The top team in the Big 12 Conference puts its perfect record on the line once again, as the third-ranked Kansas State Wildcats play host to the Oklahoma State Cowboys this Saturday night in Manhattan.
Since alternating wins and losses in its first four games, Oklahoma State has won three straight, the most recent of which being a 36-14 home decision versus TCU last weekend. With that win, the Cowboys improved to 3-1 in conference, and while they are certainly in the thick of things in the race for the Big 12 title, a win over the Wildcats is paramount if they're to keep the dream alive. OSU is 0-1 against Top-25 teams this season, but it has won two straight against top-10 foes, and was 5-0 against ranked opponents last year. Still to come for the Pokes are bouts with West Virginia, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Baylor.
Kansas State is one of six undefeated teams left in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the team is off to its first 8-0 start since 1999. Legendary coach Bill Snyder has his team firing on all cylinders, and as a result it comes in ranked second in the most recent BCS poll -- its highest BCS ranking ever. Get past the Cowboys and the 'Cats will still have to beat TCU, Baylor and Texas to give themselves a shot at reaching the BCS National Championship Game.
Oklahoma State owns a 36-22 lead in the all-time series with Kansas State, and the Cowboys have won the last three and four of the last five meetings overall.
Wes Lunt made his first start since Sept. 15 a memorable one, as he threw for 324 yards and a TD to lead Oklahoma State past visiting TCU last Saturday. Lunt showed some rust early, but led the Pokes to 36 unanswered points after they fell behind 14-0. Help came from RB Joseph Randle as he rushed for 126 yards and a score, while Josh Stewart finished with six catches for 120 yards. In all, OSU tallied 471 yards of total offense, but was just 5-of-16 on third- down conversion attempts and turned the ball over twice. Quinn Sharp tied a school record with five field goals.
As for the Horned Frogs, they were limited to 344 total yards, and they were guilty of three turnovers while making good on only two of their 14 third-down tries. Alex Elkins led the OSU defense with nine tackles, all of which were unassisted, and he had one of the team's two sacks. TCU is scoring more than 33 ppg, but the Pokes allowed just a single offensive TD in the contest.
Oklahoma State averages 20 points per outing more than its allows (44.3 to 23.1 ppg), and the Pokes are generating a Big 12-best 586.1 ypg, 239.0 ypg of which is generated by the league's best rushing attack. With J.W. Walsh (.662, 1,467 yards, 10 TDs, three interceptions) out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Lunt has proven his worth by completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 912 yards, five TDs and four interceptions. Stewart is far-and-away the team's leading receiver with his 48 grabs for 574 yards and three TDs, while Randle is the catalyst on the ground as evidenced by the 891 yards and nine TDs he has accumulated. The offensive line has allowed just three sacks.
The Cowboys have done a nice job against the run this year (127.7 ypg), but their effort against the pass, last week not withstanding, has resulted in foes averaging 235 ypg through the air, which ranks the unit sixth in the conference. The OSU defense ranks second in opponent's third-down conversion (.328), but next-to-last in turnover margin (-4). Elkins is the team's leading tackler, but he has just 38 stops, a total of eight players logging at least 22 tackles to this point.
OSU head coach Mike Gundy was asked about the improved play of his defense after last week's win.
"We're healthy now. We got some guys back. We were beat up early in the season a little bit."
He also spoke about adjustments made by the defensive staff and the improved play of the guys in the secondary.
"We defended the deep ball much better in this game like we had in the two games before this. Early in the season, we were poor on the deep ball. You tie all that together and it makes for a better defensive performance."
Kansas State has put up no fewer than 55 points in three of its last four games, with last week's 55-24 thrashing of Texas Tech being the most recent. Heisman hopeful Collin Klein accounted for four TDs (two passing, two rushing), and he completed 19-of-26 throws for 233 yards while adding 83 yards on the ground. WRs Tyler Lockett and Chris Harper combined for 12 catches and 161 yards. Most of the offense came in the second half as the Wildcats blew open what had been a close game. RB John Hubert finished with 64 yards and two TDs, and Angelo Pease also scored for K-State, which piled up 426 total yards, moved the chains on 6-of-11 third-down tries, and did not commit a single turnover.
The Wildcats defense allowed Texas Tech QB Seth Doege to throw for 331 yards and two TDs, but they picked him off once and sacked him twice. The Red Raiders managed just 111 rushing yards, and they were guilty of three total turnovers. Jarrell Childs led the KSU stance with nine tackles, while LB Arthur Brown returned an interception 37 yards for a TD in the fourth quarter.
Klein is a 70.9 percent passer who averages 203.8 ypg and has thrown 12 TDs against only two interceptions, and Harper and Lockett have been consistent performers in logging 30 and 29 receptions, respectively, for a combined 906 yards and five scores. Hubert paces the run game with 722 yards and 10 TDs, but Klein has amassed 634 yards and found the end zone with his legs 16 times.
The K-State defense is allowing a league-low 17.1 ppg, which is 27.3 ppg less than the team scores on average, and the Wildcats have been particularly strong against the run (102.6 ypg, six TDs). Led by Meshak Williams and Adam Davis, the 'Cats have logged a Big 12-best 20 sacks. Brown is the team's leading tackler (60), and he has a pair of picks to his credit as well. Ty Zimmerman leads in that department with four interceptions.
Coach Snyder likes the poise and control his team has played with through the first two months of the season.
"I am proud of our young guys up to this point in time because you do not know about tomorrow. Up to this point in time they have handled it well. They go back to work. It is not easy, it just gets harder. I keep saying there is a border right there and what we do from this point in time, on, will define us collectively."