When Kansas has the ball
Kansas rush offense vs. Kansas State rush defense
Several teams have had success on the ground this season against the Wildcats, who rank fifth in the Big 12 Conference in run defense and give up 152 rushing yards per game. Generally speaking, it has been feast or famine for KSU’s rush defense, as demonstrated by last week’s 320-yard rushing day by Oklahoma in a 10-point OU victory in Manhattan. K-State gives up an average of 4.1 yards per carry to opponents, but the Sooners managed to carve out a 5.8-ypc average. KU enters the game with the sixth-best rushing offense in the Big 12 (162 yards per game), and with an offensive line that has looked solid in the run game during the past few weeks and freshman quarterback Montell Cozart bringing an added dimension to what senior tailback James Sims can do, the Jayhawks should finish strong.
Kansas pass offense vs. Kansas State pass defense
During his time on the field this season, Cozart has not shown much in the passing game, but KU coach Charlie Weis says Cozart can throw the football and has made it a point to turn up the Jayhawks’ passing with Cozart under center a little more each week. In order for that to work, Cozart and the rest of the offense have to get help from the KU wide receivers, who have struggled with consistency throughout the season. Kansas State ranks fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense and is giving up just 228 yards per game through the air. Most of those numbers were generated with senior safety Ty Zimmerman in the lineup. But with Zimmerman expected to miss the Sunflower Showdown, KU could find more success down the field. Still, given KU’s struggles through the air, it’s hard to give the advantage here to the home team.
Edge: Kansas State.
When Kansas State has the ball
Kansas State rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense
As is typical of a K-State team, the Wildcats get quite a bit from their quarterbacks in the running game, and, in this case, that means a double threat from Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. Sams is by far the better runner of K-State’s two quarterbacks. He ranks seventh in the conference in rushing yards per game (72) and has scored 11 rushing touchdowns. Senior tailback John Hubert is right behind him in eighth place on the Big 12 rushing list, with a 68 yards-per-game average and eight rushing touchdowns. As a team, KSU ranks fourth in the Big 12 on the ground at 178 yards per game, and KU’s rush defense ranks ninth, giving up 189 yards per game to its opponents. Despite his reputation as more of a passing quarterback, even Waters has started to hurt opposing defenses on the ground, rushing for 279 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. Edge: Kansas State.
Kansas State pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense
As has been the case for the past few seasons, the Wildcats’ run-first approach has positioned their passing attack to be more of a complementary element rather than one they lean on to win games. KSU ranks sixth in the Big 12 in passing offense and averages 226 yards per game. While that number does not blow anyone away, the Wildcats’ 63 percent completion rate and 17 touchdowns show that this group is more than capable of impacting a game. A big reason for that is the wide receivers, particularly Tyler Lockett, who caught 12 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns last week against OU, and Tramaine Thompson, who ranks second on the team with 468 yard and five touchdowns. Both are fast, athletic play-makers, and both will test KU’s secondary from start to finish and at all areas of the field.
Edge: Kansas State.
On the strength of its kick-return teams alone, Kansas State gets the slight nod in special teams because so often those are the players who can most impact a game in the all-important third phase. Thompson and Lockett are weapons as return men and receivers, and their ability to shift field position and occasionally hit home runs puts pressure on kick-coverage units. The Jayhawks have the edge in the punting game, where Trevor Pardula will look to put an exclamation point on a strong season, but the Wildcats and place kicker Jack Cantele have the more consistent and dangerous field-goal man. Cantele, a sophomore, ranks sixth in the conference, having connected on 11 of 13 field-goal tries, including a game-winner against TCU two weeks ago.
Edge: Kansas State.