Rest easy, Kansas University football fans, for Mark Mangino has uncovered the secret to stopping Kansas State standout kick returner Brandon Banks.
“Don’t let him run the ball down to the end zone,” the coach said. “That would be the No. 1 thing.”
Unfortunately for Mangino and his Jayhawks (5-3 overall, 1-3 in the Big 12), keeping Banks out of said end zone has proved an especially difficult feat for many college football teams this season.
Entering today’s 11:30 a.m. Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan, Banks has returned a nation’s-best four kicks for touchdowns, one shy of the NCAA single-season record, and his five career touchdown returns are just one short of the NCAA career mark.
In addition to his talents as a returner, meanwhile — he’s ranked first in the Big 12 in kickoff return yardage (953), average (31.8) and touchdowns — he has been the team’s top receiver this season and is a big reason why the Wildcats, who began the season as a conference afterthought, sit in first place in the Big 12 North with a 3-2 record (5-4 overall).
His two touchdowns returns in a victory over Tennessee Tech set a Big 12 record and tied the NCAA mark. He caught what proved to be the winning touchdown pass in a narrow 24-23 victory over Iowa State, and against Oklahoma last week, he tied the KSU record for all-purpose yards in a game with 351, which included a 98-yard fourth-quarter touchdown return that pulled the Wildcats within five points, 35-30, of the Sooners.
“He’s one of the fastest people I have ever played with,” K-State quarterback Grant Gregory said. “He is always one missed tackle or one juke away from taking it to the house.”
Not surprisingly, Banks’ recent exploits — coupled with his marginal frame — have led to comparisons to another diminutive Wildcats return man, current San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles.
Like Sproles, Banks has established himself as one of the nation’s best all-purpose players, and, like Sproles, he has quickly dispelled the theory that a player that size is bound to succumb to the pounding dished out during the course of a Big 12 season.
“I remember that was the rap on Darren — nobody thought he was big enough to play this game,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “But he was just one of those guys that has the ability to change directions so well that it was very hard to get those kind of real solid hits on him.”
All of this is bad news for a Kansas team that will be charged with stopping him today in Manhattan.
Despite a less-than-stellar coverage unit — the team ranks eighth in the Big 12 in kickoff coverage — the Jayhawks haven’t given up a kick return for a touchdown yet this year, thanks at least in small part to placekicker Jacob Branstetter’s penchant for seeking out opposing returners and “laying the wood,” as one teammate described it.
But Banks, who has made more than a few previously stout special teams units look foolish this season, likely will represent Kansas’ toughest task to date.
“He knows how to reverse field, he knows how to get to the ball and do things with it once he gets it,” KU safety Lubbock Smith said. “We’re just going to be ready.”