Kansas State is a 7-point favorite over Miami after beating the 'Canes last year on a late goal line stand. (US Presswire)
MIAMI WILL WIN IF: It stops the run. In last year's game in Miami, the Hurricanes were gouged on the ground for 283 yards on nearly seven per carry, easily their worst effort of the season on both counts. It was also one of Kansas State 's best: As-yet-unestablished quarterback Collin Klein (106 yards before sacks) and tailback John Hubert(166) both cracked the century mark, solidifying their feature roles in the Big 12's most run-oriented offense.
As long as the Wildcats can run on Miami's mostly rebuilt front seven, they will, and Klein's job as a passer will be that much easier: With the ground game working last year, his efficiency rating against the 'Canes (165.4) was the best of the season. But there is no evidence to date that he can consistently carry the offense with his arm.
KANSAS STATE WILL WIN IF: It generates points on defense or special teams. The 2011 win in Miami came down to a memorable goal-line stand, making it arguably the closest of the eight games the Wildcats ultimately won by a touchdown or less. Almost all of the others – including squeakers over Baylor, Texas Tech , Missouri, Texas and even Eastern Kentucky – hinged on at least one turnover or big return that resulted in/led to points that proved decisive in the final margin. (If you've ever wondered how a team that's outgained by nearly 60 yards per game can still manage to win 10 games, that's how.)
Last week, with Missouri State challenging KSU well into the second half, the defense and return game both delivered knockout blows: In the third quarter, All-America return man Tyler Lockett took back a punt 43 yards to set up a short-field touchdown drive from the Missouri State 32-yard line; a few minutes later, All-Big 12 cornerback Nigel Malone put the game on ice with an interception return to the MSU 8, from where the offense punched it in two plays later. A few minutes after that, junior Tramaine Thompson added the exclamation point on an 89-yard punt return for the final points of the game. Even if things are going poorly, in general, just one big, field-flipping play of that variety can keep the offense on schedule and keep Klein from being forced to overextend himself in the passing game.
X-FACTOR. Miami's hyped freshman tailback, Duke Johnson, carried the ball only seven times last week in his college debut -- exactly half as many as the regular starter, Mike James -- but made the most of his chances and then some with a pair of long touchdown runs in the second and third quarters that flipped the scoreboard permanently in the 'Canes' favor:
When he was in the game, Johnson looked like exactly the blue-chip spark Miami has been missing on offense for most of the last decade. If he delivers an encore against a solid defense that's actually had a chance to watch him on film, it will be time to start getting officially carried away.