The most important player for Kansas State when the 9th-ranked Wildcats run onto Owen Field for Saturday's Big 12 showdown with No. 3 ranked Oklahoma is a redshirt sophomore quarterback making only his third collegiate start.
Ell Roberson spent the last two years on the sidelines behind Jonathan Beasley. This year, it's his team, and the highly touted, versatile quarterback from Baytown, Texas is set to play in the most important game of his young career on Saturday.
Roberson has taken the reigns from Beasley so far this season and turned the Wildcats' offense into one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the country.
"Ell Roberson is an excellent runner with the football running options and running their quarterback run game in a variety of ways," said Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops.
"That's what their brand has been this year, is just to attack you primarily with the run game. They're more similar this year in the way they're running more of the quarterback and more of the tailback. To this point, they haven't emphasized the pass maybe as much as they did with Jonathan Beasley a year ago."
Coming into Saturday's game Kansas State ranks 1st in the nation in rushing offense averaging just over 308 yards a game on the ground.
In his first-ever collegiate start three weeks ago at Southern Cal, Roberson made his presence felt with 119 rushing yards on 21 carries in the Wildcats 10-6 win over the Trojans. The 100-yard effort on the ground was the first by a KSU quarterback since Beasley performed the task in the Cats' final regular season game in 1998 against Missouri.
"I think that it was real good because I took a lot there and faced a big crowd. Hopefully it prepared me to go out to Norman because they are going to have some fired up fans too," said Roberson of gaining some valuable experience on the road against a tough USC team.
"I just have to go out there and keep the game between the white lines, not let the crowd get to me and focus on just doing the best I can."
The only thing that hasn't been impressive about Roberson's first two games are his passing statistics. Roberson has only thrown for 207 yards this season and only completed 7-of-16 passes for 26 yards and one interception against USC. And Roberson knows if the Wildcats are going to be effective moving the ball against Oklahoma's defense, they need to have a balanced attack.
"It's very important because they have guys who can run. They fill in the holes really well. So we just have to go out there and take what they give us. They are a great defense so it will be tough on us as an offensive unit," said Roberson.
That being said, Roberson, who ranks fourth in the nation in quarterback rushing yards per game (63), can probably expect Oklahoma to stack the box and challenge the young quarterback to throw the ball.
"I think it's commonplace that you assess the quarterback and determine what his strengths are and what his weaknesses are and to approach your game plan in that direction," said Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder on Oklahoma's defense trying to exploit Roberson's throwing ability.
"I'm sure as time goes he'll continue to try to work and improve on the passing game," said Stoops. "Get more in-depth with it and more complex with it as they go and as to what he's able to handle. He threw the ball better in his second game."
Roberson did indeed improve leaps and bounds from his first to second game as a collegiate quarterback scorching a weak New Mexico State for 181 yards and completing 7-of-10 passes.
When Roberson isn't running with the ball he has plenty of other weapons on his offense to go to.
The most prolific this season has been senior running back and former Del City star Josh Scobey. Scobey has been the workhorse so far this season for the Kansas State rushing attack racking up 277 yards on 42 carries including four touchdowns, all in the Wildcats 64-0 blowout over New Mexico State last week.
Kansas State running back Josh Scobey has rushed for 277 yards and scored four touchdowns in just two games this season. (Allsport)
Coming into Saturday's game Scobey ranks 11th in the nation in rushing (138.5 ypg), is tied for 8th in individual scoring (12 ppg) and is 25th in all-purpose yards (149.5). The 6-1 senior only needs five yards on the ground against the Sooners to become only the 19th Wildcat to rush for 1,000 yards.
When the Wildcats aren't punishing teams with their ground attack, the first person they look to throw the ball to is senior wide receiver Aaron Lockett.
Lockett, a Tulsa native and younger brother of NFL receiver Kevin Lockett, is the the Wildcats big-play threat at receiver and as a returner on special teams. Lockett has caught seven passes this season for 90 yards and is currently climbing the charts in the KSU record books.
Lockett currently ranks 2nd all-time in all-purpose yards with 3,190 yards, fourth all-time in KSU history in punt return yards (560), fourth in career receiving yards (2,133), fifth in career receptions (120) and fourth in career touchdown receptions (12).
