The last time we saw the Kansas Jayhawks (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) in action they were getting bullied and bulldozed by the Kansas State Wildcats at home. That game brought an exciting and high-flying offense to a screeching halt and re-exposed severe weaknesses up front on defense.
Kansas got a chance to rest and retool during its second and final bye week of the season ahead of a difficult three-game stretch to end the year. That stretch starts with a road tilt against Oklahoma State (6-3, 3-3 Big 12), which is also coming off of a bye. The difference for the two teams is that before their break the Cowboys were playing some of their best football, with back-to-back quality wins over Iowa State and TCU.
There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason why either of these programs has played well in some weeks and been disappointing in others. The ultimate deciding factor on Saturday will be which of each team’s personalities shows up in Stillwater.
The talk for several weeks before a Week 10 disaster for Kansas was the offense and its newfound excitement under offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. Then, against Kansas State, it looked as inept as the KU offenses of the past decade. The big plays were gone, the running game wasn’t established and, aside from a garbage-time touchdown, there were very you few plays at all of positive significance. All that being said, the Dearmon offense, with its reliance on RPO concepts and exploitation of secondaries on deep balls, has been generally effective while implemented this year, and Kansas is hoping it can pick apart a lesser defense. Senior quarterback Carter Stanley struggled two weeks ago, but had put together a strong stretch of games up until then. His ability to make plays and sophomore running back Pooka Williams’ ability to break off chunk plays on the ground will be imperative once again.
It’s been a rough go of it for the Jayhawks on defense lately, as they’re allowing 41.2 points per game in Big 12 play. It was especially bad against the run in the loss to K-State, as quarterback Skylar Thompson churned up KU on the ground. That doesn’t bode well against an explosive rushing attack for OSU, which is averaging 267.7 yards per game on the ground. By comparison, the Jayhawks are giving up 235.3 yards rushing per contest; that’s fifth-worst in the country.
Oklahoma State is among the middle class of the Big 12 that has been nothing if not confusing this season. Like several teams in the league, one week the Cowboys look sensational, while the next they may look horrendous. The last two weeks before the bye for OSU, as it scored 34 points in each contest and sealed bowl eligibility. Unsurprisingly, those wins lined up with two straight quality efforts from freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders. In each of those two wins he threw for two touchdowns and averaged at least 10.4 yards per attempt.
The biggest asset for the Cowboys, though, is having the best running back in the country in junior Chuba Hubbard. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per rush this season, and in Big 12 play it only drops to 6.4. He was especially good in the win over TCU, rushing 20 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders has been up and down this year, but having Hubbard to rely on has kept the Oklahoma State offense among the ranks of the country’s elite.
Big 12 Football Power Rankings – Week 11
Can the defense force any turnovers? Specifically, this pertains to making Sanders give up the ball. Sanders is an electric player when he’s on and has the ability to make big plays in the air and on the ground, but he’s also posted a few total duds this season. He’s thrown 11 interceptions this season, with at least one in each of the last seven games (plus three games with two or more). He’s also fumbled seven times, losing five of them. Kansas is not good at forcing turnovers, but this weekend presents as good of a chance as any for the Jayhawks to steal a possession or two.
Which Sanders will show up? This is piggybacking off of the KU question, but Oklahoma State needs Sanders to play well to keep the Jayhawks at bay. In three losses this season, Sanders is completing 58.4% of his passes with three touchdowns and 10 total turnovers. In the last two losses, which came against Baylor and Texas Tech, he also rushed for 37 yards per game (although he did rush for 109 yards and a score in a loss to Texas). If the god version of Sanders shows up then Oklahoma State should cruise, because there are too many weapons for Kansas to keep up with. If he has a poor game this one will likely be much closer.
Stanley. It feels like both cheating and a cop out to go with the quarterback again, but he needs to perform far better against the Oklahoma State than he did against Kansas State. He has the ability to post big numbers and make big plays, but if he’s making poor decisions and is inaccurate everything starts to fall apart for Kansas. It looked like Stanley was hitting a rhythm until falling apart against K-State. The Jayhawks have enough to worry about with this game, but Stanley can put a lot of worries for the offense at ease if he’s smart with the ball.
Junior wide receiver Dillon Stoner. With Tylan Wallace out for the year with a torn ACL Stoner is the new top receiver for the Pokes. He’s a viable weapon as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, and for the season he’s caught 28 balls for 325 yards with two touchdowns. He isn’t particularly tall at 6-foot, but he is fast and athletic, and has shown the ability to make difficult catches. Hubbard is the first (and second and third) option for OSU’s offense, but Stoner has a chance to put up big numbers against a reeling KU secondary, which has struggled lately.
KU has only been blown out once this season, which was followed by covering the spread against Oklahoma. The Jayhawks’ only game following a bye this season was a cover (and nearly outright win) against Texas. Oklahoma State is playing well but has been hot or cold this year, and three scores a lot of points to give the Cowboys here.