MIAMI -- Often in football, quarterback is the most important position on the field. That may well be the case Saturday when the Kansas State Wildcats face the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium.
So far this season, K-State QB Collin Klein has been at the center of the Wildcats' offense. With limited success throwing the ball and limited success using running backs to carry the ball, the Cats have leaned on Klein's running skills in moving to a 2-0 start.
Miami has noticed.
"Clearly, for those of us that watched them play, the kid can run the ball and can make people miss and runs the option pretty well," UM coach Al Golden said. "We expect quite a challenge from him."
Klein's size (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) makes him a force when he tucks the ball. So far this season he's run for 217 yards and he averages 5.3 yards per rush in his career.
Miami is locked in on Klein, but the Wildcats also need to pay keen attention to UM quarterback Jacory Harris. The senior has ridden a career roller-coaster and finally seems to be grasping a better understanding of the position.
Mistake prone through his career, Harris seemed in full control of the Hurricanes' offense despite throwing two interceptions in UM's 24-6 victory over Ohio State last Saturday.
"I thought I played pretty well by managing the game," Harris said. "Sometimes you don't have to be the playmaker. Sometimes if the play breaks down, don't try to make something out of nothing."
Yes, this is a game when the quarterbacks could well determine the outcome, and maybe for opposite reasons. Can Klein make enough plays for the Wildcats, and can Harris stay away from costly mistakes for the Hurricanes?
Time will tell, but first it's time to take a tour of K-State's Five Keys to Victory as the Wildcats head to south Florida.
KEY 1: GET UP TO SPEED
There's no denying it. The Miami football team can run. The Hurricanes have speed on offense and speed on defense. Don't be shocked if Coach Golden could toss out a 4.5 40.
"That is the first thing that jumps off of the film when you watch it," K-State cornerback Nigel Malone said. "They also have very good running backs, which is a strong point of their offense. We just have to come out and play a balanced game."
Offensively, Harris offers plenty of speed at QB, but as Malone mentions, the real trouble may come from running back Lamar Miller. Miller combines his stout build with solid speed and a knack for finding an opening in the defense.
"It is a definite step-up in competition and quality of opponent," safety Tysyn Hartman said. "They have a great team and good athletes all around the board. It is going to be a challenge for us on defense but I feel confident in the speed of our defense to compete with theirs."
KEY 2: STAY AWAY FROM MISTAKES
Klein is moving from the comfort of Bill Snyder Family Stadium to Miami, where he will face a hostile crowd.
Klein, however, is generally in control of his emotions so Coach Bill Snyder doesn't expect his junior QB to get rattled despite a lack of experience.
"I do not have a concern about it. It does not mean that something could not happen, but he is a very composed young man. That remains to be seen," Snyder said. "I think he has improved. I think he was better in the first game. He was better than he was last year and better in the second game than in the first game. I think he is gradually doing what we anticipate and hope for with all of our players."
Klein knows limiting the mistakes from the offense, particularly turnovers, is vital for survival.
"We have made and are making improvements," Klein said. "We just have to keep it up. Miami is a great team with great team speed. We are going to have to execute our plan well. We are working on it now and we will just have to see what happens.
"We cannot turn it over, and we still had too many penalties last week. We cannot put ourselves in tough situations by hurting ourselves with penalties; holding, illegal procedures, things of that nature. We cannot turn it over, we cannot beat ourselves, and we just have to play well."
KEY 3: SHOW OFFENSIVE PATIENCE
K-State hasn't shown a big-strike offense so far this season and the Wildcats probably do not want to get into a high-tempo, emotional shootout with the Hurricanes.
Possess the ball. Eat up clock. Throw when you need to do so. And, thus, keep Miami's offense on the sideline cooling its heels.
K-State showed that ability in its 37-0 victory over Kent State and getting its running game in full gear (Ohio State found some success running against Miami despite a pitiful throwing attack) would serve the Wildcats well.
"I think the things that highlighted it for me was probably the two back-to-back 90-plus yard drives," Snyder said of the Kent State game. "There were some helpless penalties, but nevertheless, it held together and made extensive drives without a play over 15 yards, with one exception of one running play over 15 yards; but there were no passing plays over 15 yards."
With that in mind, expect to see a different selection of passing plays than K-State has run so far this season and don't be surprised to witness plenty of running back Bryce Brown, who so far has carried the ball just three times as a Wildcat.
KANSAS STATE at MIAMI
When: Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (Central)
Location: Miami. Fla.
Venue: Sun Life Stadium (74,916)
The throwing game remains a concern for K-State. Ohio State was able to run the ball between the 20s, but hit a wall when its passing game failed in short-field situations.
KEY 4: DO YOUR JOB ON DEFENSE
K-State has given up one score in two games this season in the form of a 1-yard drive against Eastern Kentucky. So far so good for a team that sported the worst rush defense in FBS football last season.
"I think we are playing harder, smarter and faster," Snyder said. "I think we are playing a little more aggressively than we did at most times last year. There were times again, that we played ... quite well defensively but not enough of it."
The test at Miami obviously will be much more difficult.
"This is a major step for our defense. It will be very definitive on where we are," Snyder said. "Hopefully we play as well as we are capable of playing and continue to make some improvement and that will give us a good assessment of where we are regardless of the outcome.
"It gives us a good assessment, if indeed we play well. We were better in the first game, we were better in the second game and that is what I am looking for in this ballgame. This will probably give us as good of test as we can have."
KEY 5: DON'T GET TORCHED ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Miami set an early tone in its victory over Ohio State by making a series of strong special teams plays. The Hurricanes used that to quickly score a touchdown and gain an emotional high that helped them surge into the lead.
They never looked back.
So far this season, the Wildcats have not been sterling on special teams, but they better be better than Ohio State, which was pinned back on returns and gave up field position when it had to kick the ball back to UM.
FITZ'S FINAL ANALYSIS: Miami was hyped for its game with Ohio State, so it's important for K-State to get off to a stable start and not create easy scoring situations for the Hurricanes. K-State can certainly win this game, but so far this season, the Wildcats don't appear ready for this dramatic jump up in competition, let alone on the road.