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September 21, 2012

Game Up Close: Road worthy?

Kansas State is notorious for dictating games. They generally impose their will by being the team that lives off of running the football, throwing short passes, steadily moving the chains and controlling the clock. They usually lull the opposing players and fans to sleep and inflict constant frustration on opposing coaches. It seems too practical at times, but it's proven to be highly effective under Bill Snyder.

In a lackluster 35-21 win over North Texas last weekend, the Wildcats simply got beat at their own game. The Mean Green stole a couple of pages out of K-State's offensive playbook by slowly marching down the field and scoring a touchdown on their first drive, silencing the sold out crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a monotonous offense and dominating the time of possession. North Texas controlled the ball for 37:04 to K-State's 22:56, including holding the Wildcats to just six plays and -1 yard offensively in the opening quarter.

"That's a lot of time to be standing on the sideline sucking your thumb," Snyder said. "Then we got on the field and sucked our thumb."

That frustration extended to the players as well.

"When someone else is doing it to you, it kind of stinks," tight end Travis Tannahill said after the game.

It was the first time since 2002 that the Wildcats have won a game when their opponent has possessed the ball more than 37 minutes. Eastern Illinois had 37:45 of possession back in 2002 in a game that K-State won, 63-13.

The Wildcats were still victorious against the Mean Green, but it wasn't expected. It wasn't the style of play that won them 10 games in 2011. It wasn't the dominating performance that led to a 52-13 thrashing of Miami the week before. It simply wasn't the K-State brand of football that had them ranked 15th nationally. No one really knew what it was and it caught most everyone by surprise.

"I think it had an impact on us, but the bottom line is it doesn't make a difference," Snyder said. "Whatever the situation is, you got to handle it. You got to do it."

With Big 12 Conference play starting this week, the North Texas game should have been nothing more than a dress rehearsal. It was supposed to be about fine-tuning their respected positions to get ready for the grueling schedule to come. Instead, they got a taste of their own medicine.

THE GAME UP CLOSE:
K-STATE AT OKLAHOMA
WHEN OKLAHOMA RUNS
In the first two games of the season, Oklahoma was effective running the football. Yes, they have only played at UTEP and against Florida A&M, but they have done well. The Sooners have a lot of options at the running back position, but they primarily use starter Dominique Whaley and Damien Williams, the conference's leading rusher. Williams has breakaway speed and has showcased that on a couple of long touchdown runs this season. The Wildcats have the capability to shut down the Sooners after slowing down the potent rushing attack of Miami two weeks ago. As long as they stay discipline and don't focus solely on OU's passing game, they can do it again.
Advantage: K-State
WHEN K-STATE RUNS
It's no secret K-State will run the ball against Oklahoma. Quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert had success in last season's contest combining for 163 yards on the ground. Hubert will need to get involved in the offense early for Klein to be successful later in the game. Oklahoma will scheme towards the run and will likely change their defensive personnel on a regular basis to keep up with Wildcats' rushing attack. Oklahoma will have their hands full again this year.
Big Advantage: K-State
WHEN OKLAHOMA THROWS
Landry Jones had the game of his life against the Wildcats last season throwing for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns in Manhattan. His top target is gone, but Jones still has a group of talented and sure-handed receivers to play pitch and catch with. K-State's secondary has been shaky to start the season and will need to be on top of their game to stop a repeat performance. If the defensive front four can't apply pressure on Jones, the Wildcats are in for a long night on the road.
Big Advantage: Oklahoma
WHEN K-STATE THROWS
After three games this season, Collin Klein has a better completion percentage, more average yards and more touchdowns than at this point in 2011. He has shown constant improvement each game, but this is a tough match up. Klein struggled last year against the Sooners. Oklahoma's attention to K-State's run game might open up some avenues for Klein to exploit through the air, but this is an experienced and talented Oklahoma secondary. Klein will need to be careful when he drops back to pass.
Advantage: Oklahoma
SPECIAL TEAMS
K-State's special teams continues to be a difference maker this season. Sophomore Tyler Lockett returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against North Texas last week and will be fired up to play in his native state of Oklahoma this week. If the Sooners kick to Lockett, he will be ready. Place kicker Anthony Cantele and punter Ryan Doerr have been solid so far and will need to remain consistent in this one as well. Oklahoma has a quality special teams unit, but it's not like K-State's.
Advantage: K-State
GAME INTANGIBLES
Both teams bring a wealth of experience to this game as only eight underclassmen combined are listed as starters. The Sooners and Wildcats are both ranked for a good reason and they will be out to prove which team deserves to be the early front-runner in the Big 12 Conference. The spotlight will not rattle either team, but Oklahoma has a dominating record at home. Norman is always a difficult place to play and the Wildcats haven't won there since 1997. Also, it's the pupil versus the mentor and Bob Stoops owns a 7-1 record against Bill Snyder.
Advantage: Oklahoma
PROJECTED SPREAD:
OKLAHOMA BY 8

The Wildcats have to put this past game behind them much like they did their sluggish season opener against Missouri State. They have to re-establish their identity as they face their biggest test of this young season. They have to go back to the basics.

