In preparation for No. 8 Stanford’s much-anticipated season opener on Friday night against Big 12 opponent Kansas State, The Daily’s Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) had a chance to go behind enemy lines with sports editor Scott Popp of The Collegian, the student newspaper of Kansas State University, who kindly answered several questions about the Wildcats and how he believes Friday’s game will play out.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Last season, it looked like Kansas State — in typical Bill Snyder fashion — played its biggest opponents close (except for Oklahoma), losing in one-score games to Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor. What is it about Kansas State’s style of football that helps them do that seemingly year in and year out, and how well does that match up to Stanford’s style of play?
Scott Popp (SP): I think its more preparation than style of play that helps K-State stay in games that most would think they have no business being in. Snyder and his coaching staff are known for being extremely and thoroughly prepared for each game day, and it shows on the field. The style of play certainly doesn’t hurt, though.
They like to drive meticulously down the field, often resulting in a sizable time of possession advantage over opposing teams, and on defense, they play a bend-don’t-break style to try and force teams to settle for field goals (although I don’t think that’s by choice). They also pride themselves on special teams — they have the most non-offensive TDs in the country over the last 15-plus years with 101 since 1999. Stanford plays a pro-style offense so that could bode well for the Wildcats in terms of limiting big plays.
TSD: Snyder hasn’t really tried to hide the fact that he’s not a fan of the new “all Big 12 teams must play a Power Five non-conference opponent” rule and that he thinks an easier non-conference game at home would help the team break in its younger players and get acclimated to the pace of the game. Instead, you play the No. 8 team in the country on the road. Do K-State fans as a whole feel negatively about the matchup as well?
SP: Yeah, I think Snyder would much rather have an extra home game against a much easier opponent so they can get experience to all players, which is something he won’t be able to do Friday. But I think as a fanbase, K-State fans are excited for the matchup. Two years ago, K-State had a non-conference matchup against a top-ranked Auburn team and the atmosphere was electric. This game is obviously different because it is on the road, but I think fans are equally as excited for the chance to compete with a top team on a national scene.
TSD: The Wildcats have a new quarterback and a new offensive line — how good has the offense looked in the preseason and what kind of looks can Stanford expect to see from K-State? Can Jesse Ertz and the receivers take advantage of a young Stanford secondary, which is how Oregon beat the Cardinal last season?
SP: Ertz was actually named the starter a year ago before going down with injury for the season after one play, so he knows the offense well and is a leader on the team. He’s an accurate passer and can be deceivingly fast on the ground but, just like the Stanford quarterbacks, is largely unproven.
The offense as a whole is more athletic than it has been in recent years with more depth at wide receiver and running back. Stanford should expect a two way attack — K-State has ran a lot of quarterback reads and options when they have a mobile quarterback, and that’s what Ertz is. As far as taking advantage of a young secondary, I think they’ll take a few more shots down field than usual, especially with the big, athletic community college transfer Byron Pringle out wide for the Cats.
TSD: The defense looks to be returning most of its pieces, but even the best defenses in the country last season had trouble slowing down Christian McCaffrey. What does Kansas State need to do to slow down No. 5 — and, more importantly, can the Wildcats do it?
SP: Obviously McCaffrey can’t be stopped, but I think K-State will put an emphasis on limiting big plays, especially from McCaffrey. They will also need to be fundamentally sound. The good thing about returning so many starters is most of the guys will know where to line up and they will be fundamentally sound when tackling, and they’re going to have to be if they want to slow the Cardinal offense. Safety Dante Barnett is a fifth-year senior and three-time captain, and he will need to quarterback the defense well if the Wildcats want to be successful.
TSD: What needs to happen in order for the Wildcats to win this game? What are your predictions for the game, and who wins?
SP: I think for the Wildcats to win, they’ll need to limit big plays on defense and play that bend-not-break style. On offense, Ertz is going to have to take over and prove why he was named the starter. Turnovers and penalties are going to be huge for the Wildcats — if they can force a few turnovers and limit penalties they have a chance to put pressure on Stanford at home. I think K-State will keep it closer than many expect and put a scare into the home fans, but the Cardinal will be too much at home in the end. I say 30-27 Stanford.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.