In less than 24 hours, Oklahoma and Kansas State will kickoff and while both teams are not contending for a Big 12 Championship this year there will be a number of things on the line with respect to who comes out on top. The Sooners are looking to avoid a losing streak to end the season, the Wildcats are going for their fifth consecutive win, and both teams are looking to improve their potential bowl destination.
It figures to be a close, hard-fought game and there are a few particular areas we believe will be key if Oklahoma is to come away with a victory.
1) Avoid their painfully slow starts
You don't need me to tell you this OU offense has been beyond atrocious in first quarters this season. Oklahoma has only scored a total of 26 points in first quarters through their ten games, which all you math majors out there will tell you equates to less than a field goal per first quarter per game.
And as bad as that is, it actually gets worse. This offense has failed to score a single point in the first quarter of any of their previous four games. Which included defensive juggernauts Kansas and Iowa State.
It's one thing to fall behind on the road in Lawrence, it would be another thing entirely to do so on Saturday in Manhattan. This is not an offense and Trevor Knight is not the type of quarterback built to come from behind. Jumping out to any kind of an early lead would be a huge confidence booster for this entire offense, not to mention it could help to quell what is sure to be a raucous crowd on K-State's Senior Day.
2) Trevor Knight
Duh, right? Obviously Knight, in only his third career start and first ever on the road, has to play well or at least minimize his mistakes for Oklahoma to win this game. However it's important to note that doesn't mean he needs to throw for 300+ yards. Rather, he needs to be efficient with his completions. Kansas State has a tendency to play a lot of soft zone coverages giving you those short throws underneath, which are throws Knight should be able to complete.
The expectation here is that K-State, like virtually every other OU opponent this season, will load up the box and make Knight prove he can beat them throwing the football. So the goal should be for Knight to take what they give him and to avoid trying to force something that's not there. With the obvious desired result being OU's success in the passing game forces KSU to take one or more of those defenders out of the box thus opening up things for the Sooners on the ground.
Accuracy will be key for Knight in this game which leads me into out next key . . .
3) Yards after catch
If K-State is going to play soft and give those underneath routes, fine...take them. Oklahoma has plenty of guys, most notably Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, who can make yards after the catch. But they have to be deliver the ball in an accurate manner that allows them to do so.
The ball can't be behind them. It can't be so high that they have to leave their feet to catch it. And it can't be so low that they have to break off their route to bring it in.
That's not to imply Knight has to be perfect with every throw he makes, but he certainly needs to be on-target more often than not and let his play-makers on the outside make plays.
4) Maintain your rush lanes & contain, contain, contain
This is one of those things that is going to be MUCH easier said than done, but there can be no doubt going in that this is Mike Stoops' game plan.
While both of K-State's quarterbacks, Daniel Sams and Jake Waters, are capable rushers obviously Sams is the more dynamic of the two and presents the more significant threat of breaking off a big play/s.
So it's going to be of utmost important that Oklahoma's front seven play disciplined in their attack and avoid getting out of position thus creating rush lanes for Sams that would not normally be there. The goal here being to keep both quarterbacks, but primarily Sams, in the pocket and take them out of their comfort zone of being able to run and force them to be you throwing the ball.
We already know a Bill Snyder team is going to be as fundamentally sound as any team in the country, so they won't miss many opportunities to capitalize on your mistakes.
Gap integrity, something we got sick of hearing so much about last year in OU's failed attempts up front to alter their defensive scheme, is going to play a huge role in this game.
5) Don't get caught peeking
This is something we've mentioned a number of times on the site this week so we don't need to go into a ton of detail, but because it will be critically important in this game we felt it was worth mentioning one more time.
This K-State offense has come into its own in recent weeks and part of what has made them so successful is their ability to present a play/formation as though it is going to be a run, but ultimately results in them throwing the football. Sams especially is sneaky clever in how and when he chooses to do either when given that run/pass play call.
So both the Oklahoma linebackers and secondary need to avoid cheating that peek into the backfield to see if their needed to come up in run support. Both Sams and Waters are just waiting for that defender to sneak a peek then burn you over the top for a big play.
When you're dealing with guys like Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson on the outside, the often used football saying "If he's even, he's leavin" quickly comes to mind.
This Oklahoma secondary would be well advised to avoid those type of situations.
Those are some of our keys to the game, but we want to here what you think. Hit us up in the comments with some of the aspect of Saturday's game you think could be the most important. And, if you're willing, possibly even a score prediction.