LUBBOCK, Texas – Kansas State coach Bill Snyder doesn't see all that much difference between Texas Tech's running backs.
But the No. 17 Wildcats caught a break this week when Texas Tech lost junior running back Eric Stephens for the season with a dislocated left knee. He was averaging 114 yards per game, 15th nationally, and will be replaced by three guys who together averaging about 31 yards per game.
The trio — senior Aaron Crawford and freshmen DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams — on Saturday will face a stingy Wildcats defense that allows 92.4 rushing yards per game and is ranked 16th in the country.
"You watch a complete ball game, they're interchangeable with Stephens," said Snyder, in the third year of rebuilding a program he placed among the nation's elite two decades ago. "In all honesty, I don't see a great deal of difference between any of them."
Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville sees inexperience.
"Well, they've got speed, they're elusive like Eric," he said. "They just don't have a clue what they're doing half the time."
Kansas State is one of only 13 undefeated teams left in the country, and could start 6-0 for the first time since 2000 with a win over the Red Raiders. The Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) were underdogs by a field goal at home against Missouri last week and won 24-17, and they are underdogs again this week to Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1).
The Red Raiders are coming off a 45-40 home loss to Texas A&M.
Crawford, who is averaging 7.5 yards a carry and has had just eight rushes this season, has had difficulty staying healthy, Tuberville said. The chemistry between Stephens and quarterback Seth Doege won't be replicated easily.
"The handoffs, the mesh points, all those little things that you go through with Eric that we went through last year, now we've got to go through it with a couple of young guys whose eyes will be real big when we go to some of these places and play at home against some of these teams," he said.
If the Texas Tech running game struggles, there is always Doege, who has thrown just one interception to go along with 17 touchdowns and is No. 6 in total offense nationally (359 yards). He is poised and earlier this season set an NCAA completion percentage record by completing 40 of 44 passes (90.9 percent), five of them for touchdowns.
"He's got a nice touch on the ball," Snyder said. "He's good at the old adage of being able to throw it to their guy away from our guy. He just keeps the ball away from the defense."
Last week, Kansas State kept the ball 17 minutes longer than the Tigers and the Wildcats will work toward that end again.
"When we chew up the clock, it means we're controlling the game, that we're trying to do what we want to do, instead of play at their game pace," Wildcats offensive lineman B.J. Finney said. "So to be able to do that is a huge advantage in our favor, obviously."
The Wildcats' running game outgains their aerial attack by about 81 yards, thanks in large measure to running back John Hubert and quarterback Collin Klein, who runs a version of the veer offense. Klein, a junior, is the fourth-best rushing quarterback in the nation, averaging 93.6 yards a game on the ground.
They'll face a Texas Tech defense that has been porous on the ground. The Red Raiders rank No. 115 against the rush and have allowed an average of 224 yards per game on the ground.
Last week, Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill got 188 passing yards and 55 on the ground and Klein may able to choose how he wants to attack the Red Raiders.
"He's very decisive with what he wants to do, where he wants to throw the ball and how he wants to carry out a play," Finney said. "So on top of being fast and strong, he's also able to make the decisions at a very crucial time."
Tuberville said Snyder's team are distinctive.
"They don't have any star players," he said. "They don't want any star players. We're going to have to understand what they do, how they do it on both sides, and we've got to improve and we've got to play our game."