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FRITCH’S 3-2-1: Eying Oklahoma

All eyes will be on Oklahoma and the first game for Ruffin McNeill as defensive coordinator of one of the league’s lowest-ranked defenses.

If there is an early glint of hope among K-State and an offense that ranks 109th in scoring (23.3) and 105th in total yards (356.3) as it begins preparations for No. 9 Oklahoma, perhaps it is this:

Oklahoma currently ranks the lowest of any Power 5 defense the Wildcats have faced so far this season.

Lincoln Riley fired long-time defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after the Sooners’ 48-45 loss to No. 19 Texas on Oct. 6. Ruffin McNeill takes over as defensive coordinator for the rest of the season. The Sooners come off a bye week and travel to face TCU on Saturday in Fort Worth.

All eyes will fall upon the Sooners to see what their defense under McNeill might do next.

“Everybody knows we made a change and why we made a change,” Riley said. “Ruffin and his staff have done a great job of rallying the kids right now. I think the kids have responded. How well we do with that and how well it all goes is yet to be determined but I’m encouraged with what I’ve seen so far.”

The Sooners rank 76th in scoring defense (27.3), which is actually less than what Baylor (32.0) and Oklahoma State (28.0) allowed when the Wildcats faced them. But none of the Wildcats’ previous Power 5 opponents come close to the Sooners, who are currently allowing 421.2 total yards, which ranks 97th.

Oklahoma State entered averaging 390.3 before the Wildcats rang them up for 421 yards over the weekend.

K-State did its research on the Sooners along with the rest of its opponents long before the start of the 2018 season. How might the Sooners’ game against the Horned Frogs impact the Wildcats’ preparation?

“Hard question to answer,” Snyder said. “It really remains to be seen. There could be some significant changes in what they do and how they do it. I don’t know that will necessarily be the case. It remains to be seen. They’ve been a pretty good football team throughout the course of the season. Obviously, to attempt to make dramatic changes wouldn’t fit that program, I don’t think, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen.

“I know Ruffin McNeill and he’s a talented football coach and a good person and I think he’ll do well. Which way they go I don’t know. Best guesstimate is wherever they think they need to clean some things up they will. It’s pretty hard to shuffle personnel around and do all of that stuff in the middle of the season. This weekend we’ll get a little better idea.”

It will be up to K-State and the nation’s 105th-ranked offense to produce next Saturday in Norman. K-State ranks last in the Big 12 in points (23.3) and in passing yards (164.7) but its running game is seemingly coming to life with its best back-to-back performances all season. K-State’s 191.6 rushing yards ranks third in the league.

K-State junior running back Alex Barnes, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, said the Wildcats had studied up on the Sooners defense, but…

“They have a new d-coordinator that hasn’t called a game yet for them, so we’re expecting to see a lot of different looks that they hadn’t been running,” Barnes said. “You have to be ready for any of that. We’ll see. They’ll probably come out and do a lot of different and unique stunts because I know they were struggling there for a little while. They’ll probably do whatever they can to fix that. It’s going to be interesting.

“We’re lucky, though, we get a week to see what they do against TCU and how they come out and then we’ll make our assessments after they play on Saturday.”

Oklahoma is one of just five FBS teams to allow scores on every trip inside the red zone this season. Oklahoma opponents are 21 of 21 scoring inside the red zone with 18 touchdowns. Oklahoma is tied for 126th with opponents scoring on 85.71 percent of their trips inside the red zone.

The question K-State faces is whether it can fare any better when the Wildcats get into scoring territory. K-State is 16 of 21 scoring inside the red zone and is tied for last in the league with eight red zone touchdowns.

The Wildcats scored five of six times inside the red zone with four touchdowns against Oklahoma State. It was their best showing inside the red zone all season.  

“Especially with what we did last week, we just got to keep building on it,” K-State junior center Adam Holtorf said. “We get that extra week to invest even more into it. We just have to take it a day at a time and get it as better as we can every day to be ready to go for the OU game.”

It is an interesting time for the Sooners and their defense. Riley took exception earlier in the week to talk about their defense being “beat down.”

“Everybody talks about us being so beat down,” Riley said. “We’re 5-1 and are one of the Top 10 teams in the country right now so we’re not that beat down. We’re just chasing our best game. We’re trying to play our best ball. We’ve got a really good football team and we’re just doing everything we can to chase our best game and to find a way to get to our peak level. That’s what our focus is on right now.”

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