"It's a huge game..."

KU vs. K-State. That should say it all. KU's Mike Rivera wants to win this one. More inside.

After losing two straight games for the first time since 2006, Kansas (5-3, 2-2 in Big 12) looks to get back on track this Saturday with a victory against K-State (4-4, 1-3) in the Sunflower Showdown and receive the Governor’s Cup for the third straight year.

Kickoff is 11:40 a.m. at Memorial Stadium, and the game will be televised on FSN.

The K-State game seems just what the doctor ordered after KU was humbled last week against Texas Tech in a 63-21 loss. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have lost three of four games and are coming off a 58-35 defeat to Oklahoma.

But the previous games and records don’t matter come kickoff. Make no mistake, the sellout crowd and players will be amped for this 106th meeting between the two schools, the 15th most played rivalry in the nation and the fourth-longest uninterrupted series in the country.

“This game has been played at times when both teams have had zero wins or one win a piece,” Mangino said. “The people in the state of Kansas still got excited about it because it was two Big 12 or Big 8 teams playing against each other. It is state pride. It is bragging rights. This game will always be fun for the fans. I look back over the years and it doesn’t matter what the records are, the fans look forward to this game. More importantly, the players look forward to this game.”

While K-State is reeling heading into the game, the Wildcats feature some fine talent. The Cats are led by star quarterback Josh Freeman, who had a career day last Saturday against Oklahoma passing for 478 yards and three touchdowns. Freeman ranks 13th in the country with 278 passing yards per game, and is also the team’s second-leading rusher and tops KSU with 13 rushing touchdowns.

The Wildcats also have one of the best receivers in the country in junior Brandon Banks, who’s caught seven touchdown passes this season and ranks seventh in the nation in receiving yards (101.6 yards per game).

K-State is 13th in the country in scoring offense (38.50 ppg) and 27th in total offense (426.13 yards per game).

“They do a lot of good things on the offensive side of the ball,” Mangino said. “It all starts with their quarterback, Josh Freeman. He has really matured and he looks in command. He is probably doing a better job of looking for his second and third progressions than he has done in the past. He is throwing the ball with accuracy and he looks poised and confident. The offense goes as he goes. When he goes well, the offense is going well.”

“He has a host of people who are playing well around him,” Mangino added. “Their wide receivers, Banks, (Aubrey) Quarles and Deon Murphy are all contributing. Their tight end,Jeron Mastrud, has made a lot of catches. Their offense can score points and they are very successful in the red zone.”

The Wildcats can also make things happen on special teams. They lead the nation with eight blocked kicks and five punt returns for touchdowns. Murphy ranks second in the Big 12 and 19th nationally with a 27.4 yard kickoff return average.

“On special teams they do all kinds of different things,” Mangino said. “They fake punts, block field goals, surprise on-side kicks. You name it and they do it on special teams. So we have to be really prepared on special teams for this game. It will be a challenge for us.”
 
K-State, though, has struggled on defense. The Wildcats rank last in the Big 12 and 109th in the country in total defense, allowing 441.63 yards per game, including 200.88 yards on the ground. Oklahoma rushed for a whopping 273 yards last week in Manhattan. K-State also gave up 335 rushing yards to Louisiana Lafayette and 303 yards to Louisville earlier in the year.

Still, the Wildcats feature some talented defensive players, including linebacker Ulla Pomele (team-best 50 tackles and also 6.5 tackles for loss), defensive back Joshua Moore (Big 12 leader in conference games with 10 passes defended) and defensive ends Ian Campbell (team-high 3.5 sacks) and Brandon Herald, who is the nation’s freshman leader with 10.5 tackles for loss.

Mangino seems especially concerned about Campbell.

“He is a good pass rush guy and he is a good run stopper,” Mangino said. “He uses his hands and he has good quickness.”

Of course, KU hopes to run wild against the Wildcats as other teams have done so far this season. Junior Jake Sharp has averaged 100.3 yards per game in his last three outings, and could have a breakout game on Saturday.

So could senior linebacker Mike Rivera, who had 13 tackles against Texas Tech last week and was named KU’s defensive player of the game. He’s hoping KU can rebound from its dismal defensive performance against the Red Raiders, where the Jayhawks gave up 556 yards of total defense.

“We’re going to go out and have fun (in practice) and learn everything we can so we can have a successful game,” Rivera said on Tuesday.

A Shawnee, Kan., native, Rivera always gets sky high playing the Wildcats.

“For me, they’re one of the biggest games of the year and the one I look forward to and always mark on my schedule,” Rivera said. “It’s a huge game. It’s a must win. (We got to) leave it all on the field.”

In a lighthearted moment, Rivera said he didn’t have any purple in his wardrobe. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a KU student wearing a Wildcat shirt on campus.

“I really like KU,” Rivera said. “I don’t know why you would be on a KU campus wearing a K-State shirt. It’s something I don’t believe in and don’t know why they would do it.”

And would Rivera tackle a student on campus if he saw him wearing purple?

“I’ll leave that up to the other students to take care of,” Rivera said with a laugh. “I’m sure it would get enough people mad.”

Rivera will be looking to make some bone-crushing hits on the purple Cats come Saturday. A win over K-State would make KU bowl eligible, stay atop the Big 12 North, and give the Jayhawks some much-needed momentum the following weekend at Nebraska.

Of course, Kansas isn’t thinking ahead to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. Not with their bitter rivals from Manhattan and a fellow Big 12 North school coming to town.

“When you play against a team that is in the same side as you in the conference it makes the game a little bit bigger,” junior quarterback Todd Reesing said. “It’s a big game from that perspective. It is (also) a big game because it is K-State, and so this game does have a lot of implications that make it that much more exciting.”

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