In last week’s Texas Tech preview, I stressed the importance of getting a win against the Red Raiders. With two losses on the board already, the margin of error for an acceptable season is already getting thin, and a home loss to Tech would’ve narrowed it to almost nothing.
K-State earned that win, but their reward for that accomplishment is a trip to Norman to face the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s a matchup of two-loss teams, but the Sooners lost to Houston and Ohio State, and have already notched conference wins over TCU and Texas. National interest in the Sooners waned after the early defeats, but OU is still the odds-on favorite to claim a 46th conference crown.
Players to Watch
Passing: Jesse Ertz, 51-105-2, 688 yards, 6.6 yards/attempt, 5 TDs, 137.6 yards/game
Rushing: Charles Jones, 56 carries, 287 yards, 5.1 yards/carry, 2 TDs, 57.4 yards/game
Receiving: Dominique Heath, 12 receptions, 170 yards, 14.2 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 34.0 yards/game
Passing: Baker Mayfield, 100-146-4, 1,457 yards, 10.0 yards/attempt, 12 TDs, 291.4 yards/game
Rushing: Samaje Perine, 85 carries, 461 yards, 5.4 yards/carry, 6 TDs, 92.2 yards/game
Receiving: Dede Westbrook, 34 receptions, 544 yards, 16.0 yards/reception, 5 TDs, 108.8 yards/game
On the bright side, Oklahoma has yielded 14 sacks already this season, and Mayfield has four interceptions. Less optimistically, even when Perine needs a breather, he’s backed up by Joe Mixon, who averages 6.5 yards per carry. Mixon is also a receiving threat out of the backfield; his 15 receptions are second only to Dede Westbrook.
Westbrook is Mayfield’s top target, but Mark Andrews is also a big-play threat. He’s averaging 20.5 yards per reception and has scored four touchdowns.
Defensively, Oklahoma is only about average nationally at 54th in S&P+. It’s been a busy year for the infirmary in Norman, as OU took on Texas short five defensive starters. Defensive back Ahmad Thomas and linebacker Will Johnson will probably play Saturday. Cornerback Parrish Cobb, as well as defensive ends Charles Walker and Matt Dimon are questionable. Safety Michiah Quick is out.
By S&P, Oklahoma is better offensively than Texas Tech, which is terrifying to consider. The Sooners mix a ruthlessly efficient rushing attack with an explosive passing game and average 40.6 points per game, against excellent competition, as a result.
Where are the (relative) weaknesses that K-State’s strong defense may exploit? OU’s Adjusted Sack Rate is only average. K-State’s only a little better than average defensively in this same stat, but if the Wildcats can leverage OU into passing downs, the Sooners are only 91st in Adjusted Sack Rate. Maybe they won’t get home a lot, but K-State should be able to get some pressure on Mayfield.
K-State’s defensive weakness, which is giving up big running plays, is not Oklahoma’s strength. Put these together and maybe, maybe, K-State can limit big plays, force long drives, get a few big plays via sacks, and make red zone stands.
It gets interesting on the other side of the ball. Oklahoma is a walking M*A*S*H unit right now, and only profiles as an average outfit. They give up big plays, are only average by efficiency metrics, and don’t stop teams inside their own 40.
Of course, K-State is almost literally the last team in the country in position to take advantage a team that gives up big plays. Despite my perception, the Wildcats offense is actually pretty efficient at 20th nationally. And K-State finishes drives pretty well.
Oklahoma’s pass defense is particularly prone to allowing big plays. So if Jesse Ertz and the wide receivers are ever going to have a breakout game, then Saturday would be a good time to do it.
How does K-State get a win Saturday? Spoiler alert: it probably won’t. But if they do, it will follow a fairly familiar pattern this year.
Mayfield is hardly a turnover machine, but he’s a gunslinger and may give Duke Shelley or DJ Reed a couple chances. A defensive score or a couple field-position flips will be part of a K-State win, if it happens.
Bob Stoops won’t kick the ball deep to Byron Pringle, so a special teams score is less likely. But in so doing, the Sooners may give up field position, which is a godsend to this K-State offense.
Beyond those obvious items, a win will be based on a lot of Snyderball. Force long drives and field goals. Keep the ball away from Mayfield, hang around until Mayfield or Lincoln Riley get impatient, and pounce on mistakes. Hit on a few big completions to Heath, Pringle or Isaiah Zuber against Oklahoma’s porous pass defense.
K-State’s defense will keep them in this one, but OU’s offense is too much in the end.
Sooners 41, Wildcats 31