When Kansas State and Oklahoma play each other, home-field advantage just doesn’t seem to matter. The last five times these teams have matched up, the road team has headed home victorious.
The Wildcats hope that winning trend continues this year when they head to Norman, Oklahoma, Saturday. Here are three things to keep an eye on.
1. The road team has been best, but Saturday will be a tough task.
It is true that K-State has won two recent games in Oklahoma, one in 2012 and one in 2014, but this Oklahoma team will be a very tough test.
While the Sooners have not lived up to preseason expectations, they are still a formidable opponent especially offensively. They accrued 672 yards of total offense in their last game Saturday against Texas.
The Sooners are led again by junior quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield may not be receiving the Heisman attention he did a year ago, but he may be playing better this time around. Sophomore cornerback D.J. Reed said containing Mayfield will be tough.
“Watching film on Baker, he is very versatile, he can get out of the pocket, extend plays and he is very good on his feet,” Reed said. “Our defensive line is going to have to do a good job containing him and making sure that he does not get outside the pocket because he is pretty mobile and can throw the ball, too.”
The Wildcats will have to hold down Mayfield and the Sooners’ offense much better than they did a year ago when they got blown out 55-0 at home. Having the nation’s 14th-best total defense is a good start.
2. Can Charles Jones continue his momentum?
Senior running back Charles Jones had himself a game against Texas Tech this past Saturday. Jones ran for 128 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries.
Jones’ 128 yards were the most ever in game for him. He has never had consecutive games with 100 yards rushing. Jones started the season off slow but could help himself and the Wildcats if he can put together a string of impressive performances, something he hasn’t been able to do so far in his career.
Head coach Bill Snyder said Jones showed against Texas Tech that he is still improving his game, even as a senior.
“He wasn’t dancing around to make something happen that just wasn’t there,” Snyder said. “A lot of guys get caught up in doing that sometimes. Sometimes we will have to get the one yard rather than the minus four and line up and try it again. It takes maturity and he is gaining that as we go. There are some other things that he will make improvements on. It was the explosiveness that which he ran that was significant and important for us.”
Jones and the rest of the K-State running backs will need a big game Saturday to help the offense keep up with the high-flying Oklahoma attack.
3. Turnovers will be big.
Arguably the biggest play of Saturday’s game was Reeds’ interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Turnovers have become common for the Wildcats so far this season.
The Wildcats actually lead the Big 12 in turnover margin at +6 this year. A year ago the Wildcats finished eighth with a -3 margin.
Snyder said the turnovers come with a more experienced defense.
“Having more experienced players who can process information more quickly and consequently react faster because of their experience,” Snyder said. “Sometimes that is not all created by interceptions, but the idea that sometimes good pressure is put on the quarterback; we’ve created some fumbles just by catching the quarterback in the middle of the throwing motion.”
The junior college transfer, Reed, leads the team in takeaways with two interceptions and should probably have three after a tough pass interference call voided one on Saturday. Freshman defensive tackle Trey Dishon said Reed has been impressive for the Wildcats.
“He comes in to work every week and he has been doing pretty good for us,” Dishon said. “He and Duke (Shelley) like to get after it. They like to compete in practice. They are coming along very well and I think you will see a lot more improvements from them as the year goes on.”