The No. 25 Kansas State Wildcats get their first road test of the year in Stillwater, Oklahoma, taking on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in their Big 12 conference opener.
The Cowboys are 3-0 and coming off a close road win at Boise State, where the deciding factor was a missed field goal with two minutes left in the game. They have also beaten FCS Missouri State and Tulsa.
They have been hit hard by the injury bug this year, with four wide receivers and a running back all questionable on Saturday.
The typical offense head coach Mike Gundy maintains in Stillwater has been absent the past couple of weeks because of injuries. Gundy’s teams are typically pass-heavy with Air Raid concepts and a power-run game mixed in.
The Cowboys will still spread the field wide and try to attack the stress points that the lateral space creates, but they will likely do a lot of that on the ground.
This past week, quarterback Spencer Sanders attempted only 13 passes. That did not seem like part of the game plan but rather a necessity.
Without his front line of targets, the redshirt junior has turned to transfer running back Jaylen Warren. The former Utah State Aggie toted the rock for 218 of the teams’ 246 rushing yards and two of three touchdowns.
Sanders is also a rushing threat out of quarterback draws, options and scrambling on pass plays.
Oklahoma State’s 4-2-5 defense is filled to the brim with experience. Ten out of 11 starters are seniors, and the other is a junior.
They are disruptive up front and make life hard on offensive lines trying to open up holes for running backs. They allow less than 100 yards per game and just 2.6 yards per attempt.
Boise State had some success with short roll-out passes and quick hitters to the edges of the defense. Opening the field in that way also helped Boise State in the run game. K-State has shown the willingness and ability to do the same thing when defenses start to key in on the running backs.
Party like it’s 1989:
Neither of these teams will want to pass the football all that much, providing key players don’t make a return from injury. That means it will probably be a ground and pound game where physicality, ball control and field position are the deciding factors.
Good Will Hunting: Sophomore quarterback Will Howard was good enough this past week against Nevada. He made the right decisions on option plays, made good throws when needed, and — most importantly — didn’t turn the ball over.
K-State will likely need a repeat performance from the backup signal-caller. Another 68-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game would not hurt either.
Don’t flinch first: This will likely be the type of game where an explosive offensive play or key turnover could turn the game. The Wildcats will be at a disadvantage because of the crowd noise and will need to make fewer mistakes than the Cowboys.
A long touchdown run or special teams score could make a difference in a low-scoring, defensive battle.
PREDICTION: After a series of short drives and punts, K-State winds up with good field position and capitalizes. The game is back-and-forth from there, but Howard punches in a short TD run to put K-State ahead for good. K-State 17-14