Fresh off a historic waxing of Texas, No. 2-ranked Texas Christian (5-0) head to Manhattan to face off against Kansas State.
The Wildcats (3-1) most recently played a wide receiver at quarterback in their 36-34 loss to Oklahoma State, leading Coach Bill Snyder to joke this week that a 295-pound lineman could be available under center, if need be. Most signs point to Joe Hubener resuming his post at starting quarterback after what was ostensibly a concussion-inducing blow in the first quarter of last Saturday’s game.
“It’s been a wild roller-coaster ride,” Hubener said of the quarterback situation thus far.
To win, not only will the Wildcats need to transcend themselves, offensively, but will also need to mitigate TCU’s passing attack and keep the nouveau riche scoring machine of the Big 12 Conference in check.
Under defensive coordinator Tom Hayes, the Wildcats have been an above-average outfit and an elite scoring defense this season. As Kansas State’s beat writer, Kellis Robinett, posited in September, “Hayes thinks stopping the run is the most important thing a defense can do.”
He’s certainly achieved his goal — the team ranks third nationally in rushing defense, allowing 71 yards per game — but in a conference landscape increasingly tilting toward pass-heavy offensive schemes (the Big 12 leads all power conferences by a wide margin in passing yards per game, passing efficiency, and yards per completion), the methodology isn’t exactly addressing the chief concern.
The Wildcats have allowed more than 300 passing yards in each of the past two games and rank 116th in pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks are completing better than 60 percent of passes against them, and are averaging a quarterback rating of 124.87.
Applied in the context of this week’s matchup, these figures are even more alarming: Gary Patterson’s squad has a top-five passing attack (396.4 yards per game), is completing 64 percent of team passes, and ranks second in scoring (50.8 points per game). All this is to say that these teams are calibrated differently on the both sides of the ball: TCU, which prefers high-volume scoring and little to no defense, has scored 50 or more points in four games this season; Kansas State, which prefers to approach the sport as though it were a game of Jenga, has eclipsed the mark four times since Oct. 27, 2012.
Across the field from Hubener on Saturday will be Trevone Boykin, a name inextricably linked to the still-too-early-to-tell-but-is-probably-Leonard-Fournette’s-to-lose Heisman Trophy race. The do-it-all quarterback has a touchdown pass in 20 consecutive games, and the almost-certain prognostication indicates he’ll extend that nation-leading streak this weekend.
More likely than not, Boykin will be heavily targeting Josh Doctson who, by mostly every metric available, is one of the best receivers in college football. To make matters worse for Kansas State, TCU wide receiver KaVontae Turpin — a speedy slot receiver who pairs nicely with Doctson’s 6-foot-4, go-up-and-get-it frame — is coming off a career week in which he set a Big 12 record with four touchdowns, the most by a freshman.
Even Kansas State’s advantages are staring down obstacles: TCU’s Aaron Green represents the most dynamic running back that Hayes’s potent rush defense has matched up against this season. Green is averaging better than 100 yards on the ground, ranked in the top three in the Big 12 in attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and catches in the back of end zones to win hard-fought conference matchups.
Kansas State simply doesn’t have the personnel to keep TCU’s bevy of talented offensive threats in check, and since Patterson arrived at the school in 2000, the Horned Frogs are 26-8 when they throw for more than 300 yards, which they almost certainly will do Saturday. TCU’s defense may be porous at best, having lost a number of starters due to injuries in the first month of the season, and plummeting to 73rd in total defense, but a handful of stops would suffice. The Horned Frogs don’t need to pitch a shutout so much as they need Kansas State to simply run out of an already-limited supply of gasoline.
With a volatile quarterback situation and enough red flags to cover the entirety of the state on a map, Kansas State faces an uphill climb against the Horned Frogs. There’s a reason why projections give TCU a 30 percent probability of winning the Big 12 Conference and Kansas State less than one percent. Expect the Horned Frogs to leave Manhattan with their sixth win of the season.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.