that Texas Tech showed WVU might not like a grungy dog fight as much as an aerial trade-off. If that's the case (and I heard Dana Holgorsen call out his guys), be ready to watch KSU simply hammer away at your defensive front seven. Klein will mix in a pass here in there, but if the Mountaineers don't regularly stop the run, the defense will be on the field for an eternity. Ask Iowa State, which saw KSU rack up over 40 minutes of time of possession.
In terms of treating this game differently? Nope, and that's one of the magical qualities to the Bill Snyder way. He demands (as much as he can) that his players treat each game the same — from daily preparation, to drills, to game-time. He preaches keeping games "inside the white lines," meaning, obviously, that the team can't control a game's hype, but it can control how it plays in that game. The only thing that changes, of course, are specific responsibilities within the game based on the opponent.
A prediction in this one is tough, and I picked KSU to lose back in June (along with losing at Oklahoma). Of course, I also said this was a four-loss KSU team, so what the heck do I know. I'll say this: I know WVU has seen Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor. That's great, but K-State will be the most uniquely talented, assembled and prepared opponent it has seen this year, and if the Mountaineers aren't prepared mentally for a high-powered grunge fight, it could get really interesting in Morgantown.
Curtis Kitchen covers the Wildcats through his site — CurtisKitchen.com, a part of the Blackout Sports Network — and is the Kansas State Insider for 610 Sports Radio KCSP in Kansas City.