A win would clinch bowl eligibility for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who travel to Manhattan for a Big 12 showdown with the Kansas State Wildcats. The Red Raiders have come up short in three straight games after their furious comeback attempt failed in a 41-34 home loss to Texas a week ago. Now 5-5 overall and 3-4 in Big 12 play, Tech needs a victory over the Wildcats or Baylor next week to earn a postseason bid.
Kansas State stopped a two-game skid with a narrow 21-17 victory over in-state rival Kansas last week. With the win, the Wildcats improved to 4-6 overall and 2-5 in conference play and kept hope alive of qualifying for a bowl game. A loss to either the Red Raiders or Iowa State in Week 13 would ensure the first losing record in any regular season for Kansas State since 2008.
Texas Tech at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas Tech -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback questions
Texas Tech true freshman Alan Bowman has been one of the most impressive newcomers in the Big 12 this season. Bowman ranks fourth in the conference in passing yardage (2,638), but unfortunately, he has played in only eight games, having been hospitalized twice over the course of the season due to a collapsed lung. With Bowman doubtful to return to the field for the Kansas State clash, it’s likely Jett Duffey starts again for the Red Raiders.
Duffey, a sophomore, has shown flashes of great playmaking ability in relief of Bowman. He set a career highs against the Longhorns with 37 completions, 47 pass attempts, 444 yards and four touchdowns through the air. However, Duffey also threw an interception, his fifth of the season. Overall, Duffey has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,071 yards and eight TDs this year. A dangerous runner as well, Duffey leads the Red Raiders with 377 rushing yards and has scored four times on the ground.
Kansas State has also been forced to use multiple quarterbacks. Starter Skylar Thompson did not play against the Jayhawks because of a head injury, and his status for Saturday is uncertain. Thompson leads the Wildcats with 995 passing yards and five touchdowns, and he has thrown three interceptions. The sophomore has completed just 56.1 percent of his passes and has averaged just 6.4 yards per pass attempt — both of which rank near the bottom of the conference leaderboard among qualified starters.
Alex Delton, who has also dealt with injuries this year, got the start against Kansas and threw for 126 yards and ran for 55 in the win. Delton has completed 55 percent of his passes for 554 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in seven games this season. Like Thompson, he is a better runner than passer. Thompson ranks second on the team with 360 rushing yards and four TDs. Delton ranks third with 234 yards on the ground and two scores. Keep an eye out for true freshman John Holcombe II, who could see his first collegiate action against the Red Raiders.
2. Kansas State RB Alex Barnes
The unquestioned MVP of the Kansas State offense is running back Alex Barnes, who leads the Big 12 and ranks among the top 20 nationally in rushing (103.5 yards per game) and rushing touchdowns (11). Barnes has been a workhorse for the Wildcats, leading the conference with 196 carries. Despite the limited threat posed by the K-State passing attack, Barnes has managed a solid 5.28 yards per attempt. He’s also a solid receiver, posting a career-high 16 receptions and 171 yards this season.
Barnes has surpassed 100 rushing yards in five different games this season, including four times in K-State’s last five contests. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior racked up a career-high 250 rushing yards against Baylor, and he tied his career best with four touchdowns the following week against Oklahoma State. His 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns were key to the victory over Kansas.
3. Defensive trends
Will the real Texas Tech and Kansas State defenses please stand up? Tech looked like the Red Raiders of old through the first six games of the season and ranked last in the Big 12 in total defense (447.6) and No. 9 in the league in yards allowed per play during that period. However, for a three-game stretch in October, the Red Raiders were much better and limited opponents to 384 yards of total offense per game (No. 4 in the Big 12 during that stretch) and allowed just 5.12 yards per play (second best in the league). But the unit has been at its worst since the calendar turned to November. In two games this month, the Red Raiders have allowed averages of 576.0 yards per contest and 7.16 yards per play, ranking ninth and eighth, respectively, in the conference.
Kansas State has been on a similar roller coaster. The Wildcats have posted the best defensive statistics in the Big 12 so far in November, having limited opponents to just 311.0 yards of total offense and 4.86 yards per game — an incredible improvement compared to a Big 12-worst performance in October in which the K-State defense surrendered an average of 523.3 yards per game and 7.01 yards per play.
If either Alan Bowman or Skylar Thompson is healthy enough to play Saturday, he would offer a big boost to his team. But if Jett Duffey starts for Texas Tech and Alex Delton takes the field for the Wildcats, the Red Raiders have an edge given Duffey’s ability to do damage with both his arm and his legs. Kansas State has an advantage in the running game with Alex Barnes, but Tech’s running-back-by-committee approach has given the Red Raiders some balance offensively. On defense, the Wildcats are hot, and Texas Tech is not — though those trends have reversed sharply from the previous month.
Kansas State has its back against the wall, which is always a dangerous situation for its opponent — especially with Bill Snyder on the home sideline. However, Kliff Kingsbury and his Red Raiders have an opportunity to sew up a bowl bid, and Tech is the more talented team. Expect a close game early, but for the Red Raiders to come out on top.
Prediction: Texas Tech 31, Kansas State 21
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.