The Governor’s Cup is on the line Saturday when the Kansas Jayhawks come to town for what ought to be the most competitive Sunflower Showdown in several years.
The competition is not because KU is good—they are definitely not—but because this might be the worst K-State team of head coach Bill Snyder’s second tenure. K-State has been in the we-must-win-all-our-remaining-games shoes before, but have never looked quite this bad.
Both programs are in turmoil: KU has announced that they will fire head coach David Beaty effective at the end of the season; K-State is in the middle of a coaching crisis of their own with an aging legend who has seemingly not realized that it may be time to hang them up.
Beaty has been pulling double duty since Oct. 10 when offensive coordinator Doug Meacham was fired and Beaty took over as interim offensive coordinator.
Now that the context is out of the way, let’s look at the X’s and O’s.
Kansas’ best side of the ball is their defense. They lead the conference with 26 turnovers and three defensive touchdowns. In terms of points and yards per game, they are comparable with K-State at the bottom of the conference.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s 4-2 has a couple of really solid playmakers in senior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. and junior safety Hasan Defense.
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They differ from some 4-2 fronts in the Big 12 because instead of a hybrid safety-linebacker, they play with a straight up nickelback.
The defense’s three interceptions lead the team and are tied for third in the conference. Dineen leads the conference in tackles with 110 total tackles on the season he has also recovered a pair of fumbles.
Besides turning the other team over and some all-conference level players, there is not much special about this defense. They are fairly aggressive in rushing the quarterback and jumping routes.
K-State should be able to run the ball on KU as much as they want unless the Jayhawks start the cheat up and put more guys in the box, this is a defense designed to stop the pass.
KU’s offense is eighth in the conference in total yards, and only three yards better than K-State. Their spread is fairly balanced, they run the ball marginally more than they throw it.
That difference is likely because of the talent they have at quarterback versus the talent they have at running back. Freshman Pooka Williams Jr. and junior Khalil Herbert are talented running backs.
Meanwhile, senior quarterback Peyton Bender is a solid, but not outstanding quarterback. He has a decent arm and can make decisions, but he has not been able to hold down the quarterback position all year.
KU pass defense versus K-State quarterbacks: K-State has a lot of question marks headed into this game at the quarterback position. Injury questions have swirled after sophomore Skylar Thompson was pulled after appearing to hit his head on the turf last week and never returned.
If junior quarterback Alex Delton makes the start, I am concerned about his decision making against this defense. He has shown an inability to choose the right receiver and deliver an accurate ball at times this season.
K-State will need to be able to do more than just hand the ball off to junior running back Alex Barnes to win this game this week.
K-State versus mistakes: This is not usually a problem for Snyder-coached teams, but this K-State team cannot seem to avoid the kind of mistakes that ruin their chances in games.
Junior wide receiver Isaiah Zuber has been a liability at times as a punt returner. He’s made bad choices to catch balls he should have let bounce, fumbled catches and made mistakes too often when returning punts.
K-State is also the third-most penalized team in the conference and have given their opponents almost 45 free yards per game.
K-State will have to avoid these mistakes to win this game. K-State wins 24-21.