This Saturday provides a fascinating matchup for Missouri (2-2, 0-1 in Big 12 play) as the Tigers travel to the Flint Hills to take on the old tactician Bill Snyder and his surging Kansas State (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) team in Manhattan (2:30 p.m. on ABC).
For opposing coaches, playing Kansas State is about as much fun as being audited. That’s because the legendary Snyder, who turns 72 on Friday, still leads the Wildcats. Snyder, a brilliant game-planner and motivator, authored the “Manhattan Miracle,” taking Kansas State from by far the worst Division I football program and making it a national power.
When Snyder, who played quarterback in college for one season on Mizzou's freshman team, took over at the end of the 1988 season, Kansas State had a 27-game winless streak and virtually no talent on hand. Snyder slowly built the program into one that won at least 11 games in six of seven seasons, capped by a stunning win over Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 title game.
Snyder retired once, but after a failed three-year stint by Ron Prince, he came back. He appears to be building the program up again. Last Saturday, Kansas State finally solved the riddle of dynamic Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin late in the game, rallying for a 36-35 win over the then-No. 15 Bears.
Now Missouri travels to No. 20 Kansas State off a bye week, trying to stop the Wildcats’ momentum. Even though Missouri hasn’t beaten a Football Championship Subdivision team in over a month, the Tigers opened as slight favorites. This is probably a testament to Missouri having better athletes overall, but Baylor clearly had more explosive players on offense than Kansas State, and that didn’t keep them from losing.
Expect Kansas State to use similar tactics that it used against Baylor in its effort to slow down Missouri. The Wildcats will likely run the ball and let the play clock run down before taking the snap to keep Missouri’s offense off the field. Kansas State has a good running back in John Hubert, and quarterback Collin Klein is fourth in the Big 12 Conference in rushing and second nationally in rushing among quarterbacks.
Missouri can expect the Wildcats to mix things up. Clearly Klein is more dangerous as a runner, but there he was in the fourth quarter last Saturday, throwing on nearly every play on the final drives. Klein’s passes meander through the air more than cut through, but it’s surprising how often they arrive right on time. Keeping Klein bottled up will be critical for Missouri.
On offense, Missouri will need to get better at converting third downs to keep the pressure on Kansas State’s sometimes-vulnerable defense. The Wildcats allowed several long completions against Baylor, so it would be nice to see Missouri let quarterback James Franklin take some chance down the field.
Starting with Kansas State, six of Missouri’s next seven games are against teams currently ranked. I’m not saying Missouri will struggle for bowl eligibility, but the schedule is tough, making the game at K-State feel like a pivotal one. Expect a close game.