Shelley, Walker headline opponents to watch versus Kansas State

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kansas State Athletics

The Longhorns have won three straight games, but with an 0–1 road record following the team, they'll head to Manhattan to face Kansas State. Here are a few members of the Wildcats to watch for on Saturday:

#34 Alex Barnes — Running back 

What he lacks in quick-burst speed, junior running back Alex Barnes makes up for with incredible patience and vision. While he won’t rank among the most explosive backs encountered by the Longhorn defense this season, the Kansas native will certainly be one of the most productive. Through four games this season, Barnes has already carried the ball 63 times for 277 yards, which ranks third among all Big 12 players. 

The Longhorns are no stranger to Barnes’ running style, as he played a role in Kansas State’s offense, tallying 34 points against Todd Orlando’s defense last season — the second-most points any team put up against Orlando’s unit in 2017. When these two teams square off for their rematch Saturday, look for Kansas State’s head coach Bill Snyder to put the ball in Barnes’ hands early to control the tempo of the game and keep the Texas offense off the field. 

#7 Isaiah Zuber — Wide receiver 

The Kansas State offense hesitates to attack through the air, but when it does, it’s usually through junior wide receiver Isaiah Zuber. By far the most productive receiver on the Wildcats’ roster, the junior from Stone Mountain, Georgia, has corralled 24 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns in the early part of this season and ranks fourth in the Big 12 in receiving yards. 

Zuber’s effectiveness for the Wildcat offense lies in his precise route running and natural ball skills that make him an easy target anywhere on the field. The junior receiver didn’t have much of an impact against the Longhorns last season in Austin, but with Kansas State making a quarterback change to junior Alex Delton this week, the reliable Zuber will likely be Delton’s primary target when he looks to throw. 

#8 Duke Shelley — Defensive back 

Despite the Wildcats’ overall struggles on the defensive side of the ball, senior cornerback Duke Shelley has largely been a consistent presence for Kansas State defensive coordinator Blake Seiler. In four games this season, Shelley leads the Wildcats in pass breakups and ranks third on the team in total tackles with 17. 

This week, however, Shelly and the Kansas State defense will need to find a way to bounce back from a woeful performance against West Virginia last week where the Wildcats gave up 356 passing yards against the Mountaineers. It won’t get much easier against the Longhorns, as Texas comes loaded with two of the Big 12’s best receivers in juniors Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Shelley’s ability to lock down Texas’ talented wideouts will go a long way in determining how the Wildcats defense fares on Saturday. 

#51 Reggie Walker — Defensive end 

So far this season, the Wildcats have struggled to get to the quarterback, recording only three sacks through four games. If they hope to change that, it’ll have to start with junior defensive end Reggie Walker. Walker finished his freshman year with 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, earning him Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year accolades. His first-year performance placed second in school history in sacks and tackles for loss among freshmen.

After taking a dramatic step back last season, Walker has shown a bit more production through four games in 2018 with one sack and two tackles for loss. However, a struggling Kansas State defense expects, and needs, more disruption from their talented junior end who can be one of the best defensive linemen in the Big 12 when he’s performing at his best.