For the third week in a row, the young Kansas University football team faces an undefeated school ranked in the top 12 in the nation.
But this one feels different. Unlike when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were the opponents, the curiosity isn’t aimed at attempting to guess by how many touchdowns KU will lose.
This time, the curiosity-seekers wonder, even if they don’t dare say it aloud, if Kansas can pull off an upset and bring the shocking Wildcats down off the high they’ve ridden all season.
K-State’s formula for success — playing rugged defense, keeping it close, not doing anything to beat itself and producing big plays just in the nick of time — doesn’t tend to result in the sort of blowouts on which KU too often finds itself on the wrong end. The Wildcats are 6-0 and ranked 12th in the country, but other than a 37-0 blowout victory against Kent State, Kansas State has not had a margin of victory larger than seven points.
K-State doesn’t have a Brandon Weeden or a Landry Jones at quarterback. Chris Harper’s a nice receiver, but he doesn’t rank with the Cowboys’ Justin Blackmon or the Sooners’ Ryan Broyles. Kansas State’s offensive line has been solid, but not equipped with the same quickness and strength as the lines from the Oklahoma schools.
The opening betting line that favored Kansas State by 15 points for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff in Memorial Stadium seemed a little heavy.
Wildcats junior Collin Klein, a speedy 6-foot-5, 226-pound run-first quarterback, has a knack for making a clutch pass or two every game, but he hasn’t thrown for more than 146 yards in a single game.
How is this team that squeaked by Eastern Kentucky, 10-7, in the season-opener undefeated and ranked 12th in the nation? Sometimes not doing anything to lose is good enough to keep winning.
In the wake of Saturday’s 41-34, come-from-behind victory at Texas Tech, Klein mouthed a quote that had such a familiar ring to it.
“Our coach says all the time you’ve just got to keep sawing wood and eventually you’re going to get somewhere,” Klein said.
Hmm, “keep sawing wood,” where have I heard that one before? Anybody?
Two weeks in a row, Kansas has given up 600 yards, but in the second one grew tougher the closer Oklahoma drew to the goal line. Simplifying things worked for an inexperienced Kansas defense that in previous weeks looked as if it had been trying to avoid mistakes instead of looking to fly to the ball.
Now that Bill Snyder and his coaching staff have a week’s worth of video to digest from that new approach, maybe it will be easier to pick apart, but it’s worth taking that risk. The less the KU defenders have to think about, the better chance they have of performing aggressively.
Nobody should be stunned if Kansas takes a lead into halftime Saturday. Coming out of the break is when the advantage swings to a well-conditioned K-State team, which handled Texas Tech, 21-6, in the second half.
Kansas, not noted for half-time adjustments and gaining a second wind, has been dumped on, 59-7, in the past four third quarters.