The tiny 5-7 speedster was one of the nations most prolific punt returns a year ago averaging 22.8 yards per return and if off to a stellar start this season having already returned one kickoff 97-yards for a score last week.
"Kansas State is very good team. Everybody knows that," said Stoops.
"Offensively this year, there is more of a quarterback run game then a year ago. Not quite as much passing. They concentrate more on running a lot of quarterback runs. Not just option, but counters, leads, those types of plays along with their tailback Josh Scobey as well. He and Roberson are 95 percent of their offense, then they always try to hit a big play to Aaron Lockett."
On defense there is no question what KSU defensive coordinator and former OU secondary coach Phil Bennett's gameplan will be. The Wildcats love to blitz and did so in both games against the Sooners last year despite the quick trigger from OU quarterback Josh Heupel.
Kansas State returns only three starters from last years defense, but those three starters are All-Big 12 candidates.
Senior linebacker Ben Leber, recruited to Kansas State by OU Co-Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops, is the leader in Bennett's blitzing 4-3 defensive set and if off to a great start having recorded 10 tackles, five for a loss and two sacks in the Cats first two games.
Sophomore linebacker Terry Pierce is another of KSU's three returning starters on defense. Pierce has 10 tackles this season and will line up at his outside linebacker spot a where he was named the Big 12's Defensive Freshman of the Year a year ago.
Senior safety Jon McGraw is the lone returning starter in the KSU secondary, but the big surprise so far this season the Wildcats is senior cornerback DeMarcus Faggins.
Faggins saw time in a backup role for KSU last year, but is flourishing in his role as a starting corner so far this season. Faggins leads the team in tackles with 13 and became only the second player in KSU history to intercept two passes in one game last weekend against New Mexico State, returning one 72 yards.
The Wildcats have dominated there first two opponents this season and lead the nation in scoring defense (3 ppg), and rank third nationally in total defense (206 ypg) and 4th in pass efficiency defense (133.5 ypg).
"They're a very aggressive defense in how they've played. They run to the ball very well," said Stoops of KSU's defense.
"We need to be able to handle their pressure and continue to work and establish a running game, which we feel more confident this year in the way we've run it for three games leading up to this game. Along with being able to beat their coverage and make some big plays that way."
The most important key to beating KSU's pressure will come from the play of quarterback Nate Hybl.
"He needs to be able to have the confidence to sit in and throw the ball when the rush is coming," said Stoops on what Hybl needs to do to be successful. "He needs to be able to avoid the bad plays and operate within the offense and count on the players around him to help him, because it isn't just Nate. The other players have to do their part to execute and have successful plays. He just has to trust that they're going to do what's necessary in order to do that and move the ball."
On special teams junior punter Travis Brown averages 41.9 yards per punt and sophomore kicker Jared Brite is 6-of-9 on PAT's and perfect thus far on field goal attempts (2-2) with a long of 41-yards against USC.
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Oklahoma leads the series by a 65-16-4 count, including a 35-7-3 mark in Norman. The Sooners have won the last two meetings, both of which came last season, when they prevailed at Manhattan, 41-31, then again in the Big 12 Championship game at Kansas City, 27-24. Those two OU victories ended K-State's five-game winning streak in the series. Prior to that stretch, Oklahoma had reeled off 22 in a row over the Wildcats.
Oklahoma owns the nation's longest current winning streak at 16, the best by the Sooners since a string of 20 between 1986 and 1987. OU has won its last 15 at Memorial Stadium. That stands as the fourth-longest streak in the land at present behind Florida State (36), Oregon (22) and Fresno State (15). OU is 13-0 on Owen Field under Bob Stoops.
Oklahoma is ranked No. 3 in both the Associated Press (media) and ESPN/USA Today (coaches) polls. OU has held that ranking since the first poll of the year.
Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops enters Saturday's game with a career record of 23-5 while Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder is 100-43-1... The Sooners are 3-0 coming off a bye week under Stoops... OU is 21-19 in Big 12 conference play and have won their last nine conference games Bob Stoops... This Saturday's game is Oklahoma's 14th consecutive home sellout beginning with the first game of the Stoops era... Brent Musburger, Gary Danielson and Jack arute will announce the game before a split national audience on ABC.