It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Sunflower Showdown like this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that there haven’t been close games. K-State hasn’t truly blown out the Jayhawks since 2015, a 45-14 win in Lawrence.
But the close games the last few years have been more of the variety of two bad teams slugging it out, with historically bad KU teams giving a declining K-State program a run in their one shot at redeeming a lost season. This year, K-State has somewhat rebounded with the breath of fresh air provided by a new coaching staff, while KU has a chance to post its best season since 2009.
I mean, this isn’t 1995, when both teams won 10 games. But it’s a step in the right direction for both teams.
Players to Watch
Passing: Skylar Thompson, 98-161-1, 1,207 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 172.4 yards/game
Rushing: James Gilbert, 100 carries, 558 yards, 5.6 yards/carry, 5 TDs, 79.7 yards/game
Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 23 receptions, 322 yards, 14.0 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 46.0 yards/game
Passing: Carter Stanley, 155-241-5, 1,900 yards, 7.9 yards/reception, 19 TDs, 237.5 yards/game
Rushing: Pooka Williams, 136 carries, 704 yards, 5.2 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 100.6 yards/game
Receiving: Andrew Parchment, 42 receptions, 614 yards, 14.6 yards/reception, 6 TDs, 76.8 yards/game
I feel like we’ve been saying it for a while, but KU has some front-line talent at some positions. Stanley and Williams are undoubtedly solid examples of that, and the numbers are starting to reflect that more this year. And with recently promoted offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon at the helm, KU has had its two best games of the season against Texas and Texas Tech, averaging 548 yards in the two games.
Defensively, things still look pretty rough overall for KU. Senior safety Bryce Tornedon leads the way with 53 tackles on the season. Linebacker Najee Stevens-McKenzie has 5.5 tackles for loss, while fellow linebacker Azur Kamara has 3.5 sacks. McKenzie also leads the team in interceptions, with two.
K-State’s offense should find success moving the ball on Saturday. The Wildcats are maintaining top-50 marks in all three Success Rate categories (36th overall, 27th passing, 50th rushing). KU’s corresponding marks are 127, 118 and 122. KU’s defense profiles as somewhat passive overall, with low Havoc and Stuff rates, while maintaining a respectable Explosiveness Rate (59th).
Like most bend-don’t-break defenses, KU’s success in this game will come down to whether they can make stops, including forcing field goals, when K-State gets to the red zone. The Wildcats are 36th nationally by Red Zone TD%, while KU’s defense is 55th. In my John Madden moment for the day, it will be important for K-State to hit paydirt when it gains the 20-yard line.
Unfortunately, I can’t break out KU’s offensive performances in the last two games with Dearmon as OC. KU’s overall offensive numbers are respectable, but not much more. K-State’s defense maintains a top-20 passing Success Rate, which matches up with the relative strength of KU’s offense.
The key area will be explosive plays. KU’s offense is below average by efficiency, but top 20 by generating explosive plays. K-State’s defense is ... bad at preventing explosive plays. KU is unlikely to sustain long drives down the field for touchdowns, but a big run by Williams or long touchdown strike from Stanley could change the complexion of this game quickly.
Connelly’s SP+ projects a 35-25 win for K-State, in a game where Vegas pegs the Wildcats as a touchdown favorite. K-State’s ball-control offense should be able to move the ball against a KU defense that hasn’t yet joined the turnaround in Lawrence. Let’s hope that having two games of film on Dearmon gives Scotty Hazelton enough to figure out what Texas and Texas Tech couldn’t: a way to at least limit what KU does on offense.
Wildcats 38, Jayhawks 28