Under head coach Chris Klieman, the Kansas State Wildcats have been a thorn in the side of the Oklahoma Sooners. The Wildcats have won two of the last three meetings between the squads. Last year, they pushed OU to the brink before the Sooners escaped Manhattan with a 37-31 win.
KSU (2-1) comes to Norman this year for a prime-time matchup, hoping to once again surprise the current front-runner in the Big 12. New Sooners (3-0) head coach Brent Venables and his staff are building a program with a defense-first mentality, and that new identity shined through in a 49-14 thrashing of Nebraska last week. The Wildcats have a rugged defense in their own right, so OU will need to prove that it can continue to put up points as the opposition improves.
Here's what to watch when the two teams square off Saturday night.
Kansas State at No. 6 Oklahoma
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Installing Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez at quarterback hasn't gone as well as hoped in Manhattan. Martinez and star running back Deuce Vaughn give the Wildcats a potent combo on the ground, but the QB has been abysmal throwing the ball so far. KSU ranks 115th nationally in passer rating, largely because Martinez is averaging just 4.6 yards per attempt.
KSU has to find a way to stretch the field if the Wildcats want to upset Oklahoma. The Sooners are allowing 2.77 yards per rushing attempt through three games, ranking 23rd nationally. OU owes much of that success to Venables' attacking defensive scheme, which has produced a nation's best 32 tackles for a loss so far.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Sooners unlocked their offense last week in their blowout win over Nebraska. OU churned out 312 yards on 54 rushing attempts, including a 61-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel also is throwing the ball efficiently — he has yet to be intercepted in 78 pass attempts.
Gabriel does have a tendency to hold the ball longer than necessary when attempting to create big plays in the passing game. That could lead to trouble against Kansas State's imposing defensive line led by potential All-American Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The Wildcats also excel at forcing turnovers with seven in three games, meaning ball security will be paramount for the OU offense on Saturday night in Norman.
In Kansas State's last two wins over Oklahoma, the Wildcats enjoyed a combined turnover margin of plus-six. If they can replicate that kind of success taking the ball away from OU on Saturday, KSU could make it three wins in four games.
Otherwise, the overall absence of a passing attack will make it difficult for the visitors to mount a credible threat to OU. The Sooners showed a new level of offensive potency last week versus Nebraska, suggesting they have moved beyond the constraints of learning a new scheme.
The Wildcats play a methodical style of grind-it-out offense, which likely means they can limit possessions in an effort to stay in striking distance for four quarters. In the end, however, the Sooners have too much firepower.