A typical Kansas State contest awaits Cowboys

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press Oklahoma State senior cornerback A.J. Green intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown on the second play of the home opener against McNeese. The Cowboy secondary has three interceptions on the season, while Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson has yet to throw a pick.  

It wasn’t a great outing in Austin, Texas, for Oklahoma State as it lost its fourth-straight Big 12 Conference opener. But this year’s introduction of 5 Bold Predictions had a good day. Texas had its first 100-yard rusher of the year, placekicking certainly played a part and Sanders shined when the pressure built in the second half. Can the trend continue against Kansas State?

 

OSU offense won’t reach season average

Kansas State has built its impressive start to the season – a 3-0 record, including a road win over Mississippi State – around defense. While the Wildcats have had an impressive offensive start, averaging 44.5 points per game, their defense is clearly its bell cow right now. Kansas State leads the Big 12 in defensive scoring average, allowing just 12.7 points per game. Its defense has given up just five touchdowns through three games, four on the ground and just one through the air. Yes, the Wildcats haven’t faced the toughest challengers – opening against Nicholls and Bowling Green – but the 24 points allowed to Mississippi State were the fewest for the Bulldogs this season. Mike Gundy said this week that this Kansas State squad looks similar to that of a year ago, despite being under new management. That could be an issue, considering last year’s Kansas State squad held OSU to just 12 points – the lowest output of the year. And let us also not forget, while Oklahoma State’s offensive line was getting bludgeoned by the Texas defensive line, the Wildcats were resting their bodies and have had two weeks to prepare for Oklahoma State’s offense.

 

Wildcats will have a special teams touchdown

Gundy wasn’t far off when stating that Kansas State didn’t look much different under first-year coach Chris Klieman, especially if he was looking at the special teams. Those extra yards that Bill Snyder always preached while a coach at Kansas State – like penalties and special teams – appears to have carried over into year one of the new coach. Through three games, Kansas State leads the conference in kickoff return yardage – averaging 34 yards per return, including a return for a touchdown. Special teams has been an issue for Oklahoma State over the past few years, including two years ago when Kansas State traveled to Boone Pickens Stadium when Byron Pringle – now a receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs – had an 89-yard kickoff return for a score. This year hasn’t been too different, thus far. Opposing teams are averaging 22.2 yards per kickoff return against the Cowboys.

 

Kansas State will eclipse 300 yards rushing

Oklahoma State’s rush defense has struggled the past two weeks and it’s going to get its toughest test of the season Saturday. Kansas State may not have the Alex Barnes of a year ago that helped the Wildcats rush for 291 yards against Oklahoma State in Manhattan, Kansas, but they haven’t slowed down in his absence. K-State is averaging 280 yards rushing per game – which ranks second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma’s 324, and just ahead of Oklahoma State’s 270.5. On the flip side, OSU ranks nine in the league in rushing defense, giving up 175.8 yards on the ground per game – which is only ahead of Kansas’ 184.5 allowed per contest. The past two weeks, Oklahoma State’s defensive front was gashed by Tulsa for 158 yards – which could have been more had the Golden Hurricane not had to go to the air to keep up in the second half – and for 217 yards (with a 5 yard per carry average) against Texas. The Wildcats don’t necessarily rely on just one runner, like OSU, either. James Gilbert leads the way with 277 yards, followed by Jordan Brown with 154 and Harry Trotter with 97 yards. Being able to rotate fresh, effective running backs into the game could prove even more daunting for that Cowboy defensive front.

 

Thompson will throw his first interception

What has helped Kansas State get off to an undefeated start to the season is limiting turnovers. Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson has yet to throw an interception in 53 pass attempts this season. He has completed just 67.9 percent of his passes – which ranks in the middle of the Big 12 Conference quarterbacks – for just 486 yards, which ranks second-to-last to TCU’s Max Duggan. While Oklahoma State’s defense hasn’t been great in forcing turnovers so far this season, its secondary has forced three interceptions on the year. If Oklahoma State can finally start getting more pressure on the quarterback, especially one that is not accustomed to throwing the ball as much, that secondary could come away with its fourth takeaway of the year, which would be Thompson’s first.

 

Another Cowboy game will be destined for ESPN+

There is no inside information with this prediction, but just looking ahead and what is behind the purpose of this week’s game between Oklahoma State and Kansas State being on the new digital streaming service for the Big 12 Conference. The reason this game will be streaming on Big 12 Now is ESPN attempting to help build the brand of its newest conference service. An Oklahoma State football game vs. McNeese may not gain as much interest for people to shell out $4.99 a month for the service, but a conference contest pushes that needle a little further. And if it does push the numbers of subscribers a little – which obviously is the hope of ESPN – that will give the company reason to test it again. Obviously, the cliche pick would be Kansas – though it comes with a bit of story line that may bring more interest for TV with the return of Les Miles to Stillwater – but it could also be West Virginia, which would force an even greater push of Pokes fans to join the service since it’s a road game.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.

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