Thanks to last weekend's 36-35 triumph over Baylor, the Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start for the second straight season and the 11th time in 20 seasons under head coach Bill Snyder. Last week's victory came on the heels of a key win at Miami a week earlier, and the Wildcats are brimming with confidence entering this matchup. K-State, currently ranked 20th in the country, could certainly use another win before hitting the road to face Texas Tech and Kansas over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Missouri is coming off a bye and will have had two full weeks to prepare for this key road clash.
"We had a good week this past week," head coach Gary Pinkel said during his weekly press conference. "It was our bye week schedule, which has worked out really well for us in the past. It gets a little rest for our players and we also get a jump on the Kansas State game plan."
The Tigers have alternated wins and losses so far, although they put forth a strong effort in a 38-28 setback at then top-ranked Oklahoma in their most recent outing. Following this tilt, Missouri will return home for two in a row to take on Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Mizzou owns a 60-31-5 series edge and has won five straight over the Wildcats by an average margin of 18 points, including last year's 38-28 verdict in Columbia.
Tigers' first-year starting quarterback James Franklin guided the team to a 14-3 first-quarter lead over Oklahoma two weeks ago, accounting for 394 of his team's 532 yards of total offense - the most ever for a Mizzou team in Norman. Franklin completed 16-of-33 passes for 291 yards with one TD and no interceptions, and he also ran for a career-high 103 yards and two scores. In his last three games, Franklin has a QB rating of 151.7, having completed 60- of-100 passes for 856 yards, with six TDs against zero interceptions. Two of those games have come on the road at ranked teams (No. 23 Arizona State, No. 1 Oklahoma). In those three outings, Franklin has accounted for 1,044 yards of total offense.
In the backfield, sophomore tailback Henry Josey is enjoying a breakout season, as he currently leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth in the nation in rushing with an average of 133.25 yards per game. Josey entered the year third on the depth chart, but injuries opened the door for the sophomore sensation to assume the lead role. Against OU's 20th-ranked run defense, he averaged an impressive 9.5 yards on 14 carries. Nearly half of his rushes on the year have gone for 10 yards or more. Against Western Illinois a few weeks ago, Josey managed 263 rushing yards and three TDs in just one half of action. Clearly, he will command plenty of attention from the K-State defense, as the Tigers enter this tilt with the nation's eighth-ranked rushing offense (253.3 ypg).
Fifth-year senior linebacker Luke Lambert is one of several key members on the Mizzou defense, and he is coming off a season-best seven-tackle effort, which included 1.5 TFL at Oklahoma. Lambert helped limit OU's vaunted rushing game, as the Sooners averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, and he also came up with a key third-quarter interception. Through four games, the Tigers rank fourth in the conference in both scoring defense (20.3 ppg) and total defense (349.5 ypg). Redshirt sophomore Andrew Wilson (club-best 25 tackles) has teamed with Lambert to form a potent linebacking duo, while Brad Madison and Brayden Burnett have combined for 5.5 sacks.
The Tigers found themselves in unfamiliar territory with that first-quarter lead against OU, considering the Sooners had gone 20 consecutive games without ever trailing at home. As it played out, that lead was short-lived, as Oklahoma reeled off 28 straight points and effectively shifted the momentum back in its favor. By game's end, MU had allowed 32 first downs and 592 yards of total offense. Playing without two of his starting receivers, OU quarterback Landry Jones completed 35-of-48 passes for 448 yards and three scores. The Tigers also failed to generate a sack, as Jones often had ample time in the pocket to find open receivers. Given how that game played out, expect Missouri to dial up a few more blitzes to try and limit big gains and keep the home crowd out of the game as much as possible.
Kansas State is off to a 4-0 start thanks largely to an effective running game and strong defensive play, something of a lost formula in the present-day college football landscape of spread offenses. Granted, most of the run production has come from mobile quarterback Collin Klein, who ranks second among FBS quarterbacks in rushing with his 105.8 ypg average. He is effective enough in the passing game to keep defenses honest, as he averages 120.2 passing yards per tilt and has thrown six touchdowns against only two interceptions. Sophomore running back John Hubert adds 85.8 rushing yards per game to a ground game that ranks 18th in the nation (217.3 ypg). That said, one thing coach Snyder would like to see is some improvement from his offense in the red zone after settling for three field goals in eight red-zone trips against Baylor.
"We are playing in the Big 12 conference and we are going to have some three and outs," he said, also noting that his team had several opportunities to put last week's game away earlier. "It is going to happen sometimes, we just have to get better in the red zone."
Down 35-26, the Wildcat offense mounted a 13-play, 70-yard drive to pull to within 35-33 with a little more than five minutes to play. The defense did the rest, coming up with a huge takeaway in the final minutes to set up Anthony Cantele's game-winning field goal.
The key late-game takeaway came courtesy of junior linebacker Arthur Brown, who became the first player this year to intercept Baylor QB Robert Griffin III. Still, the Bears got the ball back once more with 3:10 remaining and needing only a field goal to win. But Brown came up with a big sack on first down, and Baylor went three-and-out.
"(Brown) plays inspired football and like I have said so many times is that his real value is outside of being a wonderful person is that he has that old adage that he has a nose for the football," coach Snyder said. "He knows how to find it and goes and gets it."
Overall, the Wildcats have been a vastly improved defensive team through four weeks, as they head into this weekend's matchup ranked in the top-17 nationally in three defensive categories (scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense). The defense began to gain attention after a big goal line stand to preserve a win at Miami two weeks ago. Brown boasts a team-best 33 tackles on the year, which also ranks fourth in the Big 12. Defensive ends Jordan Voelker and Meshak Williams have collected three sacks apiece, while junior defensive back Nigel Malone has notched three of the team's six interceptions so far.