Getting to know: Kansas State football
There will be no asking who is Kansas State this year. The Jayhawks know better than that after what happened last season.
Ahead of last year’s Sunflower Showdown, Kansas gave K-State some bulletin-board material during a “Miles to Go” episode on ESPN+. KU coach Les Miles fired up his players in the locker room after a win over Texas Tech by repeating a question to his team: “Who is K-State?”
Kansas State admitted afterward that they took that personally, which played a part in its convincing 38-10 win over Kansas in front of a sold-out crowd at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. This time around, the Jayhawks know better than to give the Wildcats any more fuel for this weekend.
After dropping the season opener to Arkansas State, K-State is off to a 3-0 start in the Big 12 conference for the first time since 2014. The Wildcats, who are coming off a bye week, are ranked No. 20 overall in the AP poll.
Last time out, Kansas State (3-1, 3-0 Big 12) earned a 21-14 victory at TCU two weeks ago even though it had true freshman Will Howard at quarterback following a season-ending injury to senior Skylar Thompson.
KU (0-4, 0-3 Big 12), meanwhile, has played three different quarterbacks in 2020 and is coming off a 21-point road loss to West Virginia. Kansas State has won 11 straight in this one-sided rivalry with Kansas.
Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The game will be broadcasted on FS1 with Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Ben Leber (analyst) on the call.
BREAKING DOWN KANSAS STATE:
Quarterback — So far this season, true freshman QB Will Howard has completed 16-of-32 passes for 314 yards to go along with one touchdown and one interception. Howard threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Deuce Vaughn against TTU, while also connecting on a 66-yard pass to Briley Moore earlier in the fourth quarter. The last KSU signal caller to complete multiple passes of at least 65 yards in the same game was Jesse Ertz in the 2017 season opener.
Running backs — True freshman running back Deuce Vaughn has been a force to start his collegiate career. He is the only player in the Big 12 to lead his team in both rushing yards (248) and receiving yards (279) this year. Vaughn is one of only three players in the nation this season to tally at least 200 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards.
Receivers — Tight end Briley Moore, who is a transfer from Northern Iowa, has a team-leading 14 receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Through four games, those numbers are already the best by a Wildcat tight end for a season since 2014. Chabastin Taylor, who has 10 catches for 169 yards, is the only other K-State player with double-digit receptions.
Offensive line — Kansas State has a brand-new offense line compared to the one that dominated the trenches against Kansas last year. The Wildcats did not return a single start along the o-line from last season. According to PFF’s Premium Stats, Kansas State has a pass-blocking grade of 37.4 this year. That mark ranks 73rd out of 77 teams, with Kansas having the worst mark (28.1) in all of college football.
Defensive line — The K-State defensive line is a strength of this team. Junior Wyatt Hubert is a force at defensive end, while senior Drew Wiley causes problems on opposing o-lines from his defensive tackle position. Wiley is the first KSU defensive tackle with at least 4.0 TFLs and two sacks in the first four games of a season since 2015. Hubert, a Topeka native, ranks 13th nationally among active players in career sacks per game with a clip of 0.48 per contest.
Linebackers — Justin Hughes is back in the mix after a season-ending injury during 2019 spring ball. Elijah Sullivan, who is a former high school teammate of Hughes, is also a starting linebacker for the Wildcats. Sullivan (27) and Hughes (26) lead the team in tackles through four games this season.
Secondary — Kansas State already has six interceptions in 2020, a number that ranks fourth in the nation and first in the Big 12. Former Lawrence High standout Ekow Boye-Doe is a starting cornerback for KSU, along with junior transfer Justin Gardner. Junior Ross Elder is listed as the starting free safety, while senior Jahron McPherson is the team’s starting strong safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS — As per usual, the Wildcats are better than most teams in this department. They rank second nationally in special teams efficiency according to ESPN. K-State blocked punts in each of the first three games of the season and recorded a blocked field goal at TCU. Senior kicker Blake Lynch has hit 84.4% of his 45 total field goal attempts in his career.
VEGAS SAYS… Kansas covered the spread for the first time all season against West Virginia, thanks in large part to a late kickoff return touchdown by Pooka Williams when the Jayhawks were a 21.5-point underdog. But don’t expect that trend to continue this week.
K-State is only favored by 19.5 points on FanDuel’s Sportsbook, which is somewhat surprising considering how one-sided the Sunflower Showdown has been as of late. KU can’t seem to find any rhythm on offense, and just lost its best weapon in Pooka Williams. I also expect KSU’s defensive line to be a problem all game. Give me the Wildcats.
Prediction: Kansas State 38, Kansas 14