Oklahoma State (5-3) at (11) Kansas State (6-1) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats continue their quest for the Big 12 Conference crown, as they play host to the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday night.
Oklahoma State dropped a narrow decision to defending national champion Florida State (37-31) in the season opener, and then went on a five-game win streak. Coach Mike Gundy's squad won its first three conference bouts, but has since lost two in a row in blowout fashion, falling at TCU (42-9) and to visiting West Virginia (34-10). The Cowboys need one more win to gain bowl eligibility, but doing so won't be easy as their final four games are against K-State, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma -- three of which take place on the road.
Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 yet to suffer a league loss, giving coach Bill Snyder's club the inside track to the conference title should they win out. Doing so of course won't be a cakewalk, as the Wildcats have bouts with TCU, West Virginia and Baylor remaining. A narrow home loss to Auburn (20-14) is the only blemish on an otherwise sparkling resume' for the Wildcats, who are coming off a 23-0 whitewashing of visiting Texas last weekend. That victory was the 500th in program history, which is quite remarkable considering it had won a total of 299 games in the 93 years it fielded teams prior to 1989.
Oklahoma State owns a 37-23 advantage in the all-time series with Kansas State, and the Cowboys have won five of the last seven meetings.
Trailing 14-10 at halftime in last week's tussle with West Virginia, the Oklahoma State offense stalled over the final 30 minutes while the defense surrendered an additional 20 points. When it was all said and done, the Cowboys tallied 436 yards to 448 for the Mountaineers, boasting a balanced attack that saw 210 yards come on the ground and 238 through the air. Quarterback Daxx Garman completed only 21-of-41 passes and he had one scoring strike while being intercepted twice. James Washington and David Glidden combined for 10 catches and 150 yards, while speedy RB Tyreek Hill amassed 78 yards on 14 carries.
The Pokes did a tremendous job shutting down one of the nation's top receivers, as WVU's Kevin White was held to 27 yards on three catches, ending his streak of seven straight games with at least 100 yards. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers couldn't contain Mario Alford, as he finished with seven grabs for 136 yards and a TD. Jordan Sterns was all over the field for Gundy's defense, logging 20 tackles (14 unassisted), and the team as a whole was credited with four sacks, but no takeaways.
Gundy knows it's important for his squad to stay focused as it stares down a difficult home stretch.
"I shared with them that we have a game next Saturday whether we like it or not. We have to rally, stay together as a group, come back tomorrow and go to work."
For the season, Oklahoma State ranks seventh in the Big 12 in both scoring offense (30.2 ppg) and scoring defense (28 ppg). The Cowboys are among the league leaders in sacks (24), but they are the worst when it comes to allowing them (20). Garman is a 54.7 percent passer, who has thrown for 1,735 yards, 11 TDs and nine INTs, and while no player has more than 28 receptions (Glidden), six have double-digit grabs, with all totaling at least 236 receiving yards. Desmond Roland spearheads the rushing attack with 512 yards and seven TDs, while Hill averages better than five yards per carry in generating 326 yards. He has yet to record a rushing TD, however.
Sterns and Ryan Simmons are the team's top tacklers, logging 63 apiece, the bulk of which have been solo efforts. Emmanuel Ogbah leads the conference and ranks third nationally with 8.0 sacks, while Josh Furman has 5.0. While OSU ranks last in the Big 12 in pass defense (282.1 ypg), corner Kevin Peterson, who was tasked with blanketing White last week, has 11 PBUs to rank fourth in the country.
Kansas State is considered to be one of the elite teams in the Big 12, but it is really a middling offensive squad, statistically speaking, in that it ranks fifth in scoring (36.9 ppg) behind typical outputs of 178.3 ypg rushing and 246.3 ypg passing. Defensively however, the 'Cats have been one of the sturdier units in yielding a mere 19.3 ppg (No. 1), with foes generating just 99.3 ypg on the ground (No. 1) and 230.4 ypg through the air (No. 4).
Jake Waters has been one of the more efficient signal callers in the conference this season, hitting the mark on 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,655 yards, nine TDs and only three INTs. Tyler Lockett (43 rec., 588 yards, four TDs) and Curry Sexton (40 rec., 450 yards, two TDs) have been his favorite targets, while Charles Jones, Waters and DeMarcus Robinson have all run for more than 320 yards and a combined 20 TDs.
Johnathan Truman continues to pace the defense with his 68 tackles, which is 19 more than his closest teammate, and he is coming off an eight-tackle performance in last week's win over Texas. The Wildcats permitted only 196 yards of total offense to the Longhorns (90 rushing, 106 passing), while nearly doubling them up in time of possession.
Waters went 19-of-30 for 224 yards, but failed to throw a TD pass, nor was he picked off. Still, Lockett had another outstanding day, hauling in eight balls for 103 yards. The run game totaled just 143 yards, but accounted for both of the team's TDs. Matthew McCrane booted through three field goals for the 'Cats.
Snyder praised his team following the triumph over Texas, specifically remarking how difficult it is to keep an opponent off the scoreboard.
"I cannot remember the last time we had a shutout. It just does not happen in this day and age. I thought it was something to be truly proud of."
He continued, "We needed to be as good as we were. We played awfully well."
K-State has won four straight since the Auburn loss, and while the Pokes are sure to put up a fight, they lack the offensive firepower and defensive prowess to keep up with the home team.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kansas State 41, Oklahoma State 21