Manhattan, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - The only team without a Big 12 Conference loss takes center stage on Saturday, as the 11th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats entertain the Texas Longhorns.
Charlie Strong's inaugural season at Texas hasn't gone quite the way he had hoped, as the Longhorns are 3-4 overall and 2-2 in conference. The team did manage to put the brakes on a two-game slide by posting a 48-45 win versus visiting Iowa State last weekend. That victory came on the heels of a near- upset of Oklahoma the week prior, as the 'Horns fell just short in their annual clash with the Sooners, 31-26.
Save for a narrow home loss to Auburn (20-14) in mid-September, Kansas State would be perfect on the year. As it is, the Wildcats come in to this contest at 5-1, 3-0 in conference, and are in the driver's seat with regard to winning the Big 12 title. Coach Bill Snyder's club still has several tough games, including this week, and against Oklahoma State, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor.
Kansas State owns an 8-6 lead in the all-time series with Texas, but the Longhorns snapped a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats with last year's 31-21 triumph in Austin.
Last week's 48-point, 512-yard outburst aside, the Texas offense hasn't been the force many had hoped when Strong was handed the reins. The Longhorns rank near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring offense (23.7 ppg), rushing offense (144.4 ypg), passing offense (225.6 ypg) and total offense (370.0 ypg), and getting consistent quarterback play needs to be a priority if the team is going to wind up on the plus-side of the ledger at season's end.
Tyrone Swoopes has completed 61 percent of his passes for nearly 1,400 yards, but he has thrown only eight scoring strikes while being intercepted five times. John Harris has been the most productive wideout, hauling in 40 balls for 607 and six TDs, while Jaxon Shipley leads the way with 44 grabs for 452 yards and no TDs. Malcolm Brown spearheads the UT rushing attack with 396 yards and four scores, while Johnathan Gray has rumbled his way for 345 yards and a pair of TDs. Swoopes has scored three times on the ground.
Swoopes threw for 321 yards and a TD last week, hitting Harris nine times for 147 yards and Shipley six times for 97 yards. The athletic signal caller was also the team's top ground gainer, accounting for 95 yards and a TD on 14 carries, while Brown finished with 72 yards and two scores on 19 totes.
The Texas defense has had some issues this season, particularly when it comes to stopping the enemy on the ground (182.4 ypg). Where the 'Horns have excelled however, is against the pass. Foes are averaging just 163.9 ypg through the air, which is the lowest yield of any team in the Big 12, and as a result Strong's crew ranks second in the league in total defense (346.3 ypg). While the secondary gets a ton of credit for the effort in the passing game, the front seven has been superb in logging a league-leading 24 sacks -- actually tied with Baylor.
Jordan Hicks is almost at 100 tackles for the season (98), Malcolm Brown has 10 TFL and 4.5 sacks, and Duke Thomas three of the team's 11 interceptions.
While it's true the Longhorns have performed well against the pass, they had trouble with Iowa State's aerial attack last week, allowing 345 yards and three TDs. They did manage to come up with a pair of picks and sacked ISU quarterback Sam B. Richardson three times, but they permitted nearly six yards per offensive play and were unsuccessful in stopping the Cyclones on any one of their six trips to the red zone. Hicks was all over the field for UT, logging 18 tackles, while three others also finished in double figures. Dylan Haines scored on a 74-yard interception return near the end of the first half.
While happy to come away with a win, Strong took both some positives and negatives from the Iowa State game.
"Wow, I didn't know it would end like that, wow. You look at our offense, and you watch 'em grow up, and you watch Tyrone [Swoopes] get better and better every game."
He then turned his attention to the other side of the ball.
"Not very pleased with our defense, thought we could have played better than we did, but it's always a good test when you can wake guys up."
Kansas State has one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Big 12 in Jake Waters. A 65.1 percent passer who has thrown for 1,431 yards, nine TDs and only three INTs, Waters does just enough to keep his team on course as it navigates its way to the top of the conference standings. Waters also does his best to keep defenses honest by using his legs, as he is the Wildcats' leading rusher with 371 yards, scoring seven TDs along the way. Charles Jones has found the end zone eight times, logging 339 yards on 69 totes, while DeMarcus Robinson has tallied 274 yards and three scores.
Collectively, K-State is averaging 39.2 points and 434.2 yards per contest, and the 'Cats lead the Big 12 in third-down conversions (.500), as well as with the fewest penalties (22) and in time of possession (32:12). They also possess one of the best special teams units in the league, leading the way in punt return average, as well as kickoff coverage.
KSU is among the top defensive teams in the conference as well, yielding just 22.5 ppg. The 'Cats are especially stout against the run, permitting a league- low 100.8 ypg. The pass (251.2 ypg) is another story, but that's due in large part to the fact that most opponents have had to abandon the run in an attempt to battle from behind. K-State ranks No. 1 in the conference in red zone defense (.778).
Jonathan Truman continues to pace the defense with his 60 tackles, while Morgan Burns has three of the unit's eight INTs. A lack of impact plays has been an issue though, as the unit has only been credited with nine total takeaways and a league-low seven sacks.
Oklahoma appeared to be on the way to tying the game last week when it scored a touchdown less than five minutes into the fourth quarter, but the extra point was blocked and that proved to be the margin of victory for Kansas State as it held on in the 31-30 decision. The Wildcats were badly outgained, 533-385, but got 225 yards and two TDs passing and another 51 yards and a score on the ground from Waters. Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett were the primary targets for Waters in the aerial game, combining for 14 catches, 163 yards and a score.
Truman was a man possessed for the 'Cats, logging 17 tackles, and Dante Barnett tacked on 11. A pair of INTs helped the Wildcats' cause, as did the fact that the Sooners only scored on half of their six trips to the red zone.
Costly mistakes played an important role in last week's game, and Snyder is happy that his team made fewer of them.
"Turnovers, those are significant. In all reality, that is the difference in the ball game. We get a turnover and get seven points out of it and we don't turn the ball over."