The Kansas State Wildcats will travel to Lubbock this week to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders in hopes of ending a three-game losing streak. K-State posted a 3-0 record against non-conference opponents, including decisive wins over Stanford and Nevada. However, the Wildcats have faced three of the best teams in the Big 12 Conference to open league play, falling to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State, respectively, including last week's 33-20 loss to the Cyclones.
Texas Tech enters with a 5-2 overall record, including a 2-2 mark in conference play after beating Kansas 41-14 last week. A win over the Wildcats Saturday would secure bowl eligibility for head coach Matt Wells' Red Raiders, and though it's not a must-win situation, Tech may be underdogs in its final four games against Oklahoma, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor.
Kansas State at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas Tech -1
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Quarterback Skylar Thompson returned from an early-season injury to provide a boost to the K-State offense. After throwing for a combined 240 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in games against Stanford and Southern Illinois, Thompson has averaged 263 passing yards with a 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in two starts since his return.
Running back Deuce Vaughn has carried most of the rushing workload for the Wildcats and leads the team with 543 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 108 carries. Vaughn surpassed 100 yards on the ground in each of his first three games, and though he was held to 73 yards combined in losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, he bounced back with 99 yards on 18 carries last week. Vaughn also leads the Wildcats in receptions (23) and is tied with Phillip Brooks (20 rec., 279 yds.) with two touchdowns. Only Brooks has more receiving yards than Vaughn's 234, though Malik Knowles (17 rec., 218 yds., TD) is close. Joe Ervin (217 rushing yards, TD) is a solid second option out of the backfield, especially with Thompson limited.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
The Red Raiders also suffered an impactful quarterback injury when Tyler Shough was sidelined after four starts, though Henry Colombi has filled in well. Shough completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 872 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, averaging 218.0 passing yards per game and 9.5 yards per pass attempt. Colombi has a lower completion percentage (65.5 percent), fewer touchdowns (4), and the same number of interceptions, and though his passing offense (213.2 ypg) and yards per attempt (9.0) are also lower, they are also comparable. If Colombi had enough playing time to quality for the Big 12 leaderboard, he would rank third in yards per attempt behind Texas' Casey Thompson (9.3) and TCU's Max Duggan (9.2) — meaning Shough would be the leader if he qualified.
Colombi has the benefit of Erik Ezukanma, who leads the Big 12 with 84.2 receiving yards per game and ranks fourth with 31 receptions and third with 505 yards. Kaylon Geiger Sr. also ranks in the top 10 in each category, having caught 29 passes for 436 yards and an average of 62.3 yards per game after joining the Red Raiders as a transfer from Troy. The problem? Ezukanma and Geiger each have only one touchdown reception. Though eight different Red Raiders have a touchdown catch to their credit, only tight end Travis Koontz (12 rec., 90 yds., 3 TDs) has more than one.
Tech also has a deep stable of running backs, though injuries have tested its depth. SaRodorick Thompson missed the first two games of the season but has become the team's leader with 314 yards and six touchdowns on 63 attempts. Tahj Brooks excelled during the first three games and gained 284 yards with four touchdowns on just 35 carries for an average of 8.1 yards per attempt but hasn't played since. Xavier White has served as the backup for both and added 229 yards and two touchdowns on 44 attempts. Colombi (like Shough) has scored twice on the ground but offers limited production with 49 rushing yards.
Injuries have been an issue for both defenses, with Kansas State's pass rush the hardest hit. The Wildcats have played without Khalid Duke, Kirmari Gainous, and Bronson Massie in recent weeks — a trio that combined for 10.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks last season and expected to produce more with the departure of Wyatt Hubert to the NFL. Only Massie, who is questionable, has a chance to play against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders lost safety Marquis Waters to a season-ending injury in September.
Zooming out, K-State should still have a slight edge defensively. The Wildcats have allowed 5.66 yards per play in non-garbage time against FBS opponents, which ranks 61st nationally, and 2.41 points per drive, which ranks 80th. The Red Raiders have surrendered 6.22 yards per play and 2.86 yards points per drive, which sits 92nd and 112th, respectively, on the FBS leaderboard. The Wildcats have also held opponents in check better through the air, having allowed 8.3 yards per attempt against FBS opponents (31st) compared to Texas Tech's 7.5 (74th).
Overall, the teams are evenly matched in terms of talent, and though Thompson is an upgrade at quarterback, Tech hasn't suffered a huge drop-off following Shough's injury. Colombi also has a solid group of playmakers at his disposal, as well as home-field advantage. It can be very difficult to stop a losing streak like Kansas State's, and with this being the Red Raiders' best chance for a sixth win and bowl eligibility, it's an opportunity Texas Tech can't let slip away.
Prediction: Texas Tech 33, Kansas State 27
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