Luke’s Locker: Kansas State has a long road to Arlington, Texas

Deuce Vaughn rolls out of bounds with the football during the game against Iowa State University on Oct. 8. (Julia Smith | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State football’s breakout season arrived at a difficult time. In the midst of a rise in play, the rest of the Big 12 has stayed in stride. The Wildcats are accompanied in the top 25 by Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas and Texas. That does not include Baylor, who fell out of the top 25 by losing to Oklahoma State before their bye week. K-State has yet to face any of these opponents. In order to finish the season as a top two team in the conference and earn a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, K-State must find a way to stay steady and win the majority of their final six games.

The Big 12’s top six teams have only played against each other in two games so far: Oklahoma State vs Baylor and TCU vs Kansas, with Oklahoma State and TCU winning those faceoffs. The Wildcat bye week comes before their matchup against the undefeated TCU Horned Frogs. This allows K-State to watch TCU and Oklahoma State play each other this week in a battle between two top 15 teams in the country. No matter who wins, K-State will be tied for first place in the conference with the winner of the matchup. This provides a potential battle between the two top teams in the Big 12 with K-State and TCU if TCU were to win.

The Wildcats have reached this point with the continued strength of their running game and defense, both making big plays every week. Quarterback Adrian Martinez and running back Deuce Vaughn have contributed to the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Both have broken through defenses’ front lines and taken long runs down the field when it has been needed most. Martinez’s running impact started in Big 12 play against Oklahoma, and he has continued to help Vaughn find more running lanes with less pressure on him from defenses. The rushing attack has the chance to improve even further if the Wildcats passing offense, which is ranked 119th in the FBS, finds a better rhythm in the second half of the season.

The explosive defensive side of the ball has balanced the offense. Led by defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, ranked second in sacks in the FBS with 6.5, the defense has found a way to put the ball back in the offense’s hands. The team has found production on all fronts, with Anudike-Uzomah leading play up front. In the back end, the Wildcats have seen stellar play from safeties Josh Hayes and Kobe Savage. Hayes received the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week award against Iowa State, collecting a career-high of 11 tackles. Savage, who totals four more tackles but one more game than Hayes this season, is tied for first in team interceptions with two. His two interceptions contribute to the team’s total of nine, tying for seventh in the FBS. The defensive play has placed K-State as the nineteenth ranked scoring defense in the FBS, allowing 16.67 points per game. Head coach Chris Klieman noted the defense struggling in allowing long plays down the field. Stopping big plays can propel the Wildcats defense to even greater heights.

The Wildcats control their own destiny. Their ability to balance the offense and defense has been proven, but consistency in all aspects is needed to claim a Big 12 Championship title, something many K-State fans will have on their minds in the toughest stretch of the year. It all starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, in Fort Worth, Texas, against No. 13 TCU.

(Graphic by Catherine Eldridge | Collegian Media Group)