MANHATTAN — Things could get worse before they get better for Kansas State’s struggling secondary.
A week after the Wildcats cemented themselves as the worst pass defense in the Big 12 by allowing Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley to throw for 418 yards and a touchdown, they will now hit the road for a challenging matchup against high-octane Texas Tech.
“I don’t think there is an easy solution to anything, because you are in a conference where everybody is going to throw the ball around and people are going to get yards on you,” K-State football coach Bill Snyder said. “I don’t like to give up 400 yards of pass offense. Nor do our defensive backs or our defensive coaches. None of us want to.”
But it keeps happening. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 410 yards against the Wildcats two weeks ago, while Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger reached 380 yards and TCU quarterback Kenny Hill and Baylor quarterback Zach Smith both topped 290 earlier this season.
Add up those numbers, and K-State’s pass defense ranks last among all Big 12 teams since the start of conference play, allowing 359.2 yards. That’s 42 yards more than Oklahoma, which ranks ninth.
Things don’t get any easier against Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek, a senior who is averaging 332.9 yards.
“He has a good deal of poise about him and seems to have a very good understanding about what they do at Texas Tech,” Snyder said. “He throws the ball well and he can run it if he has to.”
How can K-State turn things around? Start with eliminating big plays, such as the 60-yard touchdown pass Stanley threw to KU receiver Steven Sims on Saturday.
“It just seems like those five or six big plays we give up have been biting us in the butt,” K-State linebacker Jayd Kirby said. “We have got to get it taken care of. It gets real frustrating when you start giving up a few big plays here and there and it turns the game around.”
Sims beat Kirby deep in man coverage for the touchdown, but Kirby said the Wildcats were misaligned on the play. Safety Denzel Goolsby came up to defend Sims short, when he was supposed to stay back and provide help deep.
KU was using an up-tempo offense at the time, and K-State defenders were slow to communicate their coverage assignments. The Wildcats will need to be much faster against Texas Tech, which cycles through plays at warp speed.
Another possible change: top cornerback D.J. Reed could shadow Texas Tech receiver Keke Coutee. Reed was so displeased after the KU game that he offered to begin covering receivers on both sides of the field and in the slot to help prevent bad individual matchups.
“I was frustrated,” Reed said, “because we have so much potential in our secondary and just the whole defensive unit and we gave up (more than) 400 passing yards. Last week we gave up 400 passing yards. It’s just unacceptable. We have obviously got to watch film, get better and learn from the mistakes that are happening. We have to tighten up our coverage.”
Snyder said K-State may consider using Reed in an expanded role, but it might not make sense against the Red Raiders, who have an abundance of talented receivers. Coutee leads the way, averaging 104.6 yards, but nine different Texas Tech players have caught passes of at least 25 yards this season.
His hope is that the Wildcats can improve against the pass while continuing to limit touchdowns, in bend-don’t-break fashion.
“Kansas had eight consecutive drives in the first three quarters where they got two field goals,” Snyder said. “Even though they were getting a substantial amount of yardage, they didn’t get it in the end zone for three quarters.
“The biggest issue created was the big-play element. We have gone through this before. They had six plays for 260 yards, something like that. That is what we have to be able to stop.”