The 15th-ranked Wildcats travel to Norman this weekend to take on the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners at Memorial Stadium. It's a game that will dictate early conference supremacy and national standing. And although a tough task, it's a game K-State has a chance to win if they play their game.

Their opponent, Oklahoma, is coming off a bye after defeating UTEP 24-7 on the road and demolishing Florida A&M 69-13 at home in the first two weeks of the season. They are 14-4 in the regular season under head coach Bob Stoops following a bye week and they are aiming to start 3-0 for the 10th time in 14 seasons in the Stoops era. It's a difficult feat, but the Wildcats have the personnel to do it.

In addition to the aforementioned challenge of halting the Sooners' success, the Wildcats do not want a repeat of last year's game. After starting the season 7-0, K-State was stymied by Oklahoma at home, 58-17. It left a bitter taste in their mouth and they are out to avenge the lopsided affair from a year ago. It will all depend upon the Wildcats getting back to the basics.

On offense, getting back on track means running the football and asserting themselves as a dominant force in the ground game. K-State will need to be effective in all rushing situations, whether it be with senior quarterback Collin Klein or junior running back John Hubert, in order for them to move the chains and put themselves in scoring situations.

The Wildcats enter the contest ranked 18th nationally in rushing averaging 251.7 yards per game and over the last nine quarters of play, have rushed for 608 yards and 11 touchdowns while outscoring their opponents, 122-34. On top of that, Klein had some success against Oklahoma last season rushing 26 times for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Klein's running ability can't be taken lightly and the Sooners know it. They will likely have to play a different style of defense than their normal 4-2-5.

"I think that's all predicated on how many tight ends, fullbacks and running backs are in the game," OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "I would say the chances would be greatly improved that we would use a three-linebacker defense more than we have the first couple of games."

Klein is undoubtedly the catalyst for the Wildcats in the running game and the Sooners will likely implement their gameplan around it. That just might open up some avenues in the passing game, too.

In last year's contest, Oklahoma's secondary swarmed the Wildcats' receivers as Klein completed just 8 of 16 passes for 58 yards. K-State's signal caller has improved drastically in the passing game as he currently ranks fifth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing efficiency, but the Sooners are still just as good against the pass ranking fourth nationally. It's a tough matchup for Klein and he will need to pick his spots wisely.

K-State will also need to continue to be efficient in the red zone. Of their last 77 trips inside its opponents' 20-yard line, the Wildcats have scored 70 of those trips with 54 touchdowns. They are also 26-28 in red zone chances with 21 touchdowns in their last six wins dating back to last season. Being able to capitalize is what K-State has been known for with Klein under center and that has to be the case again this weekend.

Defensively, the biggest key is to apply pressure on Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. It's that simple. The Sooners can run the ball, but they look to pass first. If the Wildcat's aren't able to get to Jones with a variety of different stunts and blitzes, he will put on a clinic like he did last year when he threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns.

The good news is that K-State has been able to get to the opposing quarterback this season by recording five sacks against Miami and three against North Texas. Oklahoma's offensive line has shown vulnerability in that department so the Wildcats, especially defensive ends Adam Davis and Meshak Williams will need to take advantage of that early in the game.

K-State's secondary has shown a bend but don't break mentality through their first three games and it hasn't necessarily gone well. They have not given up any deep passing plays, but they have made quarterbacks look really good statistically. Take last week for example. North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson entered the game completing just 42.9 percent of his passes. Against the Wildcats, he was 25-for-28 with 208 yards and a touchdown. Those are alarming statistics against an inferior opponent. And this is not North Texas again this week. This is Oklahoma. Jones is more than capable to have a strong game and has an overabundance of talent to throw to. K-State's secondary, especially Nigel Malone, Allen Chapman and Randall Evans, will have to tighten their coverage and not allow the Sooners to march down the field.

Against the run, the Wildcats need to continue their strong play up the middle. K-State ranks 19th in rushing defense and held a talented Miami team to only 40 yards on the ground. The Sooners rotate a number of backs including starter Dominque Whaley, Brennan Clay and the Big 12's leading rushing Damien Williams. Stopping the run should be a priority throughout the game so the Sooners don't run play-action plays that could be costly.

The teams have a tough battle on Saturday and the national television audience on FOX should be in for a treat. However, the numbers don't lie and Oklahoma is favored in them all.

The Sooners are a perfect 14-0 under Bob Stoops at home vs. ranked team and 44-2 against Big 12 teams. They are 78-3 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, including a 35-1 mark in the month of September. They are a perfect 13-0 in its opening Big 12 home games of the season under Stoops, outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 512-219. To top it off, Oklahoma is 6-0 in games played on Sept. 22.

Those are impressive numbers, but they don't seem bother the Wildcats.

"This is our year, this is our time," K-State linebacker Tre Walker said. "I am a firm believer that what goes around, comes around.

"It's not so much as what people might say coming into this game or whether we are favored or not. We need to come in with that bitter taste that we had last year in our mouth."

If there was a time to do it, it's Saturday and if there's a K-State team to do it, it's this one. They will just need to do what has made them successful in the past. They have to run the football, throw short passes, move the chains and dominate the clock on offense and apply pressure, tighten up coverage and show discipline on defense in order to win.

The Wildcats need to get back to the basics.




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