The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the (18) Oklahoma State Cowboys taking on the Kansas State Wildcats. Coverage begins at 2:30 PM CT on ABC from Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas.
What’s at Stake?
In my previous game of the week preview, I said last week was a crossroads type weekend for the Big 12. Well, those roads have lead the conference straight off a cliff as the last two undefeated teams (Baylor and West Virginia) went back home with the taste of defeat on Saturday. It is very likely after this past weekend that the Big 12 playoff hopes are long gone, but that doesn’t mean that the drama will die with it. Just like every November in years past, this month will be wild and will determine who comes out on top, to be crowned the champion of the Big 12.
Mike Gundy’s team got over the hump with a huge win over West Virginia, in a make or break point for their season. Oklahoma State enters Saturday with a 3 game conference win streak, and have launched themselves as a Big 12 title contender as they travel to Manhattan, Kansas for a big road test. Kansas State and Bill Snyder have been sneaky good this season (what’s new?) as they are an excellent team at home which is named after their current head coach. They would love nothing more than to spoil the party for the Cowboys as they try to shake up the conference outlook yet again.
For Oklahoma State, a win here would keep them right in the thick of things for the Big 12 title race. This a big road test as the Cowboys can’t afford another conference loss if they want to keep their conference title hopes alive
For Kansas State, a win here would possibly position themselves back into the Big 12 conversation with some help along the way. Most importantly, a victory Saturday would make the Wildcats bowl eligible for the 7th consecutive season (only behind Oklahoma and tied with Baylor).
Oklahoma State Offense
If there are any questions about this offense, quarterback Mason Rudolph continues to answer them and answer them with authority. Rudolph is averaging 316 passing yards per game while throwing for 17 scores on only 2 picks. His completion percentage is at 63.5 %, but Mason has been playing great football the past few games. This offense falls on the arm of Mason Rudolph, which has worked out quite well for the Cowboys in the past few weeks. He has the ability to put the offense on his back, which very few quarterbacks in this league can do.
Although the running game was non-existent last week, true freshman running back Justice Hill is the workhorse in the backfield. Hill is averaging 77.3 rushing yards per game while hitting pay dirt 4 times on the season. He is however averaging 4.8 yards per carry, which is kind of surprising considering the offensive line issues. Hill has the ability to be a very good back in the future and I look forward to seeing what he can do as time goes on.
The Cowboys have relied on three receivers all year long. Whenever you talk about the Oklahoma State receivers, the first man that comes to mind is the big time playmaker James Washington. Washington is averaging 107.1 yards per game while scoring 6 touchdowns. He is the go to man when a big play needs to happen. Behind him is the speedy Jalen McCleskey, who has really come on strong as of late. He is averaging 75.2 yards per game while catching 5 touchdown passes. Last but not least is Jhajuan Seales, who averages 44.5 per game while grabbing 6 touchdowns. Another thing to keep an eye on is the health of WR Marcell Ateman, who when healthy is one of the better receivers in the Big 12.
Up front the Cowboys will use starters LT Victor Salako, LG Marcus Keyes, C Brad Lundblade, RG Michael Wilson and RT Zachary Crabtree. This offense line struggled to open holes in the run game last weekend against West Virginia and I would expect much of the same this weekend against Kansas State.
Kansas State Defense
On the defensive it all starts with DE Jordan Willis, who as of right now is the best defensive player in the Big 12. Willis has 11.5 with 8 of them coming from sacks. Throw in 2 forced fumbles and we are probably looking at the Big 12 defensive player of the year after the season ends. Jordan is an absolute nightmare on the edge. The opposite defensive end will be Reggie Walker, who has 6 TFLs with 3 of them being sacks. In between these two will be DT’s Will Geary and Trey Dishon who have played well thus far. This line has been solid against the run all year long.
At linebacker, the star of the show is leading tackler Elijah Lee who has 6 TFLs and 3 sacks. Lee is a ball hawk, who is relentless pursuing the football and making plays. Beside him will be Will Davis and Charmeachealle Moore. Moore is the 3rd leading tackler on the team with 3.5 of being TFLs. Moore much like Lee, is very good at locating the football and making plays.
The back end of this defense will feature CBs Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed. Both Shelley and Reed combine for 4 picks and over 10 PBUs. They play very aggressively and aren’t afraid to get beat deep. Kansas State will also be using NB Donnie Starks to cover the slot receivers of the Cowboy offense when needed. Holding down the fort at the safety spots will be Dante Barnett and Kendall Adams. Adams has been average thus far while Barnett brings a physical presence in the run game. Barnett is not afraid to get his hands dirty as he is the 2nd leading tackler on the team.
