LAFAYETTE, La. — It’s only the second week of the season, and the opponent is a Sun Belt squad that goes by the nickname Ragin’ Cajuns.
This isn’t your typical time or place for a gut-check game.
This is supposed to be an opportunity for Kansas State fans to watch their beloved Wildcats easily take out a lesser known team and sample some fantastic seafood along the way.
I guess they can still eat whatever they want, but the game will be anything but a holiday stroll. This is no automatic win for K-State. True, it comes in as a touchdown favorite, but many out there are picking Louisiana-Lafayette. In the Star’s weekly college football picks section, ULL was the majority selection.
Using BCS bowl selection criteria, the Ragin’ Cajuns would already be decreed winners.
Not a good sign considering K-State’s bowl hopes may rest on this game.
I’m not saying the Wildcats will qualify for the postseason with a win over ULL, (Because of a strange schedule including two I-AA opponents, they would still need four wins against teams not named Tennessee Tech to get there) but it is awfully hard to envision them going bowling without a 2-0 start.
For that reason, this is a vital game for Kansas State.
Not only do the Wildcats have to overcome a motivated team that stayed within eight points of them a year ago in Manhattan, they must do so in front of a pumped up crowd in a tough road environment with plenty on the line.
They are from the Big 12, sure, and own an overall talent advantage. But that only counts for so much. Louisiana-Lafayette is going to come at Kansas State with everything its got, and the game could come down to one or two key plays.
To put it simply: this one is a toss up.
Any discussion on the Ragin’ Cajuns has to start with their speed.
Teams in the Sun Belt can’t recruit the enormous linemen like BCS powers can, so they scour the south looking for the quickest players available to level the playing field. The Ragin’ Cajuns showed off their speed a year ago, scoring 37 points against the Wildcats, and last week against Southern, scoring 42 points.
ULL coach Rickey Bustle says his teams have always been fast, “but this one is really fast. It’s a much faster team than last year.”
“Quickness will be a factor in the game,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “But it’s not just offensive and defensive speed, Lafayette utilizes their speed on special teams.”
What I like most about the Ragin’ Cajuns, though, is their ability to sustain drives. Most really quick teams try to score in a hurry with explosive plays. But in their first game against Southern, the Ragin’ Cajuns reeled off five straight touchdown drives of at least 80 yards.
The first went for a whopping 91 yards.
What sets ULL apart from other speedy teams is the fact that it has an extremely experienced offensive line. All five starters return from a year ago (only 12 other teams in the country can say the same) and they have combined for 113 starts. That number is good for second most of any line in the nation.
It will be interesting to see how K-State’s defensive line, which only came up with one sack against UMass, does against such a veteran group.
“It’s a well coached line,” Snyder said. “They’re an aggressive, offensive line and a faster offensive line than what we played against the first week. Movement will be awfully important this game.”
About Kansas State
The Wildcats’ first game of the season left us with more questions than answers.
Can Carson Coffman develop into a legit Big 12 starting quarterback? Can K-State’s running attack go for nearly 200 yards every time out? Will the Wildcats’ injury ridden offensive and defensive lines improve to a respectable level as the season wears on?
By now, you’ve probably heard all of those.
But how about this one: after K-State built an 18-point lead against UMass, did the Wildcats take their foot of the proverbial pedal? Or were they simply inept in the second half?
My belief is that Snyder saw the game was more or less over and decided to keep his offense as vanilla as possible from that point on. It’s very possible that the master of coaching secrets didn’t want to show his future opponents anything more than he had to.
But that’s up for debate.
How inventive the Wildcats get on offense vs. how well the Wildcats execute on offense will tell us our answer.
All I know is the Wildcats won’t be able to stick to a variation of 10 plays against the Ragin’ Cajuns and hope to win. It will take a strong running attack and a good passing attack. Maybe even a trick play or two. In other words: an open playbook.
Kansas State will also need to get some improved play out of its kicking game. Against UMass, the Wildcats were plagued with mistakes in that area.
They accepted a fair catch within their own 10-yard line. They muffed a punt return. They missed a field goal. And they had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.
Those mistakes cost K-State at least 14 points, and that can’t happen down here if the Wildcats expect to win. They may even have to create points on special teams in order to win.
But Snyder has ripped his special teams unit for a week straight now, and here’s betting those players respond in a big way. Maybe even with a game winning field goal.
When K-State runs the ball: K-State
When K-State throws the ball: K-State
When ULL runs the ball: ULL
When ULL throws the ball: ULL
Special Teams: ULL
Prediction: K-State 24, ULL 23