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
“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
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
“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.”
"It's a huge game..."
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