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Kicking the Tires: Oklahoma State Cowboys

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The last of K-State’s three pivotal home games is this Saturday. A win over Oklahoma State gets K-State bowl eligible.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Despite an acute case of Ames Things happening in the fourth quarter last week, K-State notched a 31-26 win over Iowa State. It didn’t feel that close after the Wildcats stretched the lead to 31-10 in the second half, but ISU never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.

And Oklahoma left Ames last night with a 34-24 win. Ames Things, man.

After securing last week’s win over the Cyclones, K-State returns home for a tilt with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. This is the final of K-State’s crucial three home games, and the Wildcats are looking for a clean sweep after previous wins over Texas Tech and Texas.

But Oklahoma State will be the most difficult test of the three.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jesse Ertz, 97-174-3, 1,078 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 134.8 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Jones, 88 carries, 439 yards, 5.0 yards/carry, 2 TDs, 54.9 yards/game

Receiving: Dominique Heath, 35 receptions, 358 yards, 10.2 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 44.8 yards/game

Oklahoma State

Passing: Mason Rudolf, 185-291-2, 2,532 yards, 8.7 yards/attempt, 17 TDs, 316.5 yards/game

Rushing: Justice Hill, 128 carries, 619 yards, 4.8 yards/carry, 4 TDs, 77.38 yards/game

Receiving: James Washington, 43 receptions, 857 yards, 19.9 yards/reception, 6 TDs, 107.1 yards/game

So Rudolf completes 64 percent of his passes at 8+ yards per attempt and an interception rate less than one percent? That’ll do.

It’s a good thing, though, because for the second year in a row, the Pokes can’t run the ball at all. We’ll see the advanced numbers below, but it’s been a long while since the likes of Joe Randle populated the backfield in Stillwater. Joe Wickline and his offensive line coaching may have had something to do with it, too.

Quietly, Jesse Ertz has improved his accuracy and is now solidly above 55 percent for the season. The other numbers are modest, but if Ertz continues this trend and the ground game remains strong, then K-State will be alright on offense.

Advanced Stats (charts courtesy JeffP)

Pros:

K-State should be able to move the ball on the ground. Oklahoma State is decent at keeping teams off schedule, but not great. As an added bonus, the Pokes give up big plays on the ground (121st nationally in IsoPPP).

K-State should be able to move the ball through the air. Sense a pattern here? The Wildcats have morphed into an average team by passing success rate, while OSU’s defense is well below average.

Both of the above points are important, because K-State is also much better at finishing offensive drives than Oklahoma State is at preventing scores once its opponent crosses the 40.

The Cowboys probably aren’t doing anything on the ground. K-State’s defensive strength is against the run, and this is OSU’s offensive weakness. The best you can say about OSU’s ground game is they’re almost average by success rate. K-State is a top 30 defense by this metric. And Rudolf is unlikely to add much of a quarterback run dimension. As another added bonus, Rudolf has lost five fumbles this season.

Cons:

Prepare yourselves. Oklahoma State will move the ball through the air. They’re above average by success rate and a top 20 team in explosiveness. K-State must prevent big plays.

Maybes:

This game may come down to how well Oklahoma State finishes drives on the likely frequent occasions it gains K-State’s 40-yard line. Oklahoma State is 37th nationally at finishing drives. K-State’s defense is 35th nationally at stopping drives in those situations.

Oklahoma State is below average by adjusted sack rate, but K-State is even worse on defense. The Wildcat defensive line has not been impressive lately pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and was mostly non-existent last week against a bad Iowa State offensive line.

Conclusion

That seems like a lot of things favoring K-State in a game where S&P projects Oklahoma State has a 61 percent chance of winning on the road. I’m skeptical, because K-State has shown consistent improvement over the course of the season, so its S&P ratings likely don’t reflect its current capabilities.

That said, Oklahoma State is a better version of Texas Tech and Texas, and K-State won those games by a combined nine points. Playing at home is a huge boost to the Wildcats in this one.

So what does a K-State win look like? K-State must win the turnover battle against a team that’s excellent at avoiding interceptions but is somewhat sloppy at protecting the football, and sports an aggressive defense that will look to make plays.

Ertz’s health and effectiveness in the ground game is also crucial. Last year, one the Pokes finally realized Kody Cook wasn’t going to complete many passes, they ganged up on the run and K-State couldn’t do anything. Ertz needs to complete underneath passes early and pick up easy yards on the ground when they’re available. Do that, and the Wildcats can sustain drives and keep Rudolf and company on the sideline.

For some reason, I’m confident about this one. Blame me if it slips away from the home team.

Wildcats 33, Cowboys 30