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Kansas State Wildcats vs. TCU Horned Frogs Preview and Prediction

Kenny Hill

Kenny Hill

The Kansas State Wildcats travel to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs as both teams have one more opportunity to impress bowl committees.

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With a 34-19 victory over in-state rival Kansas last week, Kansas State improved to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in Big 12 play. The win was the fourth in five games for the Wildcats, and was the 200th career victory for legendary head coach Bill Snyder.

TCU comes in with a 6-5 record, including a 3-4 mark in conference play, though the Horned Frogs will carry momentum into Senior Day following a 31-9 win over Texas last week.

TCU leads the all-time series against Kansas State by a slim 5-4 margin. The two teams have split the four meetings since the Horned Frogs joined in the Big 12 in 2012 with TCU winning the past two matchups.

Kansas State at TCU

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FS1

Spread: TCU -4

Three Things to Watch

1. The Top Two Defenses in the Big 12
The Big 12 boasts some of the most prolific offenses in the nation, but the conference’s two best defenses are set to square off on Saturday. Kansas State leads the Big 12 in scoring (23.3 ppg) and total (391.5 ypg) defense thanks in large part to the league’s best run-stopping unit.

The Wildcats have surrendered just 109.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks among the top 10 in the nation. Opponents have gained 3.6 yards per carry, which also leads the Big 12 and ranks in the top 25 in the FBS. No team has gained more than 180 yards on the ground against the Wildcats this season, but TCU just piled up 431 rushing yards against Baylor a few weeks ago and had 309 last week in the win over Texas.

Overall, TCU has held opponents to 5.34 yards per play this season, which is tops in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs are second to Kansas State in total defense (421.8 ypg) and third against the run (168.8 ypg). TCU has limited opponents to 3.84 yards per carry, the second-lowest average in the league.

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One area in which the Horned Frogs have excelled on defense this season is with their pass rush. TCU leads the Big 12 and ranks third in the country with 3.64 sacks per game, which translates to 40 on the season. Josh Carraway (8.0 sacks), Mat Boesen (6.0) and Aaron Durry (5.5) all rank among the top 10 in the league.

2. Can TCU QB Kenny Hill Exploit a Susceptible Kansas State Secondary?
While Kansas State and TCU have been the top two defenses in the Big 12 this season, neither ranks high on the national scale. The Wildcats are No. 54 in the FBS in total defense while the Horned Frogs are a little farther down rankings at No. 73. So both offenses should have some success moving the ball, especially if each plays to its strengths and/or attacks its opponent’s weaknesses. For TCU that means throwing the ball early and often.

With Kenny Hill at quarterback, the Horned Frogs have attempted the third-most passes in the Big 12. Hill has completed 61.2 percent of his attempts for 3,010 yards and 15 touchdowns. Though TCU has struggled to stretch the field vertically (Hill has averaged just 7.5 yards per pass attempt, which ranks eighth among the league’s primary starters), he and the TCU offense could have success against a Kansas State defense that has allowed 281.5 passing yards per game – No. 119 in the country – and 7.9 yards per pass attempt this year – No. 101 overall.

Of course, the knock against Hill has been his decision making. He has 13 interceptions, the most in the conference, which is part of the reason why his 129.93 passer rating puts him just eighth in the Big 12. Hill will have to be careful with his throws against the Wildcats, who have a conference-best 14 interceptions and have taken three of those back for touchdowns.

Hill also must contend with the Wildcats’ Jordan Willis, whose 10.5 sacks are best in the Big 12 and rank in the top 10 nationally. A constant nuisance for opposing quarterbacks, Willis has a total of 15 tackles for a loss this season.

3. Can the Wildcats Find Enough Offense to Win?
Kansas State ranks ninth in the Big 12 in both total offense (376.9 ypg) and yards per play (5.54). The Wildcats move slowly offensively – their 748 offensive plays this season are the fewest in the league by a wide margin – and rely on a steady rushing attack that has averaged 223.6 rushing yards per game and 5.12 yards per carry.

This ground game has gotten stronger as the season has progressed. Over the last five games, the Wildcats have averaged 281 rushing yards per game and 5.42 yards per carry.

Quarterback Jesse Ertz leads the team with 775 rushing yards and averages an impressive 5.5 yards per attempt. Ertz, who has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,401 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions, has scored nine TDs on the ground. Charles Jones (562 rushing yards, 2 TD), Alex Barnes (442, 6) and Winston Dimel (76, 12 TD) serve as Kansas State’s other primary ball carriers. Barnes, a freshman, has excelled in recent weeks. He had 129 rushing yards and four touchdowns against Baylor on Nov. 19 and put up 103 yards and a score last week against Kansas.

Final Analysis

Though they are the top two defenses in the Big 12, Kansas State appears to have the edge over TCU on that side of the ball. The Wildcats are susceptible to the pass, but also are opportunistic. If Kenny Hill fails to protect the football, and the TCU offensive line fails to protect him (the Horned Frogs have allowed 21 sacks this season), expect Kansas State to come up with one or two momentum-changing turnovers.

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On the other hand, the Horned Frogs possess an elite pass rush, while the Wildcats’ offensive line has surrendered an alarming 28 sacks. But Kansas State prefers to stay grounded on offense in an effort to control tempo and keep the score close.

Expect Bill Snyder’s team to stick to the game plan that has been so successful for them the second of half of this season and to pull out a tough road victory.

Prediction: Kansas State 24, TCU 21

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.