Position breakdown: Kansas State

Nation-leading special teams battle could be huge on Saturday

It might seem insane, at least at this point in the season, but at some time Saturday, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder will probably kick the ball deep to Alex Ross.

If, or when, he does, it’ll set up an incredible matchup.

Ross leads the nation in kick return average – by almost 10 per touch. Kansas State has the third-best coverage unit in the nation, allowing less than 15 yards per return.

Now, Snyder is a good enough coach to just not to test Ross, but Oklahoma’s sophomore running back didn’t think he’d get the ball against Texas. He wouldn’t kick to himself if he had the choice, either.

“It’s a big momentum changer,” Ross said of his kick-off return touchdowns. “It just helps the team big time because one play turns the tide. It just helps the team.”

Ross won’t buy his blockers pizza, for fear of getting on the bad side of “coach Tiff,” nutritionist Tiffany Byrd.

He just knows that guys like Aaron Ripkowski, Dimitri Flowers and Ahmad Thomas “block forever.” Oklahoma might not have a chance to return a kick Saturday against Kansas State, but if they do . . . . . .

That is the key position battle this week. Here’s a look at how each team compares across the board:

Quarterback: After the past two games, the choice should be an easy one. Knight couldn’t get the offense going against Texas and wasn’t any better against TCU. Jake Waters has kept the Kansas State churning to 40 points per game, and he averages 64 yards per game – on the ground.

Running backs:Just because Waters leads Kansas State in rushing doesn’t mean the Wildcats running backs are slouches. Sophomore running back Charles Jones is tied for second in the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns. The defining factor in this category though is that he trails Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine.

Wide receivers: Until the rest of Oklahoma’s receivers start to show up, it’ll be on Sterling Shepard to win the category here. He’s been great, but he’s nearly matched by Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett who set a school record last year against the Sooners. The next best receiver is Curry Sexton, who averages 67 yards per game and just fewer than six catches. He plays for Kansas State.

Tight end: Blake Bell and Zach Trujillo, the Wildcats’ starting tight end, are near replicas of each other. Both are big bodies at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds or bigger. Both are still south of double digits catches and have just more than 100 yards. Both have one touchdown. Trujillo did it in one less game and is leading Kansas State in yards per catch.

Offensive line: Kansas State is averaging 4.5 yards per carry though its first five games, just a little below Oklahoma’s 5.1-yard average. But the Wildcats have played just one team comparable to Oklahoma’s front, and against Auburn, Kansas State averaged 1.3 yards per carry. Oklahoma would love to make a statement up front in this game.

Defensive line: In that same Auburn game, the Wildcats held the vaunted Tigers rushing attack to just 2.8 yards per carry. There’s no standout up front and no stellar pass rush, but Kansas State is one of a handful of teams in the country that is allowing less than 100 yards per game. No matter the opponent, that’s impressive. Oklahoma has been on the ropes as of late, but the Sooners are still better.

Linebackers: Nobody terrorizes teams in the Big 12 like Eric Striker. And now as Devante Bond develops, Geneo Grissom could be used in even more ways – something good for everyone. Now, if they could sure up the middle, Oklahoma would be even better.

Secondary: Oklahoma has the best defensive back in this game (Zack Sanchez), there’s no question about it. Teams have tested the sophomore – third-most in the Big 12 in pass break-ups – and routinely sent back to the sideline wishing the hadn’t: League-leading five interceptions. He and the stellar play of Quentin Hayes, who could see more time at the back end Saturday instead of in the opponents’ backfield, balance out an Oklahoma secondary that has seen spotty play from its young safeties.

Special teams: Michael Hunnicutt is great and could be closing in on the NCAA all-time points record by the end of the season. However, the real battle here is in the kick-off return game: Ross and Co. vs. Kansas State’s coverage unit. All Oklahoma has to create is a crack, and Ross could be down the sideline “skating or floating.” (As he likes to say)


Sooners Illustrated Top Stories