In less than 24 hours, Alabama and Kansas State will be kicking off for the Sugar Bowl in what very well looks like one of the more exciting matchups of bowl season.
If you’re not the audio type, I also asked a whole bunch of questions to Jon Morse over there, and here are his thoughts about the team and this matchup:
1) I’m going to curve ball you a little from the start: what are your feelings on TCU going to the playoffs? I don’t think they’re rivals, exactly, but it has to feel both a little gratifying and frustrating that you beat a team for the championship only for them to go to the playoffs anyway. And piggybacking on that, do the Horned Frogs stand a chance?
Hah, you’re asking the wrong person. Most people who pay attention to me know that Alabama is my side piece, but I’ve also always been a big TCU stan. I lived just off campus there for a few years, and it was a good time. So the bitterness some folks feel in regard to, shall we say, TCU’s strange luck with opponents getting injured... I kind of shrug off. As to my feelings about beating them only for them to go to the playoff, that’s got nothing to do with TCU. It’s got to do with K-State coming out flat against Tulane and still trying to preserve Will Howard’s redshirt when they played Texas. Win those two, and then maybe I’m having some feelings about being 12-1 and playing in the Sugar Bowl while 12-1 TCU plays in the playoff. Only then, that probably doesn’t happen, right?
I think TCU has a very good chance against Michigan, because they match up pretty well. After that, if Ohio State somehow gets past Georgia, I think the Frogs would have an excellent chance to walk away with the title because Ohio State against a team that’ll punch you in the mouth isn’t a good bet.
2) Man, I remember wanting my NFL team draft Collin Klein as a TE. It feels like it was just a few years ago. Now he’s already the OC??
How do K State fans feel about him and the job he’s done?
Klein was already one of the rare quarterbacks that Bill Snyder allowed freedom to pick his own play out of the given formation. He’s a very football-smart dude, and as soon as it became clear he had no professional career ahead of him he immediately went into coaching. After Klieman cut ties with Courtney Messingham after the end of the regular season last year, he let Klein audition against LSU and y’all saw how that worked out. He had a shaky start this season, but if you followed closely said start probably had less to do with his schemes and play-calling than it did with Adrian Martinez turning out to have PTSD from his time at Nebraska and terrified to make a mistake. Turns out timidity is just as bad as being too bold.
*Ed. Note: Over the last few seasons, I have increasingly become more adamant that a timid QB is the worst death knell for an offense
3) Any chance we actually see Adrian Martinez, or has that ship sailed like a Will Howard down field bomb?
Probably none. Howard was intended to redshirt this season after having been forced into action each of the last two years, so that he could theoretically have been the starter in years 4-6 on campus. Since that ship has now sailed, you can probably expect Martinez to remain on the sideline unless Howard is injured or the game’s a blowout. In a blowout, I’d expect Martinez to get some courtesy snaps.
4) I’m setting the O/U on rushing yards for Kansas State at 200... What direction are you going? (I’m taking the over, BTW... That power run scheme is going to obliterate Alabama’s soft d-line and small linebackers).
I’d take the under on that. If Martinez were the starter, I’d take the over, but expecting K-State to run for 200 yards with Howard under center is basically expecting Deuce Vaughn to run for 180. That’s entirely possible, of course, but Vaughn usually doesn’t approach that number unless he busts a 60-yard run somewhere, and that’s a coin flip.
5) Which wide receiver (or TE!) do you think will have the most impact in the passing game?
You’re going to want to keep an eye on tight end/fullback Ben Sinnott. He’s been a huge part of the passing game, and has made multiple big catches on deep balls this season. We named him the offensive player of the game more than once this year. Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks, the starting wideouts, are both perfectly competent; Knowles is the big play guy while Brooks is the “get nine yards on third-and-7” dude.
6) What kind of scheme does the Kansas State defense run, and what position group is Alabama most likely to be able to take advantage of? (If any)
K-State runs a 3-3-5 which will sometimes even morph into a 2-4-5. In both sets, one or two linebackers will actually slide into an edge role if the situation warrants. The weak spot is the secondary, because two key pieces are probably out for the bowl game due to injuries, and everyone else has been hurt during the latter half of the season. The backups aren’t bad, but there’s a dropoff.
7) Give me two players on defense you think are the most likely to make a game changing play
The conventional answer would be to start with Felix Anudike-Uzomah, who’s probably almost as terrifying to offensive lineman as Will Anderson. But if Alabama’s anything like everyone else on K-State’s schedule this year, he’ll be double-teamed the entire game, officials will ignore at least a dozen holds on him, and he might even get tackled by three guys without even drawing a flag.
Yes, we’re bitter about this, and he still had 8.5 sacks despite this abuse.
But we can answer your question pretty objectively. Brendan Mott has had some huge, game-changing plays up front, while linebacker Austin Moore has been the best player on the entire defense outside of Anudike-Uzomah. Running back’s slipped past the first level? Whoops, Austin Moore just came out of nowhere to stop him short of the sticks, fourth down. That kinda thing.
*Ed. Note #2: Sounds like we’ll be even on our star edge rusher getting chokeheld all game
8) Are there any true freshmen flashing future superstar potential that have you excited for the future?
D.J. Giddens is Vaughn’s backup, and they are nothing alike. Vaughn will evade you and pinball off you for 11 yards. Giddens will just blow through you. There is almost zero question that he’ll have the starting job when Deuce leaves. V.J. Payne also got significant playing time in the secondary, and didn’t get burned.
9) Does Alabama stand a chance in this one? Not only is it a dreaded Sugar Bowl, but I also feel like it’s a bad schematic matchup for the Tide, plus Alabama’s mentals have just been all out of whack this whole season. I’m feeling a Wildcat victory. Are you?
So, as soon as K-State stomped little brother and made it obvious that they were going to the Sugar Bowl regardless of the Big 12 championship game result, I started having lots of conversations with my Bama bros, who were absolutely convinced that K-State was going to curbstomp the Tide. (Lemme digress a moment: by and large, almost every Alabama fan I’ve ever interacted with has shown the K-State program a ton of respect, which is pretty much unique among the blue blood fanbases. It’s a big part of why I’m a Bama fan on the side.)
But that was when everyone just assumed Young and Anderson weren’t going to play Saturday. Two guys shouldn’t make that much of a difference, but Young does have some flaws the Wildcat defense might exploit and, well, y’all have BOB calling plays. If Will Howard is sharp early and his receivers are getting open, which sadly looks like something Alabama might very well allow, K-State’s got a good chance. At the same time: it’s Alabama. Yes, the Tide is notorious for not caring if it’s “just” the Sugar Bowl, but this isn’t the Utah situation, I don’t think. That Utah team was great, as opposed to this K-State team just being really good, and I think Alabama respects K-State more than they respected Utah anyway.
So where you guys have been feeding me “man, you’re gonna wash us” for a month, I’m not so sure about all that. K-State’s got flaws, too, after all. Personally, I feel like Alabama’s going to win, but in a close one.