Tim Bisel: Looking for some K-State enlightenment

Game at Vanderbilt should reveal just how good Wildcats can be

Jesse Ertz and the Kansas State offense have been dominant in two early-season blowouts against inferior competition, but Saturday night’s game at Vanderbilt, which has the nation’s third-best total defense, should give fans an indication just how potent the Wildcats can be this season. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

What really did we learn about Kansas State in its first two football games?

 

Did we learn that the Wildcats can run the football? Or did we already know that with K-State returning six of its top seven rushers – including versatile quarterback Jesse Ertz and punishing sophomore Alex Barnes – as well as the bulk of its offensive line from a year ago when the Wildcats pounded opponents to the tune of more than 3,000 yards on the ground?

Did we ascertain that Ertz is a proficient — perhaps even potent — passer? Or were we already fairly certain the senior had that in him after watching Ertz complete 58 percent of his 2016 attempts for 1,755 yards and nine touchdowns despite playing most of the year with a bum shoulder?

Did we discover that Ertz has plenty of explosive targets around him in Byron Pringle, Dominique Heath and Co.? Or was that relatively obvious after watching Pringle turn three catches into 107 yards and a touchdown during the Wildcats’ 2016 Texas Bowl win against Texas A&M?

Did we suddenly realize that defensive backs D.J. Reed and Kendall Adams can be game-changers? Or was that evident a year ago when Reed was named Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year and Adams tormented A&M with seven Texas Bowl tackles and an interception?

Did we find out that K-State has a question or two on defense, most notably at linebacker and defensive end? Or was that a foregone conclusion when the Wildcats lost standouts Jordan Willis, Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore?

The point here isn’t to discount or discredit K-State’s opening victories, blowouts against Central Arkansas and Charlotte. The point simply is that, as promising as those feel-good wins were, they really did nothing to enlighten us about the nation’s 18th-ranked team.

That’s what makes Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. showdown at Vanderbilt compelling. The matchup is the first opportunity to truly learn just how good the Wildcats are — and possibly just how good they can be.

Vandy is a significant step up in competition, as Bill Snyder purposefully noted. The Commodores are 2-0 and have held Middle Tennessee and Alabama A&M to a combined six points. They’re ranked third nationally in total defense at 159 yards per game. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur is among the nation’s most efficient passers, completing 76 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns already, and senior running back Ralph Webb is the program’s career rushing leader with nearly 3,500 yards.

Oh, and as we’ve heard all week, Vandy is a member of the mighty SEC.

Oddsmakers, who installed the Commodores as mere three-point underdogs, apparently are impressed.

But remember, Vandy isn’t exactly a football power. Far from it. This is a group that finished 2016 with a 6-7 record, capping the campaign with a 41-7 loss to North Carolina State in the Independence Bowl.

The Commodores aren’t expected to be much better than that this season.

K-State, meanwhile, is facing greater expectations. Many believe the Wildcats are capable of challenging Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and perhaps TCU for the Big 12 championship. Many believe this K-State offense could be among the best Snyder has fielded during nearly three Hall of Fame decades in Manhattan. Some believe the K-State secondary is one of the country’s best.

If the Wildcats truly are all those things, shouldn’t they clearly be superior to the Commodores – even on the road? Shouldn’t this be a game the Wildcats control, a game during which they impose their will and comfortably cover that three-point spread?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But we just won’t know for certain until Saturday night.

That’s when we really should learn a thing or two about this team.

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