When in doubt this Oklahoma State offense will air it out. The Cowboys have an array of weapons on the outside with Washington and McCleskey at wide receiver. Mike Gundy’s offense has tried to get the running game more involved in recent weeks, but their lackluster offensive line has limited them in that department. I expect the Cowboys to spread out this Kansas State defense and pass the ball all over the yard behind the arm of Mason Rudolph. As this team has shown in previous weeks, they aren’t afraid to put the game on Mason’s shoulders and that is exactly what they will do come Saturday. They may try to sneak in a few runs to keep the defense honest, but I would predict that the running backs will be used more in the passing game to create more mismatches. Defensively Kansas State will have to play aggressive to keep Mason Rudolph’s head on a swivel. The last thing this defense wants to do is let Rudolph have all day in the pocket. The weakness of this defense is their secondary, which Oklahoma State has the receivers to take advantage of that. Also keep an eye on DE Jordan Willis, as he will have plenty of opportunities to rush the passer.
Kansas State Offense
Leading the way for this offense will be the tough, hard-nosed Jesse Ertz. Ertz is averaging only 134.8 passing yards per game with 7 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions. He is also completing 55.7% of his passes on the season. Ertz wont impresses anyone in the passing game, but what he does well is that he has a great feel when to take off and scramble. Throwing the football on a bum shoulder hasn’t helped his passing game any, but his legs can certainly make up for his lack of arm talent. Jesse is currently leading his team in total rushing yards for the season.
In the backfield, the Wildcats will use two running backs as well as one full back. Justin Silmon and Charles Jones will be the two getting most of the work. Jones is averaging 54.9 yards per game whole Silmon only averages 30 per game. The guy to keep an eye on in goal line situations is FB Winston Dimel, who has scored 7 times this year.
Even in a lackluster passing game, Kansas State does have some nice athletes catching the football. Dominique Heah has been Ertz’s favorite target this year with 35 receptions averaging 44.8 yards per game and 3 scores. Behind Heath is Deante Burton, who averages 37.1 yards per game as well as scoring a touchdown. Lastly is my favorite guy of the group, Byron Pringle. Pringle is extremely fast but has only 2 receiving touchdowns this season. I am very surprised that Pringle does not get more touches in offense.
Up front the Wildcats will use starters LT Scott Frantz, LG Abdul Beecham, C Reid Najvar, RG Terrale Johnson and RT Dalton Risner. This group has been gelling very quickly each and every week.
Oklahoma State Defense
On the OSU defensive line, we have seen a star emerge in DT Vincent Taylor. Taylor has 6.5 TFL with 4.5 of those being sacks. He is a monster in the middle of this defense and can cause some serious problems for offensive centers and guards. Beside him will be Motekiai Maile who has 4.5 TFLs of his own. Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid are the two DEs, who combine for 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. This group has played well, but struggles at times against a good running game.
MLB Chad Whitener leads the charge for this Cowboy linebacker group. Whitener currently leads his team in tackles and has really come on strong as of late. The other two linebackers will be WLB Devante Averette and SLB Jordan Burton, who are second and third on the team in tackles. Burton has 4 TFLs along with two picks at SLB while Averette has 4.5 TFLs and 2 forced fumbles. This bunch is really starting to find their groove defensively.
At corner, the Pokes will use Ashotn Lampkin and Ramon Richards. Lampkin has 2 PBUs and a forced fumble, while Richards has 3 picks on the season. It really has seemed like it has been feast or famine with these two corners. One week they play great and the next they get torched. Lenzy Pipkins will handle the NB duties but don’t expect to see him much in this game. Tre Flowers will hold it down at SS whole Jordan Sterns will run the show at FS. Flowers has 5 PBUs on the year and Sterns has 2 picks.
Kansas State is going to bleed the clock as much as possible in this game to limit the OSU offensive possessions. With a quarterback like Jesse Ertz, this offense is very limited in the passing game. Bill Snyder will run the football until he is blue in the face or until the OSU defense can prove they can slow it down. The Wildcats will not hit a bunch of big plays, but they will lull you to sleep and sprinkle in a pop pass every now and then. For Oklahoma State, they should load up the box to try and put all their effort into stopping the rushing game of Kansas State. Due to the lack of a real passing threat, the Cowboys can play one on one on the outside and pull as many bodies in the box as they can.
Oklahoma State wins if they are able to stop the rushing attack of Kansas State. If they can do this, it will give Mason Rudolph and company that many more chances to put points on the board. If the Cowboys can get a two touchdown lead at any point in this game, it will affect the Kansas State game plan.
Kansas State wins if they are able to really dominate the time of possession. The Wildcats need to do all they can to keep the OSU offense on the sidelines. The lower the score, the better the chance the Wildcats have of winning this football game.
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