Kansas State by Position: Offensive Line

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

A brief preview of the Kansas State offensive line.

As always, trying to assess the strength of individual offensive linemen playing for a team in another conference is a somewhat futile affair, so the following is just a vague sketch of the KSU offensive line's quality based on the numbers (rushing stats, sacks allowed, starts, etc.) and post-season accolades.

Left Tackle

Starter: Cornelius Lucas (6'9'', 328, SR)

Backup: William Cooper (6'4'', 307, SR)

Protecting quarterback Jake Waters's blind side is the Brobdingnagian Cornelius Lucas, who stands at an imposing 6'9'' and weighs in at 328 pounds (or, that's what he's listed at). Lucas came into Manhattan as a two-star prospect out of New Orleans; if you follow KSU football at all, taking guys with little recruiting hype and turning them into good college football players is the program's forte.

Lucas didn't get onto the field as a starter until 2012, after redshirting in 2009 and appearing in every game as a reserve in 2010 and 2011. Lucas earned first-team honors from the Big 12 coaches in 2012 and was second-team to the Associated Press and Phil Steele.

Strangely, he only managed Big 12 honorable mention this year, while two of his fellow linemates garnered first- and second-team accolades. As I mentioned above, assessing the play of individual offensive linemen can be an inscrutable task, so sometimes it's best to defer to what others have to say. According to Peter Smith at With The First Pick, Lucas is a strong pass blocker and an underwhelming run blocker:

Lucas has a difficult time when it comes to run blocking. For all of the benefits that come with being 6'9" for the offensive tackle position, it is difficult for Lucas to get behind his pads and get low. Because of his length, when he goes forward, it takes time for him to get low and he makes contact before he is able to get in a position of power. He just takes up a ton of space. In many respects, Lucas is the blocking sled when it comes to run blocking. Opponents are able to get under his pads and cause him problems. Lucas is at his best when he can slide into place and wall off defenders as opposed to trying to launch forward, lock on and drive.

So, sounds like a bit like Pat Massey Syndrome. Smith writes that Lucas "grades out like a top 50 pick." Lucas certainly looks the part of an NFL left tackle, run blocking issues notwithstanding. Can Frank Clark--or whoever lines up against him--generate any sort of pass rush against Lucas when KSU does pass (which likely won't happen too often)? Outside of a bull rush here or there, I'm not sure Michigan can expect to generate a whole lot of pressure from this side of the line.

Left Guard

Starter: Cody Whitehair (6'4'', 309, SO)

Backup: Boston Stiverson (6'4'', 312, SO)

Whitehair, the youngest starter on the line, also doubles as a backup at right tackle (where he played some last season). Whitehair redshirted in 2011 and entered the starting lineup immediately last season, when he earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors from the coaches and Freshman All-American honors by Phil Steele.

Whitehair also landed on the All-Big 12 Second Team this season.

Center

Starter: B.J. Finney (6'4'', 303, JR)

Backup: Drew Liddle (6'3'', 288, JR)

Former walk-on (of course) B.J. Finney landed on the All Big 12 First Team this season, leading the KSU offensive front from the center position. After redshirting in 2010, Finney has started every game since, leading a consistently productive and grinding KSU running game.

Finney seems to have a little more size than your average center (for a point of reference, David Molk's MGoBlue profile lists him at 6'2'' 286). He's got the experience and all the accolades you'd want out of your center; while he might not be as attractive of an NFL prospect as Lucas, he's a good player with a little versatility to his game (he played a little right guard in 2011 before switching to center) and likely has an NFL future. Willie Henry, Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black will need to bring their A games if Michigan is going to keep the middle clean for the linebackers to make plays.

Right guard

Starter: Keenan Taylor (6'4'', 290, SR)

Backup: Boston Stiverson (6'4'', 312, SO)

Taylor is the only Wildcat lineman to not garner some sort of post-season recognition (as far as I can tell). A 3-star prospect out of Tulsa, Taylor is also an experienced player for the Wildcats (are you sensing a theme?).

Taylor redshirted in 2009 and contributed in a reserve role in 2010 and 2011 before taking over the starting spot last season. According to Dane Bugler of NFLDraftScout.com back in August:

Taylor has a good blend of power and movement skills that will earn him some looks at the next level.

That seems to be the consensus wherever I've looked for any sort of scouting material vis-a-vis his game. FWIW, his official Kansas State profile lists him as an "athletic and strong" lineman. Basically, he seems to be your standard mauling right guard sort.

Right tackle

Starter: Tavon Rooks (6'5'', 280, SR)

Backup: Cody Whitehair (6'4'', 309, SO)

Rooks, like Lucas, also garnered Honorable Mention accolades this season. At 280 pounds, he seems a bit undersized.

Rooks, a senior, came to Manhattan via the JUCO route, ranked as the No. 23 junior college player in the country. He started 10 games last season. Rooks isn't listed on CBS's top KSU prospects page, for what it's worth (Lucas, Finney and Taylor are).

Outlook

Whenever I take a look at offensive line two-deeps around the country, there's usually one common denominator: experience is a basic requirement. Outside of the tackle spots, Michigan does not have nearly the experience it needs for an offensive line that can function on a basic level, let alone transcendentally.

Kansas State's line, on the other hand, is stacked with experienced options, not to mention two or three guys who have some sort of NFL future.

Kansas State's offense finished ranked 23rd in offensive FEI and 21st in the "explosive drive" metric (i.e. percentage of drives that average at least 10 yards per play). However, to use a more traditional statistic, the Wildcats were just 53rd in rushing offense (averaging 4.53 YPC).

In the passing game, Waters finished tied for 93rd in attempted passes (233) but the Wildcats were just 63rd in sacks allowed. This isn't exactly news, but KSU's offensive line is in its element blocking a wide variety or runs, not passes.

In any case, Michigan's front seven will have to be ready to shed blocks and do all of the boring but essential things that playing assignment football entails. It probably won't be pretty, and quite a few KSU drives will manage a first down or two; but, when it counts, Michigan's defense will need to dig deep to force punts and field goals if it is going to give the offense a chance to keep up. To the Michigan defense's credit, it has done just that all year (until the Ohio State game).

Can U-M's defense do it one more time? If they win more battles up front than they lose, they'll have a shot.

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