SITE: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
SERIES: Oklahoma State leads 34-22 (last meeting, 2007, Oklahoma State 41-39)
RECORDS: Oklahoma State 6-1, 2-1; Kansas State 5-2, 2-2
POLLS: Oklahoma State (20 AP, 20 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 38-35
KEYS TO THE GAME:
For Oklahoma State: At least slow K-State RB Daniel Thomas. Thomas is rushing for 127.9 ypg but saw his streak of 100-yards rushing games end in the loss at Baylor in his last outing. The Cowboys need to take advantage of their team speed to hit the Wildcats for big plays. For Kansas State: Contain the explosive Oklahoma State offense. The Cowboys the Big 12 with averages of 529.6 yards and 48.3 points, and the Wildcats were burned badly in their Big 12 losses to Nebraska and Baylor. The offense wants to turn RB Daniel Thomas loose on a vulnerable OSU defense.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
The balanced Oklahoma State attack features the Big 12's top passer (QB Brandon Weeden), rusher (RB Kendall Hunter) and receiver (WR Justin Blackmon). It averages 529.6 yards and 48.3 points per game and is coming off an explosive performance in a loss to Nebraska, which features one of the conference's top defenses and a coach, Bo Pelini, who came into the league wanting to quiet all the fireworks. However, Oklahoma State's first-year coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, has given the Cowboys an offensive flair that's been too much for any opponent. Blackmon, however, will not play as he is serving a one-game suspension following his arrest on a misdemeanor DUI complaint.
Oklahoma's State defense looks shaky at best after it was riddled both through the air and on the ground by Nebraska. LB Orie Lemon leads the nation in solo tackles and covers the field as well as any linebacker in the Big 12. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Lemon is one of the few sure tacklers on the team, which is also evidenced in kick coverage. Containing Kansas State RB Daniel Thomas will be key as the Wildcats seek a way to play keep-away and keep Oklahoma State's offense off the field. The Cowboys have at least been more successful defending the pass.
K-State QB Carson Coffman was blamed early in the season for many of the Wildcats' offensive problems. While he is not fleet afoot, he is capable of checking his team into more appropriate calls by reading defenses better than the backups. If another quarterback existed who could guarantee better results for the Wildcats, he would be used. As it is, however, Coffman is solid, though injuries that have depleted the receiving corps have hurt whatever timing he had developed with his more reliable targets. RB Daniel Thomas remains the Wildcats' chief threat and even threw for a touchdown on a halfback pass against Baylor.
Blame speed, assignment mistakes, coaching for K-State defensive troubles. Whatever the problem, and it's probably a combination of the three, K-State has regressed back to the kind of defense it played under former coach Ron Prince. The Wildcats seem incapable of defending teams with speed. In their two Big 12 defeats, they were burned repeatedly by quarterbacks, first Taylor Martinez of Nebraska and then Robert Griffin of Baylor. Both are quite talented, yet neither seemed bothered by anything the Wildcats tried and often found incredibly wide seams to attack in the back end.
Cowboys: Although Oklahoma State is among the nation's best teams kicking the football, whether on punts or place kicks, the Cowboys are struggling mightily to cover kickoff returns. They rank next to last nationally, allowing 34.4 yards on average. Three kicks have been returned for touchdowns, including a 100-yarder by Nebraska's Niles Paul in last week's loss. Kansas State features a return man, William Powell, who scored on a runback in the Wildcats' Oct. 23 loss at Baylor. He has been a consistent threat all season for a Kansas State return unit that leads the country. ... One remedy for Oklahoma State in kickoff coverage is the strong leg of Quinn Sharp, who doubles as the Cowboys' punter. He has booted 37 kickoffs deep enough to result in touchbacks, but opponents have capitalized on the 23 opportunities they have had to log returns. ... Entering the game at Kansas State, the Cowboys lead the nation in eight statistical categories. Explosive WR Justin Blackmon tops five of those lists with 17.9 yards per reception, 1,112 receiving yards, a 158.8 yards-per-game average, 14 touchdown receptions and a 12.9-point scoring average. PK Dan Bailey also leads in field-goal percentage (1.000), P Quinn Sharp in punting average (48.2 yards) and LB Orie Lemon in solo tackles (8.1).
Wildcats: One of the more unusual features on Kansas State's special teams is the role played by PK Josh Cherry. Not only did Cherry reclaim the place-kicking job he lost just prior to the season opener, he remains on cover units as a tackler. A former high school quarterback and safety, Cherry has three tackles in kickoff coverage. He also is 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts after winning the job back from Anthony Cantele, a transfer from Missouri State. ... The 113-yard rushing performance against Baylor was the best by RB Daniel Thomas since the Big 12 opener against Iowa State. The senior went three straight games without cracking the 100-yard mark after reaching that plateau in each of the first three games. He ranks second in the Big 12 with a 127.9 ypg rushing. ... With the Big 12 abandoning divisional play after this season, a three-game stretch will determine if Kansas State finishes with a winning or losing record against South Division opponents. The Wildcats stand 22-21 against South teams since the inception of the Big 12.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
P Quinn Sharp -- After averaging a school-record 60.4 yards on five punts against Nebraska, Sharp leads the nation with a 48.2-yard average. The previous Oklahoma State record for a game was a 57-yard average Greg Ivy managed in 1995 against Kansas.
RB Kendall Hunter -- He is coming off his second 200-yard rushing performance of the season after gaining 201 yards against Nebraska and 257 in the season opener against Washington State. After being hobbled with an ankle/foot injury most of last season, Hunter has regained the All-America form he flashed in 2008, when he gained 1,555 yards. Hunter runs behind a line that returned just one starter.
QB Brandon Weeden -- In just seven career starts (all this season), Weeden possesses four of the top 11 passing performances in Oklahoma State history. His best Big 12 outing to date was 356 yards against Texas Tech.
RB Daniel Thomas -- After totaling 34.4 percent of Kansas State's touches in 2009, Thomas is getting the ball more often this season. He is touching the ball on 41.5 percent of the Wildcats' snaps, with 167 rushes, 16 catches and one pass attempt.
WR Aubrey Quarles -- He must continue to provide a consistent threat with a receiving corps riddled by injury. Quarles leads the Wildcats in receptions (24), receiving yards (375) and touchdown catches (three) after missing last season with an injury.
QB Carson Coffman -- He rushed for five touchdowns in the last two games and also tied his career high for completions (20) while throwing for 231 yards against Baylor. Coffman ranks fourth in the Big 12 with a 146.6 pass efficiency rating.
Cowboys: No new injuries reported.
Wildcats: WR Tramaine Thompson (leg, doubtful).