OU vs. Kansas State: Sooners Must Regroup After Red River Ambush


Even before the start of the 2015 season, the Oct. 17 date on the calendar pitting OU vs. Kansas State stood out on the schedule as a potential trap game for Bob Stoops and the Sooners.

It is still a huge game for the Sooners and one they cannot afford to lose, but the stakes became even higher after Oklahoma’s surprise upset a week ago at the hands of a fired-up herd of Texas Longhorns.

Coming into the game with their worst record to start a season in over half a century, the unranked Horns proceeded to stampede their Red River rivals, the No. 10 team in the land entering the game, on the ground, which has many college football analysts wondering if Texas has uncovered the formula for success against the Sooners.

Oct 10, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws in the pocket against the Texas Longhorns during Red River rivalry at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State has not run the ball very well this season, but its passing game has been even more inconsistent. The Wildcats do have capable running backs, however, and quarterback Joe Hubener has toted the ball the most, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and rushing for six touchdowns.

Hubener had 111 rushing yards, including four touchdowns, last weekend in Kansas State’s narrow loss to No. 2-ranked TCU.

Redshirt freshman Justin Silmon handles most of the load among the K-State running backs. He has rushed for 282 net yards on 57 carries for an average of 4.9 yards per attempt. But the Sooners can’t afford to go to sleep on Charles Jones when he is in the game. Jones, a junior, was one of the Cats’ leading ground gainers a year ago, and he is averaging over four yards per carry this season and also has three rushing TDs. Jones had 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns against TCU.

K-State does not throw the ball very often. Only Texas goes to the pass less often than the Wildcats on offense in the Big 12, but that didn’t seem to matter last weekend as the Longhorns had great success repeatedly pounding the ball on the ground against the Sooners.

Defensively, Kansas State has exhibited just average performance through the first five games, but the Wildcats’ rush defense has been outstanding. The K-State defensive front is allowing opponents just 105 yards per game on the ground, 18th best in the nation. That is a worrisome notion considering that Texas is not even ranked among the top 50 in the country in stopping the run, and that includes the Longhorns’ stellar performance last weekend in limiting Oklahoma to just 67 net yards on the ground.

Oct 18, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) runs as Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Dylan Schellenberg (20) defends during the first quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners rely on a solid run game, led by Samaje Perine, to keep the defense off balance and open up the field for their Air Raid offense and the opportunity for their talented receivers to make big plays in space.

If the running game is taken away and OU is again forced to become one dimensional, which was the fate forced on the Sooners a week ago by a fired-up and aggressive Texas defense, they will play right into the hands of the K-State “D,” and we’ve seen how ugly that picture can get.

Four musts that have to happen for the Sooners to keep head coach Bob Stoops’ 16-year streak alive of wins following a loss:

  • Oklahoma must run the ball effectively with Perine and Joe Mixon and, on occasion, Mayfield.
  • The Sooner offensive line must do a better job pushing off the ball and enabling the running backs to hit open creases and pick up positive yardage. The O-line must also pass protect better, but part of it also is on Mayfield, who needs to be able to make his reads and get rid of the ball faster.
  • K-State is very good up front defensively, but the Cats have shown great vulnerability defending the pass. They gave up 301 yards in the air to TCU and rank 118th among FBS teams in pass defense. The Sooners need to exploit that back-end deficiency. If the Oklahoma offense finds success through the air, it should also improve the productivity from the run game – a double win that should secure a big Sooner road victory.
  • OU ranks last in the Big 12 in third-down conversion percentage. The Sooners are converting a paltry 35 percent of their third-down possessions, and that can’t happen if OU is going to be able to control the ball, sustain drives and be successful against Kansas State.

Statistically speaking and talent-wise, there is no way Oklahoma should lose to this season’s Kansas State team. But we all know that Bill Snyder has a magical way of getting his guys to believe in themselves, exceed their talent expectations and play extremely sound, fundamental football. Those are intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but Kansas State’s record under Snyder serves as proof positive that it is a winning formula.

Oct 18, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Sterling Shepard (3) tries to make a catch during the first half against the Kansas State Wildcats at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Three Players to Watch for in This Game1.) Sooner wide-receiver Sterling Shepard had a big day last season against Kansas State, catching 15 passes for a game-high 197 yards, including one reception that totaled 47 yards. OU needs another big game from their leading receiver.

2.) Kansas State quarterback Joe Hubener will be the key to the Wildcats’ success on Saturday. The Sooners have had difficulty defending mobile quarterbacks who can tuck and take off running with the football. Hubener is not nearly as elusive or dangerous running with the ball as Texas’ Jerrod Heard, but he can be sneaky quick and is more than capable of making plays with his feet and throwing the ball. The Sooners must be mindful of Hubener’s dual abilities and not overpursue in their blitz packages or allow too much time for him to find open receivers.

3.) Sooner linebackers Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander will be keys in the neutralizing the Kansas State offense, keeping it off schedule and putting Hubener and the Cats in difficult third-and-long possessions. If Striker and Alexander are successful in pressuring and containing the K-State quarterback, the Sooners will be difficult to beat.

As for the Sooners’ ability to regroup and rebound from the disheartening but deserved defeat to Texas, the road team has prevailed in the last four meetings between Oklahoma and Kansas State. Stoops, who himself was an assistant at K-State under Snyder from 1989 to 1995, has never lost as the OU head coach in five previous games against the Wildcats in Manhattan.

Moreover, Oklahoma is 15-1 in games under Stoops after the Sooners play Texas, and 6-0 following a loss to the Longhorns.

My pick: Oklahoma 34, Kansas State 27 – Turnovers and field position could play a big part in this game. The Wildcats are a somewhat uncharacteristic plus-2 in the turnover department (they usually do better in turnover margin), but the Sooners are minus-2. Sooner punter Austin Seibert is among the league leaders in punting and has given OU excellent field position in the punting game this season. He is also a perfect 8 for 8 in field-goal tries, which could also be a determining factor in a game expected to be fairly close.