Wildcats face first big test of the season against Vanderbilt
MANHATTAN, Kan. — No. 18 Kansas State and Vanderbilt had little trouble with their first two opponents, but game No. 3 will be a sterner test for each team.
K-State (2-0) scored 55 points in each of its first two games — both at home — against FCS foe Central Arkansas and Charlotte, which is in its third season of FBS competition. Vanderbilt (2-0) has not been quite as good on offense, but it has been even better on defense, allowing just six points in two games against Middle Tennessee and Alabama A&M.
The Big 12’s Wildcats travel to Nashville, Tenn., Saturday to take on the Commodores of the SEC.
“We are definitely excited to head down to Vandy,” wide receiver Dalton Schoen said. “It is our first big test, so it will be great for us as a team to go down there for a road game against an opponent like them.
“We are just focused on ourselves, mostly, doing what we can do and focusing on our game plan.”
The Wildcats have shown the ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air so far this season. Quarterback Jesse Ertz set a single-game school record for passer rating (319.8) while throwing for 333 yards and four touchdowns against Central Arkansas. Against Charlotte, the Wildcats rushed for 315 yards and five touchdowns. They have solid depth at running back and wide receiver as five runners have scored TDs and five different receivers have three or more catches.
Even the defense and special teams have chipped in.
In the opener, D.J. Reed had a 96-yard kickoff return and a 62-yard punt return touchdown. In the second game, Kendall Adams scored twice on defense in the first half, a 30-yard interception return and a 46-yard fumble return. K-State is the nation’s best in non-offensive touchdowns with 109 since 1999.
The Wildcats defense held Charlotte to just 58 yards passing, the fewest in a game for the Wildcats since 2000.
“As I look at (Kansas State), it’s a much different challenge,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said. “It’s equipped from top to bottom. Coach (Bill) Snyder is one of the best in the business. They’re one of the most physical teams. When you look at how they play football, it’s the style I’ve wanted to play since I got here.
“They’re putting up points, and their quarterback, Ertz, has been unbelievable. They’ve got a strong run game and receivers through the roof. We’re looking at speed and athleticism across the board.
“Defensively, I see players who can make plays all over the field. Their physical and stingy, and they lead the nation in takeaways. And Reed has done a great job on the punt return. ”
Vanderbilt is not without talent.
The Commodores are averaging 384 yards of total offense while giving up an average of 159 yards per game. They’re averaging 122 yards per game on the ground and 261.5 through the air. Most important, the Commodores have not had a turnover.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur has completed 76.1 percent of his passes for 249 yards per game and seven touchdowns.
“Shurmur is a young guy that really plays within himself quite well,” Snyder said.
“He is accurate; he can put the ball where it needs to go. They do not try to reinvent the wheel in regards to what he does. He takes what you give him and he is pretty good about that. That is a real significant trait for a quarterback and that only comes with experience, and he certainly has that.”
Mason is pleased with where his team sits after two games, even if they’re not Power 5-caliber competition. Though the road gets tougher in the coming weeks, beginning with Kansas State on Saturday, Mason said he hopes his squad’s start is representative of what it can do.
“You can’t tell it from my face, but I’m excited,” Mason said after a shutout victory over Alabama A&M. “It’s what you’re trying to do, but you have to keep your feet on the ground. Let’s put our foot on the gas and go from here.”
Kansas State has won 10 of its last 13 non-conference regular-season road games under Snyder. K-State is a combined 66-8 (.892) in September under Snyder, including 15-5 on the road.
This is just the second meeting between the schools. Vanderbilt won the previous meeting 26-14 in Nashville in 1984..