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Kicking the Tires: Oklahoma State

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Conference play kicks off for K-State on Saturday in Stillwater. It's also the start of a crucial stretch of games.

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

K-State travels to its house of horror Saturday to take on Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Wildcats haven't won in Stillwater in the 21st century.

Saturday marks the beginning of a front-loaded conference schedule for K-State. Such is life in the Big 12's middle class when you don't play KU or Iowa State until late November. If the Wildcats can hold their own in the next seven weeks, then they'll have a shot at tacking on a few late wins.

Oklahoma State is fresh off an unimpressive win over Texas in Austin. The Pokes are undefeated, having weathered Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and UTSA in the non-conference. In their one game against a common opponent, OSU notched a 69-14 win over UTSA, while K-State eventually bludgeoned the Roadrunners to take a 30-3 win.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Joe Hubener, 36-67-0, 585 yards, 8.7 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 195.0 yards/game

Rushing: Justin Silmon, 36 carries, 210 yards, 5.8 yards/carry, 1 TD, 70.0 yards.game

Receiving: Kody Cook, 8 receptions, 148 yards, 18.5 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 49.3 yards/game

Oklahoma State

Passing: Mason Rudolf, 84-124-3, 1,237 yards, 10.0 yards/attempt, 6 TDs, 309.3 yards/game

Rushing: Chris Carson, 65 carries, 274 yards, 4.2 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 68.5 yards/game

Receiving: David Glidden, 15 receptions, 324 yards, 21.6 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 81.0 yards/game

Rudolf had his worst game of the year against Texas, and was ineffective as the Pokes stalled in the second half. He still averaged 8.5 yards per attempt, but threw two interceptions against Texas' athletic-but-inexperienced secondary. Overall, the Pokes averaged only 4.8 yards per play against Texas.

K-State took a week off after surviving an overtime scare against Louisiana Tech. With two of its top three quarterbacks out, Joe Hubener attempted only seven rushes against the Bulldogs. Putting the quarterback in bubble wrap never works well for K-State, and the Wildcats averaged 5.0 yards per play. Worse, K-State couldn't finish drives, averaging only 3.8 points per trip to the red zone.

Advanced Stats

Oklahoma State checks in at 35th in F/+, while K-State is 23rd. S&P+ is more skeptical of both teams, with K-State at 35th and Oklahoma State all the way down at 57th.

By overall advanced metrics, the Pokes are consistently average, while K-State has a huge profile split. Oklahoma State is 58th in Offensive S&P+ and 51st in Defensive S&P+. K-State is 79th and 18th, and I'd say respectively but you already should've known which ranking applied to which unit.

Offensive inefficiency may kill Oklahoma State against this K-State defense. Overall, OSU profiles as a team that's terrible at running the ball and only average at throwing it. This is reflected in the Rushing S&P+ (119th) and Passing S&P+ (68th) and Standard Down Success Rate (107th) and Passing Down Success Rate (60th). They're also not explosive, ranking 85th in IsoPPP.

That plays right into the hands of K-State's defense, which feeds on inefficiency. The Wildcats will always look to take away the run first, but against OSU they shouldn't have to devote extra resources or attention to it. A solid performance by the defensive line, coupled with the speed of Elijah Lee and solid play by Will Davis should keep the ground game in check.

While K-State is solid at everything on defense, it's best on passing downs (18th in S&P+). That matches up nicely with OSU's relative strength on offense, which is bailing itself out on second or third and long. Want to know how this game went without seeing the action or the score? Look at third down conversions when it's over. If K-State gets OSU off the field two-thirds of the time, then there's a good chance K-State will win.

Of course, there's the small matter of K-State's sputtering offense (79th S&P+) going against an average (58th S&P+) Oklahoma State defense. OSU's defensive profile is a little puzzling; it seems like OSU should rank higher overall than they do. The Pokes are ordinary on standard downs (51st) but elite on passing downs (7th). That's no surprise with defensive ends like Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean. If K-State can't stay ahead of the sticks, these guys will be all over Hubener on third downs.

That's a problem, because K-State hasn't been good at anything on offense this year. The 79th ranking in S&P seems high, given that K-State ranks 90th or worse in every category tracked. There's not a single area of the offense/defense matchup I look at by the stats and say "well, K-State may be able to exploit this, possibly."

Prepare for frustration.

Conclusion

This is probably K-State's most winnable game between now and when it travels to Lubbock on November 14th. If K-State is to make progress to its baseline goal of bowl eligibility in the next six weeks, then it almost has to find a way to win Saturday. The next four after this are TCU, Oklahoma, at Texas and Baylor.

I'd like to say that this game will be a counterexample to those who think nobody in the Big 12 plays defense. That would be at least half true. But neither of these offenses has shown much to this point this year. Oklahoma State is an eight-point favorite, but F/+ actually projects K-State as the favorite. I'm skeptical, primarily because I don't see us scoring 27 points on Saturday.

Cowboys 21, Wildcats 17