Wildcats look for bowl eligibility with a win over Jayhawks in upcoming Sunflower Showdown

Deuce Vaughn makes his way through the defense to get closer to the end zone and score a touchdown against TCU on Oct. 30, 2021. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State football team (5-3, 2-3) is back on a winning streak after taking down TCU in the homecoming game this past week. Looking forward, the Wildcats prepare to take on Kansas (1-7, 0-5) in the Sunflower Showdown this Saturday in Lawrence.

K-State started its football season strong with a 3-0 start in non-conference play, took a rough hit against three of the top teams in the Big 12 to open conference play and have risen back to a solid 5-3 record after a strong second half against Texas Tech and an all-around game against TCU.

While being complete on both sides of the football against the Horned Frogs, the obvious strong suit for the game was the play of sophomore defensive end “King” Felix Anudike-Uzomah. King Felix was thought to have tied the NCAA single-game sack record with six in the contest, but after the NCAA reviewed footage, the defensive end official recorded four. The four sacks were still enough to tie the K-State single-game record (Chris Johnson, Missouri, 2000).

Anudike-Uzomah’s play awarded him plenty of recognition, including the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week Award and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week Award. The defensive end currently ranks first in the Big 12 and second nationally in sacks (10.0) and forced fumbles (four).

Looking ahead for KU, the Wildcats are likely looking at their easiest conference game of the year. After picking up a 17-14 win in week one against FCS South Dakota, the Jayhawks have gone 0-7 with an average margin of defeat 32.4 points per contest.

Surprisingly, KU’s closest game during that stretch was against No. 3 Oklahoma, where the Jayhawks held the Sooners scoreless in the first half and had the lead going into the fourth quarter before Oklahoma eventually won the game 35-23. Outside of that, KU hasn’t been able to keep a conference game close.

While K-State can’t take the week of practice off as these are still Division I athletes (and anything can happen in rivalry games), perhaps K-State can use this week to pad the stats of star super-senior quarterback Skylar Thompson. Sitting among the greats in plenty of K-State statistical categories, Thompson needs just 78 passing yards to move to sixth all-time in career passing yards and three passing touchdowns to move into sixth in career passing touchdowns.

Kansas will roll out junior quarterback Jason Bean, who has six touchdowns and six interceptions on the season. Bean’s biggest weapons include freshman running back Devin Neal and leading wide receiver senior Kwamie Lassiter II.

For more on Kansas’s football team, make sure to find the Collegian’s “Know Your Opponent” article coming later this week.

Here’s what else to look out for heading into the Sunflower Showdown:

Bowling Season

K-State is one win away from reaching the six-win benchmark that qualifies a team for a bowl game. After turning down the opportunity to play in a bowl game with a 4-6 record this past season after COVID-19 changed who could participate, the Wildcats are primed to reach a good game if they finish the season strong.

A bowl game this year would be the second of the Chris Klieman era after losing to Navy in the 2019 Liberty Bowl. While the win to get qualified doesn’t have to be against KU, getting the win here takes the pressure off the team to reach that goal.

Phillip Brooks back on top of the return game

This past year, then-sophomore Phillip Brooks dominated in the return game against KU with 189 yards and two touchdowns on four punt returns. His play in this game was a big part of Brooks’ naming as a pre-season All-American and All-Big 12 punt returner.

With fewer opportunities because special teams units won’t kick his way, Brooks has been relatively quiet this season, only returning three punts. Perhaps Brooks can get going against the Jayhawks as the team enters the later part of the season.

Talk-the-Talk, Walk-the-Walk

There has been a ton of chatter coming from Manhattan this week as they prepare for their in-state rivals, especially from senior defensive back Reggie Stubblefield. After a solid game against TCU, Stubblefield has been on Twitter stating his pleasure with the Wildcats this season, ending a deleted tweet in “F**k KU,” and even changing his Twitter avatar to a picture of the Governor’s Cup — the trophy given to winning team of the Sunflower Showdown.

If the team can’t back its talk up, then it will be a long 365 days hearing from KU fans about all of the trash-talking from players and fans alike. However, the online speech has fans fired up and excited for the game this weekend.

Coach Killers

Going along with their two-game winning streak, the Wildcats are also on a two-game streak of getting opposing coaches fired. Two weeks ago, Texas Tech let go of head coach Matt Wells, and after the TCU game, the Horned Frogs “mutually agreed to part ways” with long-time head coach and K-State alumnus Gary Patterson.

While it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the specific game against the Wildcats, it is interesting to see programs deciding that a loss to K-State was enough to be done with the schools’ biggest hire. After 22 years at TCU, a loss to the Wildcats was enough to send Patterson out the door.

Perhaps a big K-State win against Kansas this weekend will be enough for the Jayhawks to keep their coaching revolving door spinning by getting rid of current head coach Lance Leipold.

K-State travels to Lawrence for an 11 a.m. kickoff against the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, Nov. 6. The game can be watched on FS1. The Wildcats are currently favored by 24 points, while the over/under is set at 56. Check back with the Collegian post-game for recap and analysis.