No other college football matchup this week features philosophical polar opposites like Texas Tech and Kansas State. The Red Raiders like to move fast offensively, sling the football all over the field, and have lit up the scoreboard for 55 points or more in every game this season.
The strategy has paid off with a 3-1 start for Kliff Kingsbury's team, including a 1-0 record in Big 12 play after thrashing Kansas 55-19 last week. However, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the key cog in the Red Raiders’ prolific attack who leads the nation in passing (442.5 yards per game), was injured last week and may not play against the Wildcats.
Kansas State is 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the league following a tough 17-16 loss to West Virginia a week ago. The Wildcats have shown some explosive ability on offense, most notably in their 63-7 victory over FAU, but have primarily relied on a stingy defense. Kansas State has limited its four opponents to a combined 36 points thus far.
Texas Tech at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Kansas State -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Strength vs. Strength
It should come as no surprise that Texas Tech boasts the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense (59.5 ppg). In fact, the Red Raiders are the only team in the nation to surpass 50 points in every game this season and also leads the nation in total offense (664.3 ypg), passing offense (547.8 ypg) and touchdown passes (23). Tech ranks third overall with an average of 8.0 yards per play.
Nevertheless, Kliff Kingsbury’s team will face a stiff test Saturday from a Kansas State defense that leads the Big 12 in every major statistical category — scoring defense (12.5 ppg), total defense (239.8 ypg), rush defense (85.3 ypg) and pass defense (154.5 ypg). The Wildcats also have held opponents to just 4.38 yards per play, which ranks 12th in the FBS. Bill Snyder’s defense has recorded nine sacks and forced nine turnovers.
2. Can Jesse Ertz Move the Football Against Texas Tech?
Kansas State currently ranks last in the Big 12 and No. 111 in the country in passing (168.3 ypg). Quarterback Jesse Ertz has been great in the team’s two home victories. He went a combined 15-of-21 (71.4 percent) for 211 yards and three TDs without an interception against FAU and Missouri State, but he played poorly in the team’s two road losses against Stanford and West Virginia.
Ertz was just 26-for-64 (40.6 percent) for 373 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Cardinal and Mountaineers, as he was forced to throw more passes because of the game flow. The dual-threat signal-caller also was held in check in the running game in both losses. Ertz, who is the team’s leading rusher (170 yards, 2 TDs), gained just 45 yards with one touchdown on 25 carries (1.8 yards per attempt) against the Cardinal and Mountaineers combined.
Texas Tech has allowed 472.5 total yards of offense per game (No. 112 nationally) and 5.83 yards per play (No. 83) thus far, and has the Big 12’s worst pass defense (306.0 ypg). However, the Red Raiders put forth a terrific defensive performance last week, holding Kansas to just 296 yards of offense, including 250 passing yards, and less than four yards per play. It was the first time the Red Raiders held a Big 12 opponent to fewer than 300 total yards or 20 points since 2013.
3. Red Zone Success
If either Texas Tech or Kansas State reach the other’s 20-yard line, the odds are very good the offense will put points on the scoreboard. The Wildcats are a perfect 20-for-20 in the red zone this season with 15 touchdowns. Kansas State ended the 2015 season with 25 straight such conversions, which means the Wildcats have now scored a touchdown or kicked a field goal in 45 straight trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line over the last 11 games.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech has been nearly as perfect. The Red Raiders are 20-for-21 in the red zone this season with a failed field goal attempt against Louisiana Tech as the only flaw. However, opponents are just 4-for-6 in the red zone against Kansas State this season after limiting West Virginia to just three scores on five red zone visits last week. Texas Tech has allowed points on 14 of 15 red zone attempts this season with the lone stop coming against FCS member Stephen F. Austin in Week 1.
Even though Kansas State boasts the best defense in the Big 12, it would be foolish to think that Texas Tech won’t be able to move the football through the air. The Red Raiders may be forced to play without Patrick Mahomes, but backup Nic Shimonek was brilliant in relief and completed 15 of 21 pass attempts for 271 yards and four touchdowns. The Tech offense is such a well-oiled machine that it shouldn’t miss a beat if Mahomes can’t take the field.
Of course, things are not so certain for the Wildcats. If Kansas State can run the football, Jesse Ertz will have room to operate in the passing game. But, if the Red Raiders control the line of scrimmage like they did a week ago, it will force the Wildcats’ quarterback to try to win the game with his arm – a strategy that has failed twice thus far.
Expect Kansas State to work at a slow, methodical pace offensively in an attempt to play keep-away from the Texas Tech offense. If the Wildcats are able to take advantage of scoring opportunities in the red zone, they should come away with a victory.
Prediction: Kansas State 35, Texas Tech 31
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.