Oklahoma football: Is this the week OU’s offense finds its footing?

Sep 26, 2020; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Keyon Mozee (6) runs with the ball as Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Pat Fields (10) chases during the second half at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2020; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Keyon Mozee (6) runs with the ball as Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Pat Fields (10) chases during the second half at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

OK. is this the week we’ve all been waiting for? When the Oklahoma football offense finally hits the ground running and hits on a full eight cylinders?

Don’t count on it. Not with the team the Sooners seem to have the most trouble with in recent seasons.

The  sixth-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0) have lost two straight games to Kansas State and are just 6-4 against the Wildcats over the past decade.

On Saturday, these two longtime conference foes will go toe to toe again at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas, in the 102nd renewal of this historic series. And although the visiting Sooners own a commanding 76-21-4 record in the century-old pigskin series, K-State owns more wins over Oklahoma in the past decade than any team in the Big 12.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the records are or whether Oklahoma is ranked in the top-10 or not — which OU was in three of the four losses to the Wildcats in the past decade. Kansas State always manages to play the Sooners tough.

Oklahoma is coming off of a third win this season of seven or fewer points in outlasting West Virginia 16-13 at home. Kansas State, meanwhile, suffered its first loss of the season, losing 31-20 at Oklahoma State.

This will be Oklahoma’s first true road game of the 2021 season, and the first time the Sooners have played before a full stadium on the road in two years. The Sooners have played well on the road the past few years, however. Oklahoma has won 26 of its last 28 true road contests and is 43-8 since 2012 in regular-season games away from home.

Lincoln Riley told reporters at his weekly press conference on Tuesday that more than half of the Oklahoma roster have never played in front of a hostile crowd away from Owen Field.

How the Sooners respond to the road environment, plus the weather forecast, which calls for rain showers throughout the game on Saturday afternoon, could have a telling impact on the outcome of the game.

The game will be televised nationally by FOX at 2:30 p.m. CT, with Aaron Goldsmith on play-by-play and Brock Huard providing analysis.

What to watch for from Kansas State

It appears that Kansas State starting QB Skylar Thompson will be held out at least another week as he recovers from a knee injury suffered in the Wildcats’ second game of the season. That leaves sophomores Will Howard, who is Thompson’s primary backup, and Jaren Lewis to handle the K-State quarterback duties against Oklahoma.

There is some question, however, of whether Howard might also have suffered an injury last weekend at Oklahoma State. Both Howard and Lewis played in the game last weekend at Oklahoma State, but combined for just 198 yards passing and a 45-percent completion rate.

Diminutive K-State running back Deuce Vaughn  is averaging close to 100 rushing yards per game, and he is also a major weapon catching passes out of the backfield. The Sooners were able to contain Vaughn when he ran the ball in last year’s game, but he burned them as a receiver, catching four passes for a total of 129 yards. Look for the 5-foot, 6-inch speedster to be utilized as a dual threat on Saturday.

Kansas State ranks fourth in the Big 12 in rushing, averaging 185 yards a game, but they are last in the conference in passing offense. When they do put the ball in the air, Phillip Brooks, Malik Knowles or Vaughn are the general targets.

This appears to be a typical Kansas State team on defense. The Cats are stout against the run, allowing opponents just 75 yards per game, but they have been highly susceptible so far this season to the forward pass, giving up 255 yards per game, worst in the Big 12. Oklahoma State threw for 344 yards against K-State last weekend.

What makes Kansas State such a tough out against everybody the Wildcats face is that they continue to follow in the Bill Snyder mold, even under third-year head coach Chris Klieman. They are extremely well disciplined and play sound, fundamental, ball-control football. They don’t beat themselves, and the past couple of years that has been a problem for Oklahoma.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

All eyes in this one will be on Sooner quarterback Spencer Rattler and the Oklahoma defense. Rattler has been part of OU’s two consecutive losses to Kansas State, although he only played in one of those games.

Rattler has not played as well as expected in the Sooners’ first four games, but he definitely has the talent and the ability, and when given enough protection by the offensive line is as dangerous a quarterback threat as you’ll find anywhere in college football.

On a day that is expected to be rainy and wet throughout the game, it will be important for the Sooners to be able to establish a ground game. Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks are both averaging around 55 rushing yards per game. If it becomes more difficult to throw the ball because of the weather conditions, the two Sooner running backs are going to be called on to do more than they have in OU’s first four games.

While expected inclement weather could help mask some of the difficulty K-State has experienced this year in the back end of the defense, it could just as easily work to the advantage of the Sooners’ speedy, playmaking receivers.

A couple of statistical areas to keep an eye on in this matchup are third-down conversions and red-zone defense. Oklahoma ranks 31st in the country in third-down conversions (47-percent success rate), while Kansas State is tied for 82nd in third-down conversion defense. Also, Oklahoma ranks 12th nationally in red-zone offense, while K-State is tied for 116th in red-zone defense.

Turnovers could also easily play a role in a game when conditions are expected to be wet. Oklahoma is plus-five in turnover margin, tied for eighth nationally; the Wildcats are an uncharacteristic minus-one, which ranks 74th among FBS teams.

Savvy Sooner stat(s)

The road team in the Oklahoma-Kansas State series has won seven of the last 10 meetings. In fact, in the Big 12 era, the visiting team is 11-7 in the series. Since the Big 12 came into being in 1996, Oklahoma has played nine times at Kansas State and won seven of them (losing in 1996 and 2019). The Sooners have scored at least 31 points in all nine games.

Bottom line

Oklahoma is a -10.5 favorite in this game, according to the WynnBET Sportsbook. But that hasn’t meant much in the three OU games this season against FBS opponents. The Sooners have failed to cover the spread in all three of those games. Oklahoma was also the favorite in each of the  last two games against Kansas State and lost both times.

How the Sooners respond to two critical factors — the weather and a hostile crowd in a full stadium — will have a great deal to do with whether or not Oklahoma will end it’s two-game losing streak to Kansas State.

The weather will clearly have a lot to say about the Sooners’ finding their offensive footing against historically pesky and resilient K-State. I believe Oklahoma will weather the storm and avoid a third consecutive loss to Kansas State.

Oklahoma 34, Kansas State 21