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Kicking the Tires: Oklahoma State

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After a surprise 3-0 start, K-State is ready for Big 12 play. On tap: a trip to Stillwater.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

My, how the expectations have changed.

Before the season, if you would’ve told me that K-State entered its opening Big 12 tilt with Oklahoma State at 2-1 and less than a touchdown road underdog, I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.

But now the Wildcats are 3-0 and have actual, legitimate hope of getting a win in Stillwater. And a win this weekend would further fuel the dreams for a 2011-like breakout.

Before we get too far down that road, though, there’s a mullet-shaped obstacle on the horizon.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing:

Skylar Thompson, 36-53-0, 486 yards, 9.2 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 162.0 yards/game

Rushing:

James Gilbert, 43 carries, 277 yards, 6.4 yards/carry, 3 TDs, 92.3 yards/game

Receiving:

Malik Knowles, 9 receptions, 137 yards, 15.2 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 45.7 yards/game

Oklahoma State

Passing:

Spencer Sanders, 62-96-3, 890 yards, 9.3 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 222.5 yards/game

Rushing:

Chuba Hubbard, 103 carries, 642 yards, 6.2 yards/carry, 9 TDs, 160.5 yards/game

Receiving:

Tylan Wallace, 20 receptions, 473 yards, 23.7 yards/reception, 6 TDs, 118.3 yards/game

No surprise that OSU is putting up video-game yardage numbers again, that’s kind of their M.O. Interestingly, while they rank 11th in total yards per game, they’re “only” 20th by yards per play. Part of that is that they’ve played Texas, a better defense than most teams have played thus far. But part of that is because they run so many plays.

Anyway, true redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders leads the Pokes offense. I don’t want to say he’s “going to be good in time,” because he’s already pretty good now. In addition to the passing stats above, he averages 6.3 yards per carry even with sack yardage affecting that total. This kid is already a handful.

On the bright side for K-State … he’s a true freshman. The game is still slowing down for him, and in his first action against a legitimate Power 5 team (Oregon State doesn’t count), he threw the ball to the wrong team a couple times. We could use one or two of those on Saturday.

For once, OSU’s wide receivers don’t present a terrifying size mismatch for K-State’s undersized defensive backs. But Tylan Wallace will still be more than a handful. The junior from Fort Worth has been unstoppable this season, although Texas did manage to keep him out of the end zone.

On the ground, Chuba Hubbard has been a revelation for the Pokes this year. And they’ve rode him hard, giving the Canadian sophomore 103 carries through four games. That doesn’t seem like a sustainable workload, but it probably won’t matter for a game in September.

Advanced Stats

In what’s becoming somewhat of a troubling theme for Oklahoma State, the Pokes defense isn’t very good. They’re currently 59th by SP+, allowing almost a 40% success rate across the board. K-State’s offense thus far has been significantly better, at 52% overall success rate (55.6% passing, 50.7% rushing). There’s a very good chance that K-State will move the ball consistently on Saturday.

OSU is also only a little better than average (42nd nationally) at preventing touchdowns in the red zone. So it’s something of a bend-and-then-maybe-break defense. Surprisingly, given their usual profile, the Pokes are not particularly disruptive, either, with a havoc rate ranking 101st nationally.

On offense, the Pokes are again pretty consistent across the board with their success rates (42nd overall, 40th passing, 41st rushing). K-State is good overall, but a little weak against the run. That’s alright; I’d rather give up rushing yardage in the middle of the field where big plays are less likely and make a stand as the field shrinks. K-State is only about average at preventing red-zone touchdowns, while OSU is in the upper quartile nationally, so that will be a battle to watch.

And while this is usually a cliché, watch the battle on third downs. K-State has been excellent at getting off the field on third downs this year (2nd nationally), while OSU ranks 7th nationally at converting on third downs. If K-State and Scotty Hazelton’s defense can get OSU off schedule, they have a great chance to get off the field.

Conclusion

I want to believe. I want to believe that this is another 2011, where we’re going to win a bunch of close games and shave 10 years off our lives but still go 10-2 and end up in a major bowl. And beating OSU is entirely possible. Vegas pegs OSU as only a 4.5-point favorite at home, and SP+ gives K-State a 43% chance to win in Stillwater.

So the Wildcats may very well beat the Cowboys this weekend. But I’m just not quite there yet. I think we’ll see a thrilling game but we’ll see how Chris Klieman’s staff and the players deal with their first loss of the season.

Cowboys 35, Wildcats 31