The Texas Longhorns (2-2, 1-0) will welcome the Kansas State Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) to Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats are headed to Austin after a 33-20 win over Baylor last weekend in Manhattan, Kansas. Let’s take a look at what Kansas State has on defense and special teams.
Texas is going to have a tough time getting the running game back on track against a stout Kansas State defensive front. Defending nose tackle Will Geary may the toughest assignment that Zach Shackelford will draw this season. The senior was First Team All-Big 12 the past 2 seasons and has not slowed down in 2017, leading the Wildcats in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (3). Sophomore Trey Dishon will hold down the other defensive tackle spot. Dishon has had a quiet year in the stat column, recording 5 total tackles with one tackle for loss, but holds the point of attack well. Dishon and Geary are both listed at over 300 pounds and will give the interior offensive line all they handle.
Defensive ends Reggie Walker and Tanner Wood are both disruptive forces on the outside. Walker was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2016 and will line up opposite of Tristan Nickelson. Wood is in his first full year as a starter and has 13 total tackles with 1 for loss. Neither player has recorded a sack, with the Wildcats getting much of their pass rush from the interior of the line, but both are solid against the run. Expect a lot of pressure to come from the edges, attacking Derek Kerstetter and Nickelson, while Geary and Dishon do what they have been doing all year on the inside.
Kansas State began the year with 3 linebackers who were in their first year as full time starters. Former walk-on Trent Tanking starts at the middle linebacker spot and leads Kansas State in tackles with 26. Texas natives Sam Sizelove and Jayd Kirby start at the other two linebacker spots. Kirby has had a very good season, ranking second on the team in tackles (25), while collecting 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
In the biggest game the Wildcats have played this season, a loss at Vanderbilt, the linebackers played very well. Tanking and Kirby helped the defense hold the Commodores to 65 total yards rushing. This is the type of game where I would love to see Texas try to test these linebackers in space and force them to play sideline to sideline, but that’s simply not realistic with how the Texas offense is performing right now.
The Wildcats secondary is solid, lead by cornerback D.J Reed. The junior college transfer was named First Team All-Big 12 in 2016 and the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the year. Reed has already recorded 1 interception on the season and will match up against Collin Johnson. The one advantage Texas will have is that the 6’6 Johnson will have 9 inches on the 5’9 Reed. If there was ever a game for the Longhorns to introduce fades and jump ball opportunities to Johnson, this is it. Junior Duke Shelley will start at the other corner position. Shelley has 22 career starts under his belt and had 3 interceptions a season ago. Nickelback Cre Moore is in his first year as a full time starter and has 7 tackles to go along with a sack and an interception.
Kendall Adams and Denzel Goolsby form a good safety combo. Adams, a Fort Worth native, already has 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery on the season. Goolsby also has a fumble recovery and is not afraid to come up and support the run. The secondary for the Wildcats basically portrays the overall philosophy of the defense. Kansas State is not going to make many mistakes or mental lapses, and when their opponent makes a mistake they are ready to pounce. Texas can not turn the ball over on Saturday like they have been prone to do so far this season, or else it is going to be a frustrating night for the Longhorns.
As could be expected with any Kansas State squad, the special teams unit is rock solid. Kicker Matthew McCrane is a senior who has made 44 out of 50 field goals in his career. McCrane is 8 for 10 so far in 2017, with a long of 53 yards. Former walk-on Nick Walsh handles the punting duties, and was Third Team All-Big 12 in 2016. Walsh has averaged 39.5 yards per punt in 2017, with 6 punts landing inside the 20.
D.J Reed is the primary return man on punts and kickoffs. Reed has already returned a punt for a touchdown this year, and is averaging 19.6 yards per return. On kickoffs, Reed has already had a 96 yard return and is averaging 36.80 yards per return. Texas has had some problems on coverage units, especially on kickoffs, and Reed is one of the most electric return men they will face this season.
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