KSU has dropped two straight tight games to Oklahoma State and TCU to open Big 12 play. At 3-2, Bill Snyder’s team probably has to win out to have a shot at a conference championship. On the flip side, it’s not inconceivable that the ‘Cats could get left out of the bowl picture if they don’t stop their slide.
Meanwhile, OU bombed last week in the Cotton Bowl against hated rival Texas. The discussion around Norman in the days since has focused more on what went wrong in Dallas than what the Sooners have to do right to win in Manhattan. If falling prey to Snyder’s purple wizardry is your goal, ruminating on a loss is a good place to start.
College Football Podcast: Week 7 Preview
Oklahoma at Kansas State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Oklahoma -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. OU’s reeling offensive line
The Sooners’ shaky front finally caught up to them against Texas, as Longhorn defenders found little resistance in their paths to OU’s backfield. In addition to allowing six sacks, the Sooners scratched out 67 yards on the ground, a measly 1.8 yards per rushing attempt, in the Red River Showdown. For the season, OU is generating 3.6 yards per carry (106th nationally) from what should be one of the best tandems at running back in the country. Although the Wildcats usually employ a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy on defense, they might turn up the pressure Saturday.
2. Package plays
Arguably no offense in college football loves run-pass options (RPOs) the way the Wildcats love their package plays, and Snyder has a knack for calling them at the exact right time. KSU burned the Sooner D badly a year ago on one of these plays, which force defenses to play with a supremely high level of discipline. Quarterback Joe Hubener can’t match the effectiveness of predecessor Jake Waters in running RPOs just yet, but give the lanky junior time. Expect Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops to lobby the officials early and often to watch out for ineligible receivers getting downfield.
3. OU’s defensive alignment
An injury to starting JACK linebacker Devante Bond last week left OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops scrambling for a good alternative. He replaced Bond with little-used senior P.L. Lindley, who struggled against the Texas running game. At best, Bond will be limited against KSU, so look for Stoops to get creative with some of his calls on Saturday. Snyder is a master at exploiting those kinds of opportunities.
OU has owned a talent advantage in this matchup since Snyder was in short pants. That hasn’t mattered much lately, as the two sides have split their last four contests.
This year, however, KSU still seems to be searching for a new Tyler Lockett to serve as its go-to offensive weapon. Likewise, Hubener, who’s only completing 48 percent of his passes, doesn’t operate the offense with the typical precision expected from Snyder’s quarterbacks. Given their struggles the last two weeks to stop Texas and West Virginia on the ground, the Sooner D will likely key on the run in an effort to make Hubener beat them with his arm.
When OU has the ball, the key issue will be how the Wildcats attack the Sooner offensive line. If the ‘Cats come hard with pressure packages, quarterback Baker Mayfield will need to get the ball out of his hands quickly to avoid a repeat of last week’s offensive debacle. If not, this game will likely come down to whether or not the Sooners avoid the self-inflicted wounds — fumbles and careless interceptions — that KSU thrives on.
In the end, the key will be which team bounces back from last week’s disappointments. The Sooners have a reputation for falling into mental funks, but, in fact, they haven’t lost back-to-back regular season games since 1999. That’s a trend that is hard to go against.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Kansas State 24
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.