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Kicking the Tires: KU

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K-State will be host to its in-state rivals this weekend. The Wildcats look to extend their series winning streak to eight games.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a 42-21 win against freefalling Baylor in Waco, K-State returns home for the Sunflower Showdown. Its opponent is also on a winning “streak,” which is rare for KU in the last five years. As you may have heard, KU beat Texas in Lawrence last week to notch its first conference victory in more than two years.

It would be easy to make too much of KU’s win last week. This wasn’t the story of a program rapidly showing progress that finally broke through. By S&P+, KU played a 24th percentile game and needed six Longhorn turnovers and overtime to secure the victory. More about that later.

K-State hasn’t been anything special this year. The ceiling is an 8-4 regular season, and the Wildcats are currently 56th by S&P+. But that’s 62 spots ahead of the Jayhawks.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jesse Ertz, 125-217-4, 1,342 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 134.2 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Jones, 101 carries, 555 yards, 5.5 yards/carry, 2 TDs, 55.5 yards/game

Receiving: Dominique Heath, 41 receptions, 413 yards, 10.1 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 41.3 yards/game

KU

Passing: Carter Stanley, 69-112-4, 657 yards, 5.9 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 82.1 yards/game

Rushing: Ke’aun Kinner, 131 carries, 713 yards, 5.4 yards/attempt, 3 TDs, 64.8 yards/game

Receiving: Steven Sims, 67 receptions, 818 yards, 12.2 yards/reception, 7 TDs, 74.4 yards/game

We’ll focus on Stanley at quarterback because he’s started the last few games for KU. Sims is the leading receiver, but LaQuvionte Gonzalez is also a threat outside and is probably the fastest player on KU’s team. Kinner is solid at running back, but KU doesn’t do a lot with the running game.

KU has progressed somewhat defensively and are downright average against the pass. Fish Smithson leads the team with four interceptions and six passes defensed. But their two leading tacklers are still safeties.

Advanced Stats

For K-State’s offense, there’s a glaring mismatch in this game, so I’ll say it again: RUN. THE. DAMN BALL. K-State is a top-five team nationally by Rushing Success Rate, while KU is 95th by the same metric. With the emergence of Alex Barnes at running back and the devastating combo of Terrale Johnson and Dalton Risner on the right side of the line, K-State should be able to move the ball steadily on the ground.

And they’d better because, frankly, the passing matchup doesn’t look too good. K-State is about average by Passing Success Rate, while KU is a top-third team by the same metric.

On the other side of the ball, it’s difficult to imagine KU having much success. KU is among the bottom 15 teams in the nation by Rushing Success Rate and overall Rushing S&P, though they somehow are decent at breaking big runs (45th by Rushing IsoPPP). K-State is a top-30 team against the rush overall, though KU could break some big gains if the defense loses focus.

For the season, KU is among the five worst teams in the country throwing the ball. That may have improved somewhat with Stanley at quarterback, but K-State’s defense should disrupt KU’s passing game.

Conclusion

It’s easy to focus too much on the soft factors in this game. K-State is going for Bill Snyder’s 200th win. KU can’t qualify for a bowl, so this is the proverbial Super Bowl game that could make this season a success. KU has some momentum coming off the Texas win. K-State is going for its eight consecutive win in the Sunflower Showdown, its second-longest win streak in the series.*

*The longest was K-State’s 11-game streak from 1993-2003. Depressingly, these two streaks account for 42 percent of K-State’s wins in the series.

But it would be a surprise if K-State didn’t come out and take care of business. There are abundant indicators that Snyder takes this game seriously every year. For one, the Wildcats have covered the spread each of the last eight years in this game. Overall, K-State is 21-3 against the spread against KU with Snyder on the sidelines.

And while we’d all feel better if K-State had closed out close games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State, the Wildcats are clearly the better team right now. K-State is a top 60 team this year, while KU is still languishing among the bottom 15 teams in the country.

Wildcats 48, Jayhawks 14