Know Your Opponent: Sooners reload at quarterback position

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Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson scrambles out of the pocket and throws the ball to a receiver down field during the Wildcats 48-41 upset win over Oklahoma at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Oct. 25, 2019. (File photo by Sabrina Cline | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State football team faces Big 12 Conference favorite and No. 3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners after a bye week.

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley is entering his fourth year as head coach, a step up from his previous position of offensive coordinator.

Before coaching at Oklahoma, Riley cut his teeth as a quarterback and assistant coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and the air raid influence shows in Oklahoma’s offense.

Over the last three seasons, he’s shown what happens when you combine elite talent and a scheme designed to put the ball in the hands of athletes in space. This resulted in two Heisman trophies and a runner-up.

Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler is an accurate passer with a strong arm and an elusive runner. He was the best quarterback in the 2019 recruiting class and 247Sports’ only five-star pro-style quarterback.

Schematically, they use Rattler to get the ball into the hands of big, fast wide receivers. They certainly can — and do — run the ball. The Sooners adopted the hurry-up attack seen all over the game, leading to a lot of offensive snaps.

Two weeks ago against Missouri State, Rattler threw the ball 17 times, completing 14 of them for 290 yards and four touchdowns. That doesn’t sound like an air-raid stat line, but he only played in the first half before Riley put in the back-ups with a score of 41-0.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch enters his second season in Norman. His mere presence as the play-caller seemed to fix a lot of the defensive problems the Sooners saw previously under Mike Stoops.

Grinch appears switch defensive philosophies from the 3-4 he used at Washington State and Ohio State to a 4-2-5 since arriving in Norman.

The four defensive linemen did a lot of late shifting to try to confuse the Missouri State offensive line. This strategy seems to be a constant in Grinch’s system and something used to get a similar result against the Wildcat’s inexperienced — and sometimes cobbled together — offensive line.

They attack the gaps, penetrate and then worry about stopping the rusher. The linebackers and cornerbacks finish the job and close the cutback lanes.

Keys to the game

Rattle Rattler

For as poised and precise as Rattler looked against Missouri State, he still only possesses half a college football game under his belt and little pressure on him from the Bears’ defense.

This is a perfect opportunity for junior defensive end Wyatt Hubert to make an impact on the game. He’ll be pulling double-duty trying to get to Rattler while also trying to keep him from scrambling.

If the Wildcat defense can record some QB hurries and knockdowns, they could force the freshman into mistakes.

Be Opportunistic

The Wildcats needs to make opportunities for big plays and they need to hit most, if not all, of them. That’s how K-State pulled off the upset in Manhattan last season.

The offense needs to score touchdowns instead of field goals when they get into plus-territory. Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson needs to hit wide receivers deep when they are open.

The defense needs to get off the field on third down, something they were very good at in 2019, but have struggled with this year so far. They also need to create at least one turnover and generally give the offense short fields.

K-State needs a game-changing play in special teams. A well-timed blocked punt or touchdown return can help shift momentum and keep the game close.

Deep and Wide

In hindsight, a lack of healthy bodies on the offensive line and at the safety position killed K-State against Arkansas State. At one point, the Wildcats played a third-string center and had third-string safeties on the field during Arkansas’ game-clinching drive.

Between COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and traditional football injuries, the Wildcats will almost certainly wind up relying on second and third-string players all over the field once again.

The Wildcats also require good performances from a wide range of players all over the field and depth chart.

Prediction: Thompson will look less rusty and the offensive line will look a little better in pass protection as they develop more experience, but the game will be out of reach early. K-State will struggle to stop the deep ball and will never quite get the power run game going.

OU wins 42-21.

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Nathan Enserro
Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.