Hungry Jayhawks Eye Sunflower Showdown Win

You knew KU would be motivated after getting blasted at Baylor, 55-7, on Oct. 2. But with K-State coming to Lawrence tonight for the 100th consecutive Sunflower Showdown, the Jayhawks will surely be extra hungry to battle the Wildcats.

Kickoff is 6:30 at Memorial Stadium with the game televised on FSN.

"Kansas State is obviously a big game," first-year KU coach Turner Gill said. "Every game is a big game, but the in-state deal, you want to have the bragging rights from the players' perspective. From the fans' perspective you want that, too. This is a rivalry that is going to go on for a long, long time. It's a special rivalry. This is my introduction into it. I think I will get a better sense of it as we play this first ball game."
 
With a bye week, Kansas (2-3, 0-1 Big 12) has had two weeks to prepare for K-State (4-1, 1-1). Gill said he saw "good progress," and focus from his team. He added that the Jayhawks were "very intense" in practice and "ready for detail."

KU will certainly need to be intense tonight while facing a quality K-State team. After winning their first four games, the Wildcats are coming off a 48-13 loss to Nebraska last Thursday. KSU has beaten UCLA, Missouri State, Iowa State, and Central Florida.

K-State features a high-powered running game; the Wildcats rank No. 2 in the Big 12 in rushing offense with 208.8 yards per game. They're led by senior running Daniel Thomas, an All-American candidate who ranks fifth in the nation in total rushing yards by a running back with 691, while his 138.2 yards per game average ranks seventh nationally overall and fifth among running backs.

Senior running back William Powell complements Thomas nicely, averaging 9.6 yards per carry and ranking eighth nationally in kickoff returns.

Defensively, head coach Bill Snyder's Wildcats are paced by sophomore defensive end Brandon Harold, junior linebacker Alex Hrebec, and senior defensive back Terrance Sweeney. Harold's 20 solo tackles lead the Big 12 among defensive linemen, while Hrebec ranks third in the conference in tackles with 49 and Sweeney's eight passes defended rank fifth in the country. Sweeney also has two interceptions and a forced fumble.

"They are very sound on defense," Gill said. "Historically they have always played defense very, very well. They really do not make a whole lot of mistakes. They do a lot of good things technique-wise."

Offensively, Gills knows containing Thomas will be a huge key to KU's success.

"You are not going to stop their running game, but you have to slow it down," Gill said. "Daniel Thomas is a great running back and he does a lot of great things. He pounds people, he has pretty good speed."

Gill stressed KU must create at least three turnovers, have one or less turnover, have 10 or less missed tackles, score 28-plus points, and have 80 knockdowns, where a KU offensive player puts a defender down.

"We need to be knocking people down and putting them on their backs," Gill said. "We must play physical and we must play with confidence."

The players talked confidently Tuesday about facing K-State. They can't wait for the Sunflower Showdown. The Jayhawks know a win will be a huge momentum booster after losing to Baylor two weeks ago.

"We don't want to go 0-2 in the Big 12," junior receiver Daymond Patterson said. "We need to get this win against an in-state rival, so this is a very big (game) for us."

Suffice to say, the Jayhawks and Wildcats don't like each other too much. Just ask the 20 KU players from the state of Kansas and even others from outside, like junior tight end Tim Biere from  Omaha, Neb.

"There is no love lost between these two teams," Biere said.

Patterson said the bye-week was very helpful in cleaning up penalties and mistakes from the Baylor game. KU had six penalties while also losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions against the Bears.

"We made a lot of mistakes down in Waco," Patterson said. "We had a lot of penalties; that will be the biggest thing, just to make sure we improve our technique. We need to make sure we're flying around the ball this Thursday."

KU has won three of the last four meetings against KSU with the Wildcats winning last year, 17-10, in Manhattan. The Jayhawks, who have won the last three home games, now look to start another winning streak over their rivals and prove a major point this evening under the lights at Memorial Stadium on national television.

"We want to show that we are the best team in the state of Kansas," sophomore safety Lubbock Smith said.

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