When Kansas has the ball
Kansas rush offense vs. Oklahoma State rush defense
By now, it’s no secret that the Jayhawks’ offensive game plan week in and week out is to pound the ball, control the clock and keep the scoring to a minimum. Because the KU offense has struggled to put up points — Kansas is averaging just 15.8 points per game in conference play — the Jayhawks must use the grind-it-out mentality to stay in games and give their defense a rest. That could be considerably more difficult to do this week against an Oklahoma State team that ranks first in the Big 12 in rush defense and is giving up just 123 yards per game on the ground to opponents. KU’s rushing offense — which continues to be led by senior James Sims, who seems to squeeze every inch out of every run — averages just slightly better than the Pokes are giving up at 134 yards per game. True freshman quarterback Montell Cozart could be an X-factor of sorts here, as the young guy has shown improvement each week he’s been out there and also appears to be getting more comfortable, particularly when tucking the ball to run.
Kansas pass offense vs. Oklahoma State pass defense
Although there remains a long way to go, the KU passing game has looked significantly better during its past two outings (losses to Baylor and Texas) than it had all season. Starter Jake Heaps has looked more accurate, more mobile and more sure of himself and his supporting cast, and those around him have started to step their game up as well. With the potential return of at least two or three injured wideouts, including leading receiver Tony Pierson, the KU passing game could be much improved this weekend against the Cowboys. It better be, because Oklahoma State ranks just eighth in the Big 12 against the pass but is first against the run. OSU has given up an average of 255 yards per game to opponents, but KU has topped the total just once all season.
Edge: Oklahoma State.
When Oklahoma State has the ball
Oklahoma State rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense
Oklahoma State is the only team in the nation to have recorded a 300-yard rushing game and a 500-yard passing game this season, so the belief the Cowboys are merely just another Big 12 passing team is inaccurate. Led by Desmond Roland (497 yards and 9 touchdowns on 93 attempts), Jeremy Smith (322, 8, 87) and quarterback J.W. Walsh (317, 3, 58), the Cowboys average 180 yards on the ground and feature a diverse ground attack that can be tough to stop because of its balance. OSU just torched Texas Tech for 281 yards on 55 carries last week, so the Cowboys’ confidence is sky-high, and the Jayhawks, who rank ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense and give up an average of 206 yards per game, figure to have their hands full when OSU goes to the ground. Edge: Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense
Oklahoma State’s success on the ground does not deter it from looking to pass. In fact, the Cowboys throw it nearly as often as they run it, and their 264 yards-per-game passing average ranks third in the explosive Big 12. KU’s pass defense has been good all season, but because they’ve been on the field so long, the Jayhawks rank just seventh in the conference in pass defense (241 yards per game) and eighth in the Big 12 in pass-defense efficiency. OSU has played two quarterbacks this season, and both Walsh and Clint Chelf have shown they know how to utilize the Cowboys’ deep stable of wide receivers and run the up-tempo offense that is common in the Big 12. KU’s defense is bracing for another fast afternoon, and it’s especially tough to see the Jayhawks slowing down this unit in Stillwater. Edge: Oklahoma State.
Both teams have weak and strong points on special teams, with the Cowboys being stronger in the return game and the Jayhawks being stronger in the kicking game. Oklahoma State ranks fourth in the Big 12 in kickoff returns (23.3), second in punt-return average (17.5) and first in kickoff coverage. The Jayhawks, who rank sixth, third and fifth in those same categories, appear to have an advantage in kicking, where punter Trevor Pardula paces a unit that ranks second in the conference, and the KU place kickers have hit a slightly better margin of field-goal tries (.571 to .545) than the Cowboys. Senior Ron Doherty returns to the top of the depth chart to handle the kicking duties for KU, and Doherty is coming off of a perfect showing on all three kicks last week at Texas.