Five storylines to look for when K-State football hosts Oklahoma State

Senior wide receiver Kody Cook playing as quarterback dodges sophomore linebacker Chad Whitener during the football game against Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma Oct. 3, 2015. (Emily Starkey | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State football team hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday for the Homecoming game.

The Wildcats are coming off a 37-34 loss to Baylor that ended with a last-second field goal. Through six games, the Wildcats are 2-4, and 0-3 in Big 12 competition.

Junior running back Alex Barnes is coming off a career game against Baylor, and Skylar Thompson went off against the Cowboys last season. Oklahoma State is the best in the country at sacking the quarterback and has a skilled running back of its own.

In a series that is often decided by close games, will K-State win its first conference game, or will Oklahoma State bounce back from a disappointing loss?

1. Can Thompson repeat last year’s success in Stillwater?

Last season, K-State traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma to face No. 10 Oklahoma State. The Wildcats were a 19.5-point underdog and were one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the eighth straight season.

With the odds against them, K-State came out on top, 45-40.

Then-redshirt freshman Skylar Thompson had a career game, throwing for 204 yards and three touchdowns, only registering three incomplete passes. The signal-caller also ran for 93 yards and one score.

In his redshirt sophomore campaign, Thompson has thrown for 750 yards and five touchdowns so far. His best game was in week three against UTSA, when he threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns. UTSA’s passing defense is 96th in the nation, giving up 244.2 yards per game.

The Wildcats have the Big 12’s worst passing offense, averaging just 170.5 yards per game through the air. On the other hand, the Cowboys have the second-worst passing defense in the conference, allowing 272.5 yards per game. They have given up 15 touchdowns through the air this season.

2. Battle of the backs

K-State’s Alex Barnes and Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill are two of the best backs in the Big 12.

The juniors are second and third in the conference in rushing yards per game, respectively. Hill has gained 107.2 yards per game this season, while Barnes has netted 101.2 yards per game. Hill leads the league with seven rushing touchdowns, while Barnes is tied for second with five.

Last week against Baylor, Barnes ran for a career-high 250 yards and career-second best three touchdowns. Barnes will face a tough test this week, as Oklahoma State has the Big 12’s best-run defense, surrendering 117.8 yards per game.

Hill accumulated more than 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons and has 643 yards so far this year.

K-State is normally known for its run defense, but this year it is ninth in the Big 12, giving up 180.7 yards per game on the ground to opponents in 2018.

Barnes versus Hill could be one of the better matchups to keep track of on Saturday, and the success of each could play an integral role in the outcome.

3. A history of close games

Since 2010, the Cowboys hold a 5-3 record against the Wildcats. Of those eight games, six have been decided by 10 points or less.

K-State has only come out on top in one of those six games, which was last year’s upset win in Stillwater. Of the two games since 2010 decided by more than 10 points, K-State has won both (44-30 in 2012 and 48-14 in 2014).

4. Under pressure

Oklahoma State is the best in the conference at taking down the quarterback. This season, they lead the league with 28 team sacks, and it is not even close. Oklahoma is second with 16 sacks. The Cowboys also lead the nation in that category.

Junior defensive end Jordan Brailford is a large part of the Cowboys sacking success. Brailford leads the Big 12 and the nation with eight total sacks.

K-State has given up 20 sacks this season, so the offensive line’s ability to fend off Brailford and Co. will be instrumental to K-State’s chances at a win this weekend.

5. Not as good as they once were

After a 3-0 start to the season, the Cowboys have since gone 1-2 after beginning Big 12 play.

Their conference schedule started with a 41-17 loss to Texas Tech, followed by a 48-28 win over Kansas, and most recently a 48-42 loss to Iowa State.

In the four games before playing Oklahoma State, the Cyclones had averaged 17.5 points per game and then went off for 48 against the Cowboys.

Oklahoma State still has the numbers of a high-powered offense, but it has not felt like they are as strong of a conference title contender as in the past.

Quarterback Taylor Cornelius is third in the Big 12 with 305 passing yards per game. As a team, the Cowboys have the Big 12’s third-best scoring offense (44 points per game) and are fourth-best in total offense (523.3 yards per game).

The offensive production has been overshadowed by the lack of defense, which has given up 37 points per game in the last three and has allowed 484.67 yards per game as well.

How to watch

The Wildcats and Cowboys are set to kick off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU. Fans can also watch the game on WatchESPN, and listen on the K-State Sports Radio Network.

I’m Jarrett Whitson, the sports editor this semester. I’m from Blue Rapids, KS, a town of just over 1,000 people about 40 miles north of Manhattan. I’m a junior in Public Relations, and a member of FarmHouse Fraternity. I love playing and talking about sports— especially college football