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College Sports: Oklahoma prediction: Kansas State will be another important test for Kyler Murray

No. 8 Oklahoma vs Kansas State

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Norman

Records: Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1 Big 12); Kansas State (3-4, 1-3 Big 12)

Last Meeting: Oklahoma defeated Kansas State 42-35 at Kansas State in 2017

TV: FOX

What’s on the line

For Oklahoma, keeping pace in the Big 12 title race. The Sooners’ loss to Texas is now firmly in the rearview mirror. As of now, it looks like a three-team race to the Big 12 title game in Arlington this December: OU, West Virginia and the undefeated (in conference) Longhorns. A second conference loss would likely cripple any hope of a fourth straight Big 12 championship.

For Kansas State, it’s bowl eligibility. It’s been several years since the Wildcats were relevant in the Big 12 title hunt heading into November, and 2018 won’t be the year for things to turn around. K-State has struggled to put a competent offense out on the field against most of its opponents. This will be one final tune-up game for OU’s new-look defense before the Sooners travel to face Texas Tech on Nov. 3.

When Oklahoma has the ball

Through seven games, Oklahoma’s offense is as dominant as it’s ever been under Lincoln Riley. Kyler Murray is playing efficient ball with his arm and his legs. CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown both look like future first round picks at receiver. The offensive line is coming into its own with several NFL prospects, too. The biggest question this weekend will be at running back: How badly was Trey Sermon injured last week against TCU? Even if Sermon can’t go, Kennedy Brooks and T.J. Pledger should be able to hold down the fort vs KSU.

Like the rest of the Big 12, save for Iowa State and Texas, the Wildcats haven’t been able to control OU’s offense since Riley arrived in 2015. OU’s offense is averaging 45 points per game vs KState over that span, and two of those three games were played in the Little Apple. In terms of the Big 12, the Wildcats are in the middle of the pack in scoring defense and rushing defense. They are No. 1 in the conference in pass defense efficiency but No. 9 in rushing defense — look for the Sooners to try to take advantage of those flaws on the ground.

When K-State has the ball

Oklahoma’s defense gave up only 20 points vs TCU, and none to starting quarterback Shawn Robinson. The Sooners passed their first test since parting ways with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, and they did so with flying colors. K-State won’t be much more of a test. The Wildcats are dead last in scoring offense in the Big 12, despite being No. 3 in rushing offense. Oklahoma’s rushing defense has been great all year, except for the Army game.

Speaking of the Army game, KState coach Bill Snyder said this week the Wildcats will look to replicate that formula vs the Sooners. “The key element is can you maintain possession of the ball for that long?” Snyder told Kansas.com this week. The Wildcats do have the Big 12’s leading rusher in Alex Barnes, who is averaging over 112 yards per game. He also leads the conference in rushing touchdowns, with nine.

Prediction

If Kansas State is successful in playing ball control offense, this game might be closer than expected. But the Wildcats have rarely shown the ability to move the ball so far this season. This shouldn’t be a trap game for the Sooners.

Score prediction: Oklahoma 55, Kansas State 17

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