JT VanGlider tells us what we should expect in the Little Apple Saturday afternoon.
TCU Football faces another up and down opponent this week when they travel to Manhattan, KS to take on the Kansas State Wildcats. Though the home purple team, much like the visiting purple team, hasn’t had the season they had hoped for to this point, the Cats are still optimistic as they begin the stretch run, looking to get back to a bowl game and potentially finish in the top half of the Big 12. We spoke with JT VanGlider of Bring on the Cats to get the scoop from the Little Apple.
FOW: Kansas State is a little confusing, best explained by their performance against Texas Tech — a team they beat into firing their coach with a stunning second half comeback. How do you best define what the Wildcats are?
JTVG: That is a great way to describe K-State right now: confusing. For much of the last several games, the Wildcats have actually looked like the better team. And then somehow, they managed to squander that through self-inflicted errors, penalties, and turnovers. If this team could play mistake-free, they’d have a really good chance against most teams around the country. But they haven’t shown the ability to do that for more than a few drives at a time. Even last week against Tech, there were times when it looked like the Cats might not make the comeback because of a turnover on offense or a broken play on defense. It’s very hard to beat good teams making so many dumb mistakes.
FOW: Skylar Thompson is entering Perry Ellis territory for “he’s STILL in college?” guy in college football, but he seems to have matured greatly this fall and is a more complete QB. What’s different about his game in 2021?
JTVG: Probably the biggest change for Thompson actually occurred after his 6th season already started. He hurt his knee in the win over Southern Illinois earlier this year, and missed the next two games before making a bit of a surprise comeback against OU. Skylar has spent much of his career relying on running the football, both on designed runs and on scrambles, and would often take off on a pass play if his first receiver wasn’t available. Now to protect his knee, Skylar is much more patient in the pocket, and is really running through his progressions to find the third/fourth/fifth receiver. Some of the best passing games of his career have come in the last few games, including hitting 24-30 for 296 yards against Tech last week.
FOW: Deuce Vaughn kind of came out of nowhere last season, but teams have good tape on him now. How has K State changed how they use him to continue to allow him to be effective?
JTVG: Deuce is still the workhorse of the backfield, and they’re still getting him out in the pattern to catch. Versus OU and Tech, Vaughn had more receiving yards than rushing yards (and still led the team in both categories), and he was still able to notch 100 rushing yards against an impressive Iowa State defense. The biggest difference from last year is that there are now complimentary pieces. Fellow running back Joe Ervin (who opted-out last season) can carry more of the rushing load, allowing Deuce both recovery time as well as allowing Vaughn to be moved around more. Phillip Brooks has become a very consistent pass catcher, and prevents the defense from keying on Deuce in underneath routes. So really, usage hasn’t changed, but the guys around Deuce have stepped up to prevent Vaughn from being the sole target of the defense.
FOW: Tell me about this defensive line, a unit that seems to be wreaking havoc in offensive backfields.
JTVG: This unit started out the season with arguably one of the best disruptive pass rushers in the Big 12. And then he got hurt. Khalid Duke is very much a Nick Bosa-type athlete and edge, and was great at getting in the backfield but also being able to drop into coverage. Those guys are hard to find, and losing him early caused some serious issues along the defensive front. However, Felix Anudike-Uzomah has really come into his own the last few games, including the truly break-out performance against Tech last week that included a game-changing safety (that he fought through holding to get). But the ends don’t get to do work like that without the big guys in the middle, and K-State has a surprisingly solid interior line. I say surprising only because it was thought this unit might take a step back after losing a couple key seniors last year, but the guys have really stepped up, and the interior line may be one of the deepest K-State has seen in some time. Eli Huggins, Timmy Horne, Jaylen Pickle, and Robert Hentz are consistently clogging the interior rushing lanes, taking on double-teams successfully, and creating pocket pressure. And because of the injuries at end, it’s not been uncommon the last few games to see three tackles in the game at the same time, and still being very effective.
FOW: TCU and Kansas State share both a color scheme and problems in the secondary. Which purple team’s secondary performs the best Saturday?
JTVG: That’s really tough. I’m going to call it a toss-up, because these two units are fairly similar, but with a slight edge to the home-team purples. The K-State secondary is holding teams to just a bit over a yard less per attempt, and just a few yards less per game than TCU. That said, it’s been against some better offensive teams, and the Wildcats have faced several really good QBs, but also been known to make average QBs look really good. If the Wildcats can play focused and execute their assignments well, it could be a good day for the home purples. If not, Max Duggan could have his best game of the season.
FOW: Chris Kleiman was a bit of a surprising hire when he was brought to the Little Apple, but a strong start for folks on board. Where does the fan base sit on the hire as you crest the halfway point of year three?
JTVG: There’s a certain segment of the fanbase (as anywhere) that just absolutely hates the guy, and he’s been on the hot seat since the loss in the Liberty Bowl to end 2019. Whatever. But the vast majority of fans are still positive about Klieman and the direction of the program through this point of year three. Of course the win last Saturday really really helped, but I think most are fine with where things are, overall, especially when they are reminded of the tough start to this year (SoS currently #2 according to Sagarin), the injuries, and the expected record at the beginning of the year (which was anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3). That said, there’s still much consternation with some of the assistants, even from the most positive side of the fanbase. I think most Wildcats fans would be just fine with making a change at several of the offensive coaching positions at the end of this season, including the coordinator spot. And a couple on defense as well. But overall, I think Klieman’s seat is warm, but not uncomfortable at this point.
FOW: How do you see Saturday going, based on what you know about both K State and TCU. Who wins and how do they get it done?
JTVG: I think this could be a mini-shootout, probably to the tune of 37-35, with K-State eeking out the win after TCU wins the toss, receives, and scores after two or three plays to start the game 7-0. Though if something magically changes for the better in the Wildcats fortunes for this season,
Deuce and Joe Ervin can find running lanes against the TCU defense (and hold on to the ball) and it could be a much more painful day for the visiting purples.
FOW BONUS QUESTION: During realignment earlier this summer, Kansas State was kind of the forgotten team. How do you feel about the Wildcats future both in the short and long term?
JTVG: I think ESPN likes to forget about us (and most of the teams in the Great Plains), but the ratings and “brand power” numbers tell a different story. The “powers that be” at the conference levels know that K-State has a strong brand and a strong following, and there are some big things happening on the academic side as well. K-State isn’t getting an invite to the SEC or the Big 10 any time soon (and neither is KU, regardless of what those goofballs think), but this new-look Big 12 could be a big boost for K-State, and really put us in a position to elevate our brand further and solidify the Wildcats place at the “big table”. Now, the real question is can the teams and administration utilize these changes to our advantage. K-State will have a new president soon, and that person is going to be critical for the long-term success of Kansas State University both athletically and academically.