Almost two years ago to this date, Oklahoma traveled to Manhattan, Kansas and turned its season around with a dominant win over Kansas State. In that game, Baker Mayfield threw five touchdown passes in a 55-0 victory. This was truly the turning point for the Sooners in 2015. Following their loss to Texas, Oklahoma ripped Kansas State and went on to win seven games in a row en route to the 2015 College Football Playoff.
This time around, the Sooners find themselves in a similar position. They played an up-and-down game against Texas and have not had a dominant win so far in Big 12 play. If they are able to play like they did in Columbus and blow the doors off the Wildcats, it could give them a lot of confidence going forward. This will be especially important as they go into the toughest part of their schedule with games against Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State.
On the other sideline, the Kansas State Wildcats are looking to salvage their season. What began as a promising season for Bill Snyder and Co. has degenerated into a 3-3 start. Despite hanging with Texas, Kansas State was dominated by TCU and was held to seven points by lowly Vanderbilt. This game gives the Wildcats a chance to get back on track as they try to become bowl-eligible once again.
Here are some of the keys to the game for both teams:
In their 2015 win in Manhattan, the Sooner secondary set the tone for the defense by getting 3 interceptions on the day. Unfortunately for the 2017 Sooner defense, two of those interceptions came from Zach Sanchez. Sadly, the Sooners only have two interceptions on the season so far. The only guy that has shown he has the ability to take the ball away has been standout corner Parnell Motley, who has two interceptions on the season. Guys like Jordan Thomas, Steven Parker, Khalil Haughton and Will Johnson have had trouble producing takeaways so far. Late in the OU-Texas game, Johnson whiffed on an interception that could have iced the game. Even Steven Parker, who generally does a good job tackling and in coverage, has struggled to locate the football in the air and make plays on the ball.
In order to do this, the front seven will need to continue to play aggressively like they did against Texas. This will give Jordan Thomas and Parnell Motley a chance to jump routes and maybe even return an interception for a touchdown.
Capitalize on Red Zone Opportunities
Despite moving the ball effectively for most of the game against Texas, the Sooners struggled in the red zone. This led to Austin Seibert having to kick three field goals. Luckily for the Sooners, Seibert made all and regained some of the confidence he lost earlier in the season. Moving forward, the Sooners need to capitalize on these red zone opportunities to put games away.
To be more effective in the red zone, Baker Mayfield needs to be more decisive with his throws and some of the big receivers need to step up. This means that guys like Mark Andrews, Jeffery Mead, and Grant Calcaterra need to be able to make plays in the red zone. While it always helps to have guys like CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown, and Jeff Badet run crossing routes or beat DBs deep, the red zone is typically an area where it helps to have big targets. If Lincoln Riley is able to use Andrews and Calcaterra in two-tight end sets and get one-on-one matchups, that should be a boon for the offense. Look for the Sooners to try and run some different plays this Saturday to capitalize on their red zone opportunities.
Kansas State Wildcats
Power Running Game
With starting quarterback Jesse Ertz slowed by (or maybe even out with) an injury, things are a bit murky at the moment for Kansas State. Backup QB Alex Delton is much more of a running quarterback than a pocket passer and has struggled with his accuracy, especially on longer throws. Regardless, they will have to run the ball effectively and control the clock, and much of that running attack falls on the shoulders of Ertz (the team’s leading rusher) and/or Delton. However, this also means that backs Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon will have to have big days on the ground. Both backs were put on the Doak Walker award preseason watch list but have struggled a little bit thus far — partially due to the ineffectiveness of the passing game since Week 3. The stout TCU defense held Barnes and Silmon to a measly 21 rushing yards last week.
If the Wildcats are able to run the ball effectively, it will keep them in the game because it will wear down the Sooner front seven and keep Baker Mayfield off the field as much as possible. As good as the front seven played against Texas, they were worn down by the end of the game (although I think a bit of that can be attributed to the weather conditions). This was highlighted by multiple quarterback runs by Sam Ehlinger in the fourth quarter.
Put Pressure on Baker Mayfield
Despite the team’s overall mediocre play to start the season, the Kansas State defensive line has been a bright spot. Led by Will Geary and Reggie Walker, this line means business. They have the ability to both stuff the run and rush the passer. If they are able to get into the backfield and get some big hits on Baker Mayfield, they could turn the tide of the game.
If Mayfield takes a couple big hits and lands on his banged-up shoulder a few too many times, this could spell trouble for Oklahoma. This means that the Oklahoma offensive line has to keep the pocket clean for Mayfield and keep the Kansas State defensive line at bay. Another way to counter the K-State pass rush will be to run a lot of quick pass plays like the Sooners did against Ohio State. I envision Lincoln Riley doing a lot of this early against the Wildcats.
Overall, I do no expect this to be a terribly competitive game if Ertz isn’t at full strength. I think the Sooner defense will continue to be aggressive and try to finally create turnovers. Look for CeeDee Lamb to have a big game and return to form on Saturday. Like Dede Westbrook last year, I think this could be the start of a string of big games for Lamb. With a big win on Saturday, the Sooners will build some key momentum going into the most important stretch of their season.
Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 14