In college football there is little time to bemoan a loss, even especially-disappointing ones like the last two home defeats the Cowboys suffered to Texas Tech and Iowa State.
People like me have the opportunity to dissect, digest and project for days on end based on last Saturday’s events, but Mike Gundy, his staff and his players are already singularly focused on Kansas State.
“I think the most important thing for us is trying to correct the mistakes we have before we even get into Kansas State,” Gundy said on Monday. “We worked on some of that last night. The guys were in a good frame of mind and had a good practice last night. Same old, same old. We’ll get them ready and get ready to go up and play in Manhattan.”
Eyeing that make-or-break road trip to Manhattan, there’s plenty on Gundy’s plate. Not only does he have to try to sure up his team’s ailing deficiencies at offensive line, on defense, special teams and in penalties — AND dodge those ever-festering quarterback questions — he also has to game plan for an offense unlike any other in the Big 12, and one that has historically given OSU’s defense fits (more on that below).
This Kansas State team may not be the sure-footed Wildcats we’ve grown accustomed. In fact, it’s on shaky ground now 0-3 in the Big 12 and currently T-100 (last in the league) in turnover margin through six games at minus-5, normally a staple of Snyder-coached teams.
But Gundy pointed out that while the results haven’t been up to K-State’s standards, the level of competition has been particularly high early for the ‘Cats.
“Well first off, they’re better than what people think,” Gundy said. “Three of their losses are to top-25 teams, and two of those are top-10 teams. I’m not trying to justify anything, but you get a bad rap by having a losing record early in the year.
“I’m going to guess that they’ve played one of the most difficult schedules of anyone in this conference up to this point.”
To his point, three of the Wildcats’ four losses came to then-18th ranked Mississippi State, then-No. 12 West Virginia and then-No. 18 Texas. Those Big 12 counterparts have both since climbed into the top 10, as Gundy noted, and the Bulldogs currently sit at No. 24.
And their most recent loss on Saturday in Waco came on a game-winning field goal by Baylor with 8 seconds left to avoid overtime.
Previewing the Matchup
The Wildcats currently sit at last place in the Big 12 in scoring offense and are ninth in total offense, eighth in yards per play and ninth in passing offense. Even the rushing attack, normally K-State’s bread and butter has been down, averaging a pedestrian 175 yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry.
Bill Snyder has been employing a two-headed quarterback attack with Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson splitting reps in each of the first five games. But Delton missed the Baylor game due to injury, and the Wildcats turned in a season-high 7.7 yards per play and only score more against UTSA.
“Offensively, they played better in the last game – much better than they have been,” said Gundy. “Again, they’ve played some tough defenses. Texas is athletic on defense, West Virginia is athletic on defense and Mississippi State is athletic on defense. At times, it’s not really easy to move the ball and score points. Special teams-wise, it’s very similar to what you’ve seen in the past.”
On defense, Gundy says it’s more of the same for the Wildcats.
“Defensively, they’re very similar to what they’ve always done,” said Gundy. “I don’t think they’ve changed much from when I first saw them in the late ’80s. Same concepts up front and the same philosophies on the back end. They believe in it and they’re good at it.”
Despite consistency in scheme, the Wildcats have hadn’t had much luck slowing offenses down so far this year. Again, it’s only half of the season but they are on pace to allow their highest points per drive (2.55) since 2015 and are in the bottom half of the league in scoring, passing and rushing defense.
Fortunately for OSU, K-State is giving up 180.7 yard per game on the ground (89th nationally) and 5.3 yards per carry. Expect the Pokes to force-feed Justice Hill the rock like they attempted to against Iowa State and as they looked proficient at in Lawrence.
Plenty at Stake
While the Cowboys have been mostly disappointing at home this year (hell, over the last two seasons) Gundy’s team carries with it a seven-game road winning streak to Manhattan. Eight would equal the third-longest such streak in school history.
Also, with recent losses to Iowa State and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are currently on a skid against five conference foes. They only own current win streaks against Kansas, West Virginia, Texas and Baylor, and still have a chance to get into the black against all three. A win Saturday, would put OSU back in the red against K-State at least.
But aside from fodder for Saturday’s post games notes, the Cowboys face an absolutely daunting final three games of the season coming in November and this Saturday’s contest is likely one of only two remaining games in the final six in which they will be favored — both of those are on the road.
A Kansas State loss heading into the bye week would put the Pokes in quite the pinch based on that remaining back-loaded schedule just from a bowl eligibility standpoint. I have a hard time saying that any one game is a “must-win” but this might be as close as OSU has been to one in some time.