New faces, same attitude: K-State’s young core takes on in-state rival Kansas

Junior defensive end Wyatt Hubert tackles junior running back Pooka Williams Jr. during K-State’s football game against KU in David Booth Memorial Stadium on Nov. 2, 2019. The Wildcats defeated the Jayhawks in last year’s sunflower showdown with a final score of 38-10. (File photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Fresh off a bye week, the football team hosts the Kansas Jayhawks in the 118th installment of the Sunflower Showdown. The Governor’s Cup has been in Manhattan since 2009, but the struggling Jayhawks aim to play spoiler and ruin Kansas State’s Big 12 Conference title hopes.

True freshman quarterback Will Howard is listed as the starter for K-State, which will make him the third true freshman to start against KU. No true freshman quarterback has defeated the Jayhawks or even scored a touchdown.

Howard earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Week awards for his efforts against TCU with 117 passing yards and 86 rushing yards and a touchdown in his first career start. He is currently tenth in the Big 12 in total offense averaging 135.7 yards per game through three games.

The K-State defense played exceptionally well in Big 12 play this season. The Wildcats are atop the conference in turnover margin and held opponents to 26.2 points per game.

Senior defensive back AJ Parker earned both Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week and Jim Thorpe Player of the Week with five tackles and a pick-six.

The Jayhawks still need their first win of the season and are coming off a 17-38 loss on the road to West Virginia in the lone conference game last week.

Head coach Les Miles did not make the trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, after testing positive for COVID-19. The Jayhawks struggled to find an answer at quarterback, throwing three quarterbacks into play through four games this season.

Junior quarterback Miles Kendrick leads KU with 341 yards, the highest completion percentage and his three touchdowns top the quarterback room. Kendrick has thrown four interceptions and has not gotten help from his offensive line, getting sacked 11 times this season.

The Jayhawks allowed 20 sacks, which is tied for 76th in the NCAA out of 77 teams currently playing. Sack yards lost this season total to 84 yards.

Junior running back Pooka Williams opted out of the season earlier this week, meaning sophomore running back Velton Gardner will have to step up for the Jayhawks to be successful offensively. He ranks tenth in the Big 12 in rushing with 225 yards and two touchdowns this season.

KU shows individual promise in positions like running back and wide receiver, but the issue the Jayhawks face this season is getting the ball to the key weapons. If the offense can spread out the K-State defense, the game will be closer than projected. It is also worth noting that the Wildcats are susceptible to big trick plays this season.


Junior defensive end Wyatt Hubert ranks thirteenth nationally in career sacks per game among active players and has two on the season. Hubert is a force on KU’s struggling offensive line, who give up an average of five sacks per game.

Senior running back Harry Trotter ran wild against the Jayhawks last season with a career-high 20 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown. Trotter has 113 yards and two touchdowns so far this season.

The Jayhawk defense is ranked seventieth nationally in rush yards allowed as opponents average 227.3 yards per game on the ground. Trotter, along with freshman running back Deuce Vaughn, will need to expose this weakness.

Senior wide receiver Andrew Parchment leads the Jayhawks in receptions with 17 on the year for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Parchment made seven touchdowns last season, but K-State kept him out of the end zone during their previous matchup. He has the listed height advantage at 6-foot-2, which could be a problem for the Wildcats.

Sophomore defensive back Kenny Logan Jr. leads the Jayhawks in tackles with 34 on the season.

The Wildcats enter the game as 20-point favorites, with the over-under set at 48.5. Kickoff is 11 a.m. on Saturday in Manhattan and will be on Fox Sports One.