The last time Kansas beat Oklahoma State, much was different. The Jayhawks would be ranked fourth in the country nationally and 10-0 after a 43-28 victory on a Saturday night in Stillwater. The Cowboys were on their way to a 7-6 campaign.
Fast forward to Saturday and the Cowboys (2-2) will come to Lawrence, as the defending Big 12 champions. They do so with one of the premiere offenses in the country. As for the Jayhawks (1-4), they enter this game, two coaches later and in the midst of a rebuilding project. A win for Kansas would be a huge momentum builder. A loss similar to last year 70-28 loss in Stillwater would further hurt an already bruised psyche.
At first glance, it's quick to dismiss the Jayhawks chances, but if you dig deeper, you see a team that's been in every game at halftime. The key is learning how to finish.
"When we go into the locker room, I have to continue finding more alternatives to how we can play the second half," Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. "I obviously haven't found the right one yet, but I'm going to keep on looking."
For starters, the KU offense must be consistent and control the clock. Through one half last week at Kansas State, the Jayhawks had a flow and controlled the clock with long drives that went for touchdowns. Once, the offense stalled out and the turnovers began, a close game turned into a runaway.
If Kansas had avoided turnovers, the game would have been just that a lot longer and perhaps for the duration.
Pierson has been wearing an elbow brace on his right elbow and is expected to be ready to go after suffering an injury against K-State, where he hauled in six receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. Sims has rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns in only two games of work after serving a three game suspension to start the season.
Quarterback Dayne Crist can help by controlling the offense by moving the ball around to his receivers with consistency. Sophomore Andrew Turzili has emerged as a big play threat for Crist. Last week, he brought down a career high of five receptions for 67 yards, including a team high 31 yard catch.
One thing that fans can be assured of is that Weis is not afraid to reach into his bag of tricks. Twice against K-State, he did so by faking a punt deep in his own territory and then executing a fake field goal later in the same drive, which led to a touchdown.
"I'd rather go down swinging rather than not taking a swing. I won't be taking a called third strike," Weis said.
On defense, the Jayhawks must get back to their opportunistic ways. Going into the K-State game, the Jayhawks had a knack for taking the ball away. Headed into Saturday, they've taken the ball away 13 times (seven fumbles, six interceptions), ranking fifth in the Big 12. They're also second in red zone defense. Creating turnovers and avoiding them would give KU an excellent shot at an upset.
One thing to keep an eye on will be the weather. The forecast is calling for a very good shot at severe thunderstorms and rain. It also calls for wind out of the south at 30-40 mph. That will wreak havoc with many things for both teams. The Kansas running backs and Oklahoma State's duo of Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will be key in this scenario. Randle could be susceptible to putting the ball on the ground, especially if it rains often during the game.
Watch the two quarterbacks. Though he's been inconsistent throughout the season, no one can deny Crist's strong arm. Many have lauded his ability to make "NFL type throws" due to his arm strength. On the flip side, should the Cowboys go primarily with J.W. Walsh, who has filled in for Week 1 starter Wes Lunt, one drawback would be that Walsh doesn't posses nearly the same arm as Crist. On a very windy wet day, that could affect the passing side of the Cowboys offense.
Of all the matchups however, the greatest mismatch most likely is in the kicking game. It has been Kansas' biggest struggle and could see some changes, Saturday with freshman Austin Barone being added to the depth chart with Ron Doherty. On the other side, Oklahoma State possesses one of the best kickers in the nation in Quinn Sharp.
With all of that, it could be an interesting day at Memorial Stadium, regardless of the outcome.