The Sunflower Showdown is upon us, as Kansas State and Kansas finish each schools regular season schedule in Lawrence. Each team enters the matchup licking their wounds, as both are coming off losses. KU traveled to frigid Ames, Iowa and lost to the Cyclones 34-0, moving the Jayhawks record to 3-8 (1-7 in Big 12). Kansas State hosted the Oklahoma Sooners and lost an exciting game, 41-31. The Cats moved to 6-5 (4-4 in conference play). I will take a quick look back at the past weekend and preview the annual Sunflower Sundown’s key match ups, Kansas State’s ability to contain the Jayhawks run game and Kansas State’s QB play.
The Wildcats hosted the Sooners in a game Kansas State was favored in, something unusual in these two’s history. But no one must have let the Sooners in on that fact, as OU’s running game once again ran a muck. After Oklahoma got up early 14-0, Kansas State and Tyler Lockett came alive, catching scores from 48, 30, and 90 from Waters. Lockett had a monster day and almost single handily kept K-State in the game. Lockett set a school record for All-Purpose yardage with 440 yards, while breaking his previous record for receiving yards with 278. He also tied his school record with 3 TD grabs. Lockett was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts. But Lockett wasn’t the only one setting records, OU’s Brennan Clay set a career high with 200 yards on the ground, while adding two touchdowns. Trevor Knight controlled the offense, throwing for 171 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT, while adding 82 yards on the ground. Oklahoma rushed for a total of 301 yards, though the game was tight most of the 2nd and 3rd quarters. That was until Jake Waters pass was intercepted by Zack Sanchez, who returned the pick 74 yards for a TD, making the score 41-24 early in the 4th quarter, all but putting the game out of reach.
The Kansas Jayhawks traveled into Ames off of something most current players hadn’t experience while in college, a conference victory. KU beat West Virginia November 16th at Lawrence by a score of 31-19, the Jayhawks first conference victory since November 6th, 2010. In between were 27 straight Big 12 losses. The Hawks had turned to freshmen quarterback Montell Cozart, a mobile QB instead of pocket passer Jake Heaps in the past weeks. Cozart proved inefficient through the air in the cold weather at Iowa State, going 4 of 12 passing for 20 yards and 1 interception but added 44 yards on the ground. KU struggled to convert early fourth down attempts, going 2-7 in the game. But at half was only down 10-0. Iowa State then began piling up on offense, pulling away for the Hawks as QB Jake Heaps was brought into the game for the struggling Cozart. But Heaps didn’t fare much better as the cold weather contributed to dropped passes and Heaps only managed 7 of 19 passes for 72 yards.
The Cyclones shutout the Jayhawks by a final score of 34-0. The lone bright spot for the Jayhawks continued to be running back James Sims, the conference’s leading rusher, who had 114 yards on the ground. For his efforts, Sims became the first Jayhawk to rush for over 1,000 in consecutive seasons while at the University of Kansas. Iowa State, the same Iowa State that Kansas State manhandled a few weeks back, earned their first conference victory of the season while gaining 502 yards of total offense, compared to Kansas 279 yards.
The two match ups I see as keys are the Wildcats’ QB play, and controlling the Hawks run game. Kansas’s offense has not been very good most of the year. The Jayhawks sit last in the league at scoring offense at 15.8 points per game. The Hawks also come in last in total offense with 301 yards of total offense per game. The one thing the Jayhawks have done well is run the ball – especially James Sims. Montell Cozart adds an element to the run game as well, but Coach Weis may opt to go with Jake Heaps instead. The defensive line must disrupt the line of scrimmage, and pressure Heaps in passing situations, or Cozart to make quick decisions, depending on who plays. Ryan Mueller needs to add to his league leading Big 12 sack total (10.5) as well as his tackle for loss lead (17).
As for the QB play, other than two costly interceptions, Jake Waters played an excellent game passing in weather conditions not normally seen as passer friendly. Lost in the mix was Daniel Sams and his limited number of snaps. Coach Snyder should be able to use his rotation to his advantage against an exposed Kansas defense. The Jayhawks come into the match up second to last in the league in rush D (189.0 yards per game) and third to last in pass D (249.2). Wildcat fans, is this making you smack your lips? Pick your poison maybe? One thing to remember as well, this rivalry game means something to Coach Snyder and Kansas State. Since taking over, Coach Snyder is 17-4 against Kansas. Mind you, three of those losses were when he first took over an awful program. So that means Coach Snyder is motivated to finish the season a victor against Kansas, that doesn’t bold well for Kansas fans.