SE: Ertz Continues to Spark K-State Run Game

Running the ball is at the core of K-State’s identity, and this season Jesse Ertz is at the center of forming it. 

For the first time since 2003, K-State has recorded at least 200 yards rushing in three-straight Big 12 games. Darren Sproles was the Wildcats’ workhorse then. Without an exclusive running back on this Wildcat team, Ertz has taken on the biggest load. And he’s carried it well. 

Currently, Ertz leads K-State in rushing yards (630) and carries (111). A K-State quarterback hasn’t finished the season as the leader in both of those categories since Collin Klein in 2011.   

“He’s just so elusive. You can’t get a clean shot on that guy,” K-State freshman running back Alex Barnes said after Saturday’s 43-37 loss to No. 18 Oklahoma State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. “He’s a lot faster than people think. He has a very large stride, so it’s hard for people to really estimate how much ground he’s covering when he’s running.”

Ertz picked up career-high marks in yards (153) and carries (30) while recording three rushing touchdowns against the Cowboys. His night boosted K-State to a 345-yard performance on the ground, complimented by 72 yards from Barnes and another 70 from senior Charles Jones. 

Both backs said Ertz makes their jobs much easier. 

“It’s huge,” Barnes said of Ertz’s role in the run game. “Opponents have to respect our quarterback run game and that just adds a whole new element for us. There’s not as much backside pursuit whenever it’s a read option or something like that. Jesse is really big for us.”

“They have to honor him,” Jones added. “He’s rushing for 15, 20 yards, so if they don’t honor him, they’ll pay for it.”

Paired with his 106-yard run game against Iowa State, Ertz became first Wildcat quarterback since Daniel Sams in 2013 to hit the century mark in back-to-back games. John Hubert was the last K-State player at any position to accomplish the feat, also doing so in 2013. 

“He could do that any day of the week, any Saturday,” K-State linebacker Elijah Lee said. “That’s not much of a surprise to us because we’re in practice with him all the time.” 

Ertz helped fuel K-State’s 11-play opening scoring drive, which was entirely done with the run attack. He carried it six times for 37 yards, capped by a 9-yard touchdown to take an early lead. 

“He just knows the defense,” K-State sophomore offensive tackle Dalton Risner said. “He knows how to read it, when to pull it and when not to pull it. He’s just a heck of a player.”

The junior quarterback became an even bigger factor in the second half, when he broke out for 102 of his yards in the game. 

“Guys might not judge him to be as fast as he is,” Lee said. “He’s patient and he doesn’t try to go ahead and gun it. He looks at everything and then goes.”

In K-State’s scoring drive late in the third quarter, Ertz racked up 24 yards on the ground on four carries that ended with him barreling his way through a pile of Oklahoma State defenders for the touchdown. Included in this drive was an 11-yard scramble in which Ertz fended off a defender with a stiff arm, another weapon in his running arsenal. 

“He’s very important because he’s deceivingly fast and elusive, and defenses don’t really know that,” Jones said. “He makes a lot of big plays. He had a great stiff arm on one play, so we love having him back there.” 

With K-State trailing by six with 1:39 to play, Ertz maneuvered K-State down the field with his legs once again. He evaded a rush on first down, sprinting out of bounds for a gain of 9 yards. After moving the sticks with a 9-yard completion, Ertz, who went 12-of-18 through the air, scampered for 25 yards to put K-State in the red zone. 

“Jesse played a great game. He’s a heck of a player, and I look up to Jesse in a variety of ways,” Risner said. “I really respect him and love him and I think he played a tremendous game. He’s a playmaker.”