TIGER KICKOFF: Missouri faces strong Kansas State rushing attack

Friday, November 12, 2010 | 5:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:49 a.m. CST, Friday, November 12, 2010
Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas sprints past Texas defenders for a touchdown last week in the Wildcats' victory.

COLUMBIA — In 1906, the forward pass was legalized in college football. One hundred and four years later, Kansas State isn't sold on the rule change.

Last week, in the Wildcats' 39-14 win over Texas, Kansas State had 54 plays from scrimmage and ran the ball 50 times. 

Saturday's game

Kansas State (6-3, 3-3 Big 12)
at No. 20 Missouri (7-2, 3-2 Big 12)

WHEN: 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium
TV: Fox Sports Net
MU coach Gary Pinkel is 4-5 vs. Kansas State and 1-5 vs. KSU coach Bill Snyder, who is 14-4 against Missouri overall.

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That number is extreme, but it is hardly a new trend.

Kansas State is one of only two Big 12 teams, the other being Nebraska, that has gained more yards rushing than throwing this season, netting 200-plus rushing yards a game five times this season. Kansas State won all five of those games.

It should come as no surprise that the Kansas State running game is working, the Wildcats boast one of the best running backs in the nation, Daniel Thomas. In nine games this season, Thomas already has more than 1,000 yards rushing, averaging 122 yards a game.

Missouri linebacker Andrew Gachkar called Thomas the best running back in the Big 12 Conference. On Saturday, Gachkar will have to be in constant pursuit of the Hillard, Fla., native.

"It's a tall order," Gachkar said. "They always do the same kind of stuff. They'll do every run play in the book. They like to get downhill, that's Daniel Thomas. ... Run plays aren't too complicated, you just gotta fit up and hit them in the mouth, that's all it is."

Thomas, besides being the feature back in the Kansas State offense, was also the only player to catch a pass against Texas. The Wildcats had only four passing plays in the game, netting nine yards, with first-time starter Collin Klein at quarterback. 

"They are confident in their run game, and it says that they are committed to their run game," Gachkar said. "Obviously."

The Wildcats had more interceptions on defense than pass attempts on offense, making it difficult to say who was the leading receiver for Wildcats against Texas. Kansas State defensive backs Tysyn Hartman and Ty Zimmerman each had as many interceptions as Thomas had on offense.

From the quarterback position, Klein led the Wildcats in rushing against Texas with a 127-yard, two-touchdown performance.

"Collin, he's a great runner," Thomas told the Wichita Eagle. "Teams got to respect that. Texas didn't know what to expect with Collin because they'd never seen him on film. Collin opens it up for me and for everybody else because he's such a threat to run the ball."

Klein, a sophomore, was the surprise starter against Texas when Kansas State coach Bill Snyder decided to hold out senior quarterback Carson Coffman, brother of former Missouri tight end Chase Coffman, because of an ankle injury.

Coffman is healthy this week, generating a quarterback controversy. Snyder said he could take until Saturday to chose his starting quarterback. 

As skilled as the Wildcats are at running the ball, they are inept when it comes to stopping opponents' rushing attacks. Kansas State has five 200-plus rushing yard games on offense, and four allowed by the defense, including a not-so-good 451 rushing yards allowed against Nebraska.

Of the 119 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams, only six teams allow more rushing yards per game than Kansas State. The combined record of those teams is 14-51.

Missouri set its single-game rushing high in the first half against Texas Tech last week with 245 yards in 30 minutes of play. The Tigers went pass-happy in the second half and finished the game with 260 rushing yards. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he wanted the offense to be better balanced than in the second half against Texas Tech, but after the loss last week and and Kansas State's poor run defense this week, the Tigers might emulate the Wildcats and bypass balance in favor of yards on Saturday.

Kansas State's efficient running attack has placed the Wildcats amongst the nation's elite in the red zone (the area between the opponent's 20-yard line and the end zone). Kansas State is third in the nation in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns, getting into the end zone 77 percent of the time.

But the red zone is where the Missouri defense plays its best. The Tigers have the best overall red zone defense in the Big 12 allowing 40 percent of opponents' red zone opportunities to end in touchdowns. That ranks sixth nationally.

Play in the red zone is always critical, but in this matchup of strengths, it will likely determine the outcome of the game.

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