If there’s a Big 12 team that doesn’t fit the mold of the conference — a conference known for ultra-fast, spread system football — it’s Bill Snyder’s Kansas State.
It’s not entirely his fault, as he lost two quarterbacks who could have potentially run a fast-tempo offense. But alas, Joe Hubener stepped in to save the day and take the Wildcats to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Arkansas.
Kansas State fits the mold of an SEC team, particularly how Bret Bielema runs this Arkansas offense. Both teams are glaciers with the ball in their hands. Arkansas controls the ball nearly 35 minutes per game, second in the nation. K-State isn’t far behind at over 33 minutes per game, 12th in the nation.
The comparisons keep lining up as both teams are predominant run teams.
Each runs the ball about 60 percent of the time. Each has a go-to runner with the Razorbacks leaning on Alex Collins, who topped 1,300 yards this season. The Wildcats have Hubener, who ran for 13 touchdowns this season.
But that’s where the comparison starts to slip.
Kansas State’s offense lives and dies by its quarterback play, a death wish in some cases.
For as good as Hubener can be out of the pocket, his worth is lost when he looks to the air — opposite of Arkansas despite its, and the conference’s reliance, on the ground game.
The Razorbacks have been blessed with Brandon Allen at quarterback, and he leads the SEC with 29 passing touchdowns—almost nine yards per pass—and has the highest passing efficiency in the conference. It’s not Big 12 level play, but he’s a pocket passer who has shown an ability to torch defenses like Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
As the Wildcats have shown this season, they’re susceptible to multi-faceted offenses and have rarely been a combatant.
The best game Hubener had as a passer was against Louisiana Tech in Week 3 when he had three passing touchdowns and completed 55 percent of his passes. Entering conference play, his efficiency dropped down to just 46 percent completed passes and he threw three interceptions for every two touchdowns.
The Wildcats do hold an advantage in Hubener’s ability to score while in scoring position, but against a defense that has shut down Leonard Fournette—giving up just 117 yards per game on the ground—the possibility Hubener has to dig his team out of a hole (via the passing game) is a possibility.
This is a similar matchup to the Wildcats’ season finale against West Virginia. That was a matchup that saw a solid quarterback, Skyler Howard, work with a productive run game that wore down the one-dimensional Wildcats.
It’s not all to blame on Hubener, though, as there’s a clear lack of talent on the outside in the passing game with Tyler Lockett graduated an in the NFL. Arkansas can at least boast All-American tight end Hunter Henry and conference touchdown leader Drew Morgan.
But even on the ground, Arkansas holds the advantage considering its method revolves around a more trustworthy attack than leaning on a quarterback to find a break in the defense’s edge pursuit.
Hubener has had multiple games in which he hasn’t even crossed 20 yards rushing, while Collins’ had nine games of at least 100 yards and a touchdown.
These two teams match up in scheme, but the reliance the Wildcats have in their quarterback’s running ability hasn’t worked out as of late. It’s also too one-dimensional.
If Arkansas was facing any other bowl-eligible Big 12 team, it would be in trouble considering the difference of styles. But this matchup heavily favors Bielema’s deliberate paced offense, giving the SEC a good shot to get a win over the Big 12 this season.