PREVIEW: Can K-State take down the Sooners three years in a row?

Kansas State and Oklahoma football teams line up before an extra point in 2019's contest between the Wildcats and Sooners. K-State knocked off the No. 5 ranked Sooners 48-41 on Oct. 26, 2019. (Archive photo by Dalton Wainscott I Collegian Media Group)

After a disappointing Big 12 opener loss to Oklahoma State (4-0, 1-0), the Kansas State football team (3-1, 0-1) looks to rebound against conference powerhouse Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday, Oct. 2. Regardless of talent, coaching, availability, etc., the question going into this weekend is simple — can K-State pull off the upset for the third year in a row?

Two years ago, the Wildcats handed No. 5 ranked Oklahoma their first loss of the 2019 season in a 48-41 win in Bill Snyder Family Stadium. This past season, K-State traveled to Norman, Oklahoma, and took down the third-ranked Sooners in a 38-35 bout.

However, what K-State had in those performances, they might lack this year — super-senior quarterback Skylar Thompson.

In 2019, Thompson out-dueled now Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts in a four rushing touchdown performance. In 2020, Thompson threw for 334 yards on only 18 passes and a touchdown while adding three more with his legs to erase a 21-point deficit.

In a video that gives hope to a lot of K-State fans, Thompson was seen throwing passes on the field before the Oklahoma State game, hinting that his return might be sooner than expected.

However, as Wildcat head coach Chris Klieman pointed out, it isn’t Thompson’s shoulder that hurts – it’s his leg. Klieman said in his press conference after the loss to OSU that there still isn’t a clear timetable for Thompson’s return.

“He can throw it, but we’ve got to make sure he can run it before he can play,” Klieman said during the press conference, “and I don’t know if that’s two weeks, the open week, three weeks. We’ll keep progressing him.”

His mention of two to three weeks and not this week might hint that the “Sooner Slayer” most likely won’t be ready to go this weekend.

The main reason Thompson is getting so much attention heading into this game is because of the quarterback play of sophomores Will Howard and Jaren Lewis since Thompson’s injury a few weeks ago.

Howard was injured on a fumble that led to an Oklahoma State touchdown and ended his day with 50 passing yards at a 4-of-12 clip. Lewis managed to go 10-of-19 for 148 yards and a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Whether this means we’ll see quarterbacks Max Marsh or Jake Rubley is still up in the air, but fans have yet to be impressed with either of the quarterbacks that have seen playing time since Thompson’s injury.

There has been a fair share of problems this year for Oklahoma as well. Many sportswriters have taken Sooner’s star quarterback Spencer Rattler down the list of Heisman contenders after opening the year as one of the favorites.

The pre-season No. 2 ranked team has struggled against Tulane and Nebraska and had to rely on a last-second field goal to beat West Virginia this past weekend. For more on this Oklahoma team, check out the Collegian’s “Know your Opponent” article later this week.

Outside of the impending quarterback situation, here’s what else to look out for this week:

Will Deuce Break Loose?

The go-to guy for K-State since Thompson’s injury, Deuce Vaughn, was held to just 22 yards on 13 carries with no scores on the ground against Oklahoma State. He did still manage a 55-yard reception touchdown. As Vaughn becomes more recognizable as the person K-State wants to feed touches with, will plays be drawn up to give him more room?

There are a plethora of options for the team, but with an all-time talent like Vaughn, it’s hard to steer clear of him. Coming up against this high-caliber Oklahoma team, what will coaches do to give Vaughn a playing field to work with?

First Downs First

This is how the second half looked like for the Wildcats down 31-13 against Oklahoma State:

  • Three plays – punt
  • Three plays – punt
  • Four plays – turnover on downs
  • Three plays – touchdown (31-20)
  • Three plays – punt
  • Three plays – punt
  • Three plays – punt

Outside of the three-play, 85-yard touchdown drive, K-State mustered up just four second-half yards.

If they want to score points and gain momentum, the Wildcat offense needs to move the chains — scoring will come with it. Playing with quarterbacks that haven’t proven themselves in the passing game, K-State needs to be OK with pushing the ball downfield four to five yards at a time.

Games can’t be won with a stat line like the one above.

Special Teams U

Always has been, always will be.

In an insane graphic displayed during the ESPN+ broadcast of Saturday’s game, K-State leads the nation in kickoff/punt return touchdowns with 56, with Alabama coming in second with 34.

Going into a game where a little bit of magic always needs to happen, can K-State find some ways to score non-offensive touchdowns? Players take great pride in being part of “Special Teams University,” so maybe the Wildcats can get on the board in non-traditional manners this weekend.

Defensive Rebounds

Although they picked it up in the second half, the K-State defense gave up an uncanny 481 yards against Oklahoma State, with 137 coming on the ground. Given that kind of yardage, teams are bound to score, and K-State doesn’t have a quarterback suit for an offensive shootout.

Even though they take on a very talented Oklahoma offense this week, K-State will have to stop giving up third-down conversions and chunk plays that set up easy scores. There is no chance K-State wins this weekend if Spencer Rattler and the Oklahoma offense are allowed to run or throw at will.

Saturday’s contest will be K-State’s conference home-opener at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and can be seen on FOX or heard on Wildcat 91.9.

As always, check the Collegian after the game for recap and analysis.