As the Oklahoma Sooners get set to take on the Kansas State Wildcats, we’re joined by Brandon Payne of Bring on the Cats — SB Nation’s Kansas State site. We talk about new head coach Chris Klieman, what to expect from the Kansas State defense and things for traveling OU fans to do in Manhattan.
Through six games, Chris Klieman seems to have reinvigorated a Kansas State program that had become a bit stale late in Bill Snyder’s tenure. What steps has he made to get the ball rolling in the right direction in Manhattan?
The best thing Klieman has done for the program was to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounded Fort Snyder. Klieman and the program’s use of social media has been a breath of fresh air for a program that felt stagnant the last two seasons. Recruiting appears to have benefitted by that, as well. Overall, I think him embracing social media, opening practice up a bit and allowing coaches and players to speak to the media has been the biggest change to help reinvigorate the program.
What kind of changes have you noticed as far as the offensive scheme is concerned?
While it’s still based primarily on running the ball, Klieman prefers to utilize the running backs much more than the QB run game. His smash-mouth, A-gap running game is more similar to what you’d see in Iowa or Wisconsin than K-States former QB sweep game. The passing game tends to feature more deep passing off play action. While still probably the slowest offense in the Big 12, it is a bit different than what Snyder ran out onto the field.
Through six games, does Skylar Thompson appear to have made many strides as a junior?
Skylar’s biggest issue last season was a lack of confidence, which stemmed from sharing QB duties with former Wildcat turned Horned Frog Alex Delton. This season, Skylar has been THE GUY, for both good and bad. Skylar has done a good job this season overall, but has struggled since entering Big 12 play. He’s rated in the Top 30 of all college quarterbacks by PFF through 6 games this season even with those struggles. While he demonstrates more confidence this season, he can be rattled especially if he’s missing his top weapon, Malik Knowles. If he’s got Knowles in the game he can be as good as any college quarterback.
As far as the skill positions are concerned, who should Oklahoma fans be aware of coming into Saturday’s game?
The aforementioned Malik Knowles will be a huge key for this game. He’s been hurt the past few games but is a difference maker on offense. He has the speed to take the lid off defense as well as size to move the chains in traffic. Without Knowles the Wildcats will struggle to pass. Joshua Youngblood is another name to keep an eye on. He’s a freshman speedster who is featured heavily in the return game, and while he hasn’t broken one yet, it feels like it’s only a matter of time.
The Wildcats rank 37th in defensive SP+ and have put forth some solid performances this season. What should we expect to see from this group defensively, and which players stand out?
The Cats play a very sounds style of defense. They aren’t real flashy, they don’t force a ton of turnovers, but the d-line gets upfield and the secondary plays sound coverage. They are susceptible to the big play, and tackling has been a HUGE issue. If players like Boom Massie and Wyatt Hubert can get after Hurts and keep him contained, the Cats may have a shot in this game. But the MVP of the defense has to be punter Devin Anctil, who has been pinning opponents deep in their territory all season.
For Oklahoma fans traveling to Manhattan for the first time, which bars and restaurants do you highly recommend (particularly in Aggieville)?
Here’s a perfect day in the Little Apple:
- Start out with breakfast at Varsity donuts in Aggieville. Great donuts and wonderful atmosphere.
- After the game stop by So Long Saloon for a bite to eat. Best food in Aggieville.
- Dinner can be done outside Aggieville. Check out Little Apple Brewery or Tallgrass Brewing Tap House. Both feature brews made only in Manhattan and the food is good too.
- After hour drinks are back in Aggieville. A bunch of haunts the I frequented in school have closed or changed but you’ve got the check out Auntie Mae’s. It’s located in an old speak easy and has one of the coolest atmospheres in Manhattan.
Who is your favorite Kansas State alum outside of sports?
It’s probably a tie for me between Eric Stonestreet — who has done a great job of raising K-States profile in the national media — and Earl Woods. Woods is obviously most well known as Tiger Woods’ father but he also broke the color barrier in the Big 8.
What’s one fact about Kansas State University that you’d like Oklahoma fans to be aware of?
Kansas State is the oldest land-grant university in the country, the oldest university in Kansas, and third oldest in the Big 12 as well as the second university in the country to allow women to attend. It is also the site of one of Martin Luther King’s final speeches prior to his death.
With the line currently sitting at 23.5, do you think Kansas State beats the spread?
I do think the Wildcats will cover the spread, but it’ll be close.
What does K-State have to do to pull off the improbably upset?
Hope Jalen Hurts is somehow unable to play? Short of that, it’s going to be a Herculean task. They’ll probably have to play an Army-type game against OU and only give OU’s offense a limited number of possessions. They’ll also need to be highly efficient on offense and score every time they have the ball (yes, I realize that sounds very Maddenesque.)
Who is your favorite Kansas State football player of all time? Also, who is your favorite Oklahoma football player of all time?
Oh man. That’s a tough one. My all-time favorite is probably Colin Klein or Tyler Lockett. Both were phenomenal players and even better people. I can’t pick between those two.
Full disclosure — I live in Oklahoma and really can’t stand OU. I’ve rooted against them my whole life. But I love Baker Mayfield. He’s a cocky son of a bitch who doesn’t give a flip about how his opponents feel and I love it. College football needs more players like him. His flag plant at OSU remains one of my favorite non-Kansas State moments.
After finishing as Big 12 co-champs in 2018-19, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats are picked to finish No. 9 in the conference this season. Do you think this year’s hoops team defies expectations in 2019-20?
Yes. The Wildcats will finish no worse than 6th barring some type of injury issues. They’ll be back in the big dance for sure.