Expect Low-Scoring Thriller Between Underrated Vanderbilt and Kansas State

Rainman M.

Friday, September 15, 2017 6:57 PM UTC

Friday, Sep. 15, 2017 6:57 PM UTC

#19 Kansas State (2-0) gets its first true road test of the season at Vanderbilt (2-0) on Saturday at 7:30 PM ET. Kansas State is favored by 3.5 points. The game total opened at 48 points but is now up to 52.

Kansas State Wildcats vs Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt owes its surge as a program in large part to its enhanced offensive production. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur possesses high football IQ and game managing skills. His solid fundamentals allow him to ably execute the widest variety of passes with precise accuracy. In two games this season, his completion % is over 76. Even though he is not surrounded by the most talented receivers, he is able to bring the best out of them by placing the ball where they want it.

Vanderbilt's wide receivers have experience and familiarity with Shurmur but they lack the playmakers who consistently achieve big gains and find the end zone. While Shurmur can reliably avoid turning the ball over, he does not have that "go-to" receiver.

Vanderbilt's star on offense is its running back, who is returning for his last season after playing a significant role in Vanderbilt's surge last season. Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt's all-time leading rusher, brings a mixture of power and elusiveness, with which he improved his yards per carry to 5.1 last season. 

Webb's improvement last season and Shurmur's productivity owe a lot to the offensive line. This line loses a left tackle and a center to the NFL. They return zero seniors and are forced to make adjustments throughout the line. Vanderbilt's offensive line never reached a high level of quality, even with their NFL-ready left tackle and center, and will regress this season.

Kansas State's defensive line will miss Jordan Willis. But Willis isn't the only reason that Kansas State excelled at applying pressure to the quarterback and was 16th in rushing yards allowed. Two big defensive names for Kansas State are Will Geary, two-time First Team All Big 12 defensive tackle and Reggie Walker, who amassed 11.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks last year as a freshman.

Kansas State will exploit Vanderbilt's weakness in protection and hurt the productivity of Shurmur and Vanderbilt's deep arsenal of running backs. Kansas State also boasts a respectable corps of linebackers, including Trent Tanking. Tanking is also very helpful to Kansas State's experienced secondary in pass coverage. Cornerback DJ Reed has been a huge surprise for Kansas State. He makes a lot of big plays thanks to his high football IQ, his ability to sniff out offensive schemes, his instinct and aggression, and the speed with which he can break on the ball. Vanderbilt's subpar wide receiving corps will struggle to achieve big plays against Kansas State's talented duo at cornerback and experienced secondary.

Kansas State boasts offensive talent. The Wildcats are notorious for their rushing attack, which boasts significant depth, talent and versatility. They also benefit from significant returning experience from a high-quality offensive line and a very capable passer in Jesse Ertz, who is a dual-threat quarterback who is benefitting from his developing chemistry with playmaker Byron Pringle.

Kansas State possesses a versatile wide receiving corps with a capable deep-play threat in Pringle and a reliable possession receiver in Dominique Heath. This level of passing attack is respectable, but Vanderbilt's red zone defense last season was number 1.

This bend-but-don't break defense is missing its best player, in departed linebacker Zack Cunningham. However, the Commodores return significant depth and talent that should make up for this loss.  Senior Oren Burks makes up for his lack of size by dominating in pursuit and open field tackling and will look to step up in Cunningham's place. 

In Vanderbilt's defensive system, the linebackers play a hugely significant role in exploiting the gaps created by the defensive line that will be led by senior Nifae Lealao plus high-quality depth to make up for the departure of Adam Butler.

Vanderbilt's secondary, with 5 returning seniors and 7 returning starters, offers impressive run support and will compose the strength of the defense.


The Verdict

Vanderbilt's elite red zone defense and the solidity of Kansas State and Vanderbilt against big plays combine with the extremely marked inclination of both teams towards grinding out drives and dominating time of possession to create a recipe for few points. Both teams lose stars on defense but return significant depth and talent. Vanderbilt's offensive line cannot say the same and will be one reason why defenses will rule on our NCAAF Picks.

Free NCAAF Pick: Vanderbilt/Kansas State 'Under' 52Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

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