MANHATTAN — The way Jaylen Pickle sees it, his job against Nevada's high-powered offense this week is pretty simple.
"Pass rush, because they throw the ball a lot," said Pickle, Kansas State's junior defensive lineman. "We haven't played a team that throws the ball as much as they do, so I'm just working new things, figuring out what I can and can't do against their tackles."
That might be easier said than done. Although the Wildcats are 2-0 and have put together a pair of impressive defensive performances so far against Stanford and Southern Illinois, Nevada is a different animal.
The Wolf Pack, which visits Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 1 p.m. for K-State's final nonconference test, is averaging 473 yards total offense per game and boasts one of the nation's premier quarterbacks in junior Carson Strong.
"Tremendous offensive team with a really good quarterback, really good couple of running backs and wide receivers," K-State coach Chris Klieman said of the Wolf Pack, which opened the season with a 22-17 victory at California, then dismantled Idaho State at home last week, 49-10. "(They have) a good ol' offensive line.
"They want to throw it all over the yard, but they can run it and run it effectively."
The Wolf Packs strength, clearly is the passing game with the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Strong, a potential first-round NFL draft choice. Through two games, he has completed 68.3% of his passes for 693 yards — an average of 346.5 — and six touchdowns.
"Tremendous arm strength," Klieman said of Strong, who threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns against Idaho State. "A mobile guy that sees so many coverages and he's seen so much and played so many snaps.
"It's not easy to fool a kid like that — guys (that) have had that many snaps. We've just got to do a great job of being able to rush the passer and be competitive on a lot of potential 50-50 throws."
Therein lie two of the greatest challenges for the Wildcats. Strong has been sacked just once, and once he puts the ball in the air, all four of his receivers stand at least 6-foot-2.
Wideout Romeo Doubs (6-2, 200 pounds) and tight end Cole Turner (6-6, 240), both seniors, were first-team all-Mountain West picks last year. Between them they have 22 catches for 261 yards in the first two games, and senior Elijah Cooks (6-4, 215) has nine receptions and a team-high three touchdowns.
"You just have to be good at the catch point," K-State safety Russ Yeast said of dealing with the Wolf Pack's size at the receiver positions. "When the ball's in the air, you have to play the ball really well, because otherwise they'll come down with it.
"That's probably what we'll emphasize this week is playing the ball in the air whenever we're in contested catch situations."
Up front, Strong has a veteran offensive line with three seniors, including two that returned for a fifth year.
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Through the first two weeks, K-State has generated good pressure using primarily a three-man front. Pickle, a converted tackle has played on one end with Felix Anudike-Uzomah at the other and Eli Huggins in the middle, though the Wildcats have gone as deep as eight or nine at those three spots.
Anudike-Uzomah, who had three sacks and forced two fumbles last week against Southern Illinois, said the fact that Strong is less likely to scramble — minus-3 yards total in two games — makes the defense's job easier.
"He's not a bit scrambler, so we just have to use our best moves, our best pass rush, and go after the quarterback," he said. "Since he's a drop-back quarterback, it's pretty easy to use our pass rush.
"That's what we've got to do to be successful against Nevada."
Despite Strong's accolades — he was the Mountain West offensive player of the year as a sophomore — Yeast doesn't expect the Wildcats to be intimidated.
"Most of us on our team are experienced, and we've played against guys that have been up there in the first round and stuff like that before," he said. "So nothing new. Just another game."
So far, K-State has yet to allow 300 yards in a game, yielding an average of 254.5. The Wildcats shut Stanford out until late in the fourth quarter in the season opener, and did not allow a point in the second half last week in a 31-23 come-from-behind victory over SIU.
In the opener, a 24-7 victory, they caught Stanford off guard with their new 3-3-5 look, and it proved effective again against SIU. But Nevada now has the benefit of seeing it twice on tape.
"Offenses are going to make adjustments since they've seen us too, but it's our job to make adjustments as well," Yeast said. "We're still going to go out there and try to stop everything that we've seen them put out on tape.
"I think we can still improve. It's going to get tougher because obviously there's going to be more film on us, but I think we'll be fine."
Pickle agreed, especially when it comes to containing Strong.
"He's a really good player, a smart player, and he obviously knows what he's doing on the field," Pickle said. "Every week's a challenge and he's a very big challenge we have to face at the quarterback position.
"But everybody puts their pants on the same way."
Source : https://www.cjonline.com/story/sports/2021/09/14/kansas-kstate-football-schedule-wary-nevada-qb-carson-strong-high-powered-offense-nfl-draft-big-12/8331619002/1406