Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 17, 2012

Big 12 QB showdown

K-State’s Klein vs. WVU’s Smith

The matchup is set. Two Heisman Trophy front-runners and a pair of the nation’s top quarterbacks — No. 17 West Virginia’s Geno Smith and No. 4 Kansas State’s Collin Klein — will go head-to-head Saturday at 7 p.m. in Morgantown when their teams meet in a Big 12 showdown on FOX.

Smith is second in the country with 2,271 passing yards and he leads all of FBS with 25 touchdown passes. In 259 pass attempts, he’s yet to throw an interception.

“It’s amazing for him to have those numbers and no interceptions,” said Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder. “The no interceptions are a great tribute to his decision making ability, as well as his receivers. I appreciate the fact that he shows a great deal of humility with all of the attention that is paid to him.”

Klein plays the position with a much different style, though just as effective. He loves to run the option — and run, in general. He’s stands fourth in the Big 12 — among everybody, not just quarterbacks — averaging 85 rushing yards per game. Add that to 179 passing yards per game, and his 264 yards of total offense per contest puts him fourth in the league.

“Collin Klein is a tremendous football player,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “He is averaging 100 yards a game (rushing) and doesn’t make any mistakes.”

So the stage is set. Smith versus Klein could end up rivaling Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier or John McEnroe versus Bjorn Borg.

There’s just one problem. They actually won’t be head-to-head. In fact, they’ll never be on the field at the same time.

Klein will have no control over keeping Smith from tossing touchdown passes, and Smith won’t be able to do a thing to slow down Klein when he makes a defender miss and gets into the open field.

That will be the job of the much-maligned WVU defense, which ranks next-to-last in the Big 12 in both scoring defense and total defense, giving up 37.3 points and almost 500 yards per outing.

But the matchup with KSU (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) could actually be a blessing in disguise for first-year WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest’s unit.

While the Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) have been torched through the air, allowing more than 360 passing yards per game, they’ve actually performed decently against the run. They’re in the middle of the Big 12 pack, giving up 131.3 yards per game on the ground.

Holgorsen said he hopes his team will match up better with the Wildcats, but he’s not exactly resting easy when thinking about it.

“They pose a lot of challenges,” explained the second-year coach. “They are only snapping the ball 63 times a game, but they are averaging 40 points a game. They have big-play potential.

“They do it in a different way, and it is a little bit more like Texas. This is a different challenge. With any team, there are challenges, and this one just happens to be with stopping the run.”

Stopping the option, though, is a little different than stopping a straight ahead tailback running the power game behind the fullback. Succeeding on defense against the option is much more about playing assignment football than simply fighting off a block and making a play.

“You have your keys, you have your responsibilities, you have to look at it and you have to develop some tendencies that help you defend it,” said Holgorsen. “Regardless of what people are doing offensively, we are going to coach our guys depending on what their assignment is when it comes to matching up with the sets and being able to execute with good technique.”

The other problem in preparing for Klein is how to simulate his skills in practice. Holgorsen had hoped to use freshman tight end/wide receiver Will Johnson, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 245 pounds, as his scout team quarterback this week, but a back injury will keep Johnson from performing those duties.

There aren’t many others in the mix capable of giving the defense a look similar to the 6-foot-5, 226-pound KSU signal caller.

“Nobody has one. There’s only one of him that exists,” said Holgorsen. “We have a couple of guys that are back there that will go in the right direction. It won’t look like it, and that’s a problem. But that is a problem that exists, and we have to overcome that.

“If you can find a 6-foot-5 guy that is big, strong and fast, he is probably not going to be on scout team.”

So Klein’s production won’t be determined by the quarterback on the other sideline, but instead by the 11 guys on the other side of the field. When the smoke clears Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, the winner of the quarterback showdown that everybody will be watching will be decided by how well the defenses can slow down the opposing stars.

It won’t be Ali-Frazier, but there are still plenty of reasons to watch.

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