Many expected Kansas State to enter this pivotal game with a 3-0 record, but the Wildcats find themselves trying to bounce back from a disappointing upset. K-State suffered a stunning 17-10 loss at home against the Tulane Green Wave after being favored by many sportsbooks.
The Wildcats have failed to find an offensive rhythm in the passing game this season. Quarterback Adrian Martinez has seen criticism over his conservative playstyle, which hasn’t matched the rest of the team’s approach. Twice in the past three years, former K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson had impressive outings in upsets against the Oklahoma Sooners. Martinez will have a chance to regain everyone’s confidence in him if he follows in his predecessor’s footsteps.
Before losing to the Green Wave, the Wildcats were nearly voted into the AP Top 25, but are now seen as less of a threat to top-tier teams. K-State has been named the underdog by around two scores against the Sooners. An impressive performance could change that, though another disappointing showing would lead them to again gaining less AP votes than reborn in-state rival Kansas.
K-State Offense vs Oklahoma Defense
Offensively, K-State has been disappointing. The same could not be said about the new Oklahoma defense, which was once known as the weakness of the team. The departure of offensive-minded head coach Lincoln Riley and the arrival of new defensive-minded head coach Brent Venables may have changed things.
In three games, the Sooners have only allowed 40 points this season. That includes giving up only 14 points to the Nebraska Cornhuskers who averaged 36 points per game before facing Oklahoma. Their ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage leads their newfound defensive identity, collecting 13 total sacks and 32 tackles for loss.
Impacting the game up-front, the Sooners front end has a chance to take advantage of the Wildcat offensive line. The mangled offensive line will have their hands full, especially against Oklahoma sack leader and defensive end, Reggie Grimes, and the rest of their rushers. Left tackle KT Leveston, who had a noticeable limp which forced him to miss a few plays against Tulane, was seen going in and out of the game last week. Therefore, possible concerns at left tackle can be added to the unit’s issues. The team has already lost starting guard Taylor Poitier for the season due to a knee injury. Interior linemen Cooper Bebe and Hayden Gillum will be pivotal in demonstrating strength in the trenches.
The battle outside could be what helps spring loose the struggling K-State offense. Head coach Chris Klieman said he hopes to get the ball to wide receivers Malik Knowles, Phillip Brooks and Kade Warner more often after the Tulane loss. The Sooners defensive backfield may provide Klieman with that chance. While defensive backs Justin Harrington, Key Lawrence and Gentry Williams have all caught an interception this season, none of the three have a high amount of playing experience. Knowles, Brooks and Warner are all playing in their fourth or fifth season, giving the edge to K-State in experience on the perimeter.
The success of the Wildcat offense comes down to two factors: First, will running back Deuce Vaughn have one of his classic games where he gives the defense a headache for three straight hours, and second, will Martinez stray away from conservative play and take the risks necessary to upset the No. 6 team in the country?
K-State Defense vs Oklahoma Offense
The defense have left no doubt of their prowess this season. Star defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah has led the pass rush and run defense so far. The team has totaled seven sacks and 24 tackles for loss in three games. The defensive line has consistently given opposing offensive lines trouble and could continue to do so against the Sooners line. Physical play up-front has been a strength, but so has the play from their teammates behind them.
Evenly matching the seven sacks, the defense additionally collected seven interceptions in the season. Safety Cincere Mason and linebacker Daniel Green lead the team in interceptions with two each. The trend of players stepping up will need to continue in facing the best offense K-State has played this season.
Even after losing Riley and former quarterback Caleb Williams to Southern California (USC), the offense has not seemed to decline so far. Replacing Williams is Central Florida (UCF) transfer Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel seems to be continuing the tradition of great quarterback play at Oklahoma after his three seasons at UCF. He has thrown for 759 yards and seven touchdowns, while also running for two scores. His running ability was highlighted by a 61-yard rushing touchdown against the Cornhuskers. Playing with high levels of experience and consistency this year will show a similar outcome on the field to Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt’s performance. Pratt made many timely plays against the Wildcat defense when it counted the most. Gabriel must make timely plays when facing a defense as talented as K-State.
The Sooners’ offensive weapons will be a new challenge for the defense. Leading the skill position players is three-year wide receiver Marvin Mims. Mims has 310 receiving yards on the season and has gained over 600 yards in each of his first two seasons. As the clear No. 1 receiver in the unit, he will provide the most trouble, with veterans Theo Wease and Drake Stoops backing him up.
At the running back position comes Eric Gray, who originally played at Tennessee. Gray transferred to Oklahoma last year after not living up to his high school hype in his time as a Volunteer. Gray has potentially found his rhythm, running for 7.7 yards per carry and 286 yards this season. He provides another tough test for the defense with his play style at the running back position.
This matchup gives the Wildcat defense their first opportunity to prove themselves as one of the best defenses in the country.
Rebuilding team momentum could be crucial after coming off of the upset loss. This matchup looked more like a potential hard-nosed battle between two Big 12 contenders before suffering their first loss of the season. The Sooners have a chance to take advantage of a glaring weakness on the offensive side of the ball that could be holding K-State back from Big 12 title contention. The passing game woes have been the Achilles’ heel of the team and may be against the Sooners as well.