Kansas State football hopes to continue mastery of No. 4 Oklahoma

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal

MANHATTAN — It's an unwritten rule, not to attach too much importance to a single game, but Eli Huggins has been around long enough to know that's not always the case.

And that just may be why Kansas State, which plays host to No. 4-ranked Oklahoma at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, has enjoyed its fair share of success against the Sooners.

"I think we prepare very hard every single week, but when you're playing a team like Oklahoma, who every year has the national recognition like them, it just means a little bit more," said Huggins, the Wildcats' senior defensive tackle. "You want to go out there and surprise people to show that you can play with anybody.

"I think during a week like Oklahoma, everyone just prepares a little bit harder, does everything a little bit more, watches a little more film, practices a little bit harder, which we hope to have the same result."

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Kansas State kicker Blake Lynch (10) celebrates with teammates after making a game-winning 50-yard field goal last year at Oklahoma. The Wildcats will go for a third straight victory in the series Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.

Those results, the past two years, have been K-State upset victories. In 2019, the Wildcats celebrated homecoming by stunning No. 5 OU, 48-41, and last year they came back from a three-touchdown deficit in the second half to beat the third-ranked Sooners, 38-35.

"I think it's because we didn't have any fear of playing them, so we didn't think about, 'Oh, they're OU, we're going to be scared' because of how their numbers are and stuff like that," said sophomore defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah. "We just focus on what we've been taught in practice and what our techniques and rules and principles were, and we just attacked them and defeated them the last two years."

To put the back-to-back victories in perspective, no other Big 12 opponent had gotten the better of OU twice in a row since Baylor did it in 2013-14. K-State will look to become the third team in the Big 12 era to knock off the Sooners in three straight seasons, joining Texas A&M (1996-98) and Texas (1997-99).

K-State coach Chris Klieman, whose Wildcats come in at 3-1 after dropping their conference opener last week at Oklahoma State, is unbeaten in two tries against Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12). But don't ask him to explain why.

"I don't have that answer," Klieman said. "We were really run out of the place last year. It was 35-14 in the third quarter, and then momentum changes a lot of things. We scored a touchdown and I think J-Mac (safety Jahron McPherson) had a big turnover on a big hit, we blocked a punt and next thing you know it's 35-35. So part of that is the momentum and it just flipped for us.

"We played really well the year before at home, and then kind of had to hang on. I don't think it has anything to do with who we're playing."

One common thread was turnovers. K-State forced a total of six in the two games and did not cough the ball up once themselves.

The Wildcats intercepted OU quarterback Spencer Rattler three times last year, forced a fumble and got a blocked punt from AJ Parker in the fourth quarter before Blake Lynch won the game with a 50-yard field goal. They had one interception and a fumble recovery in the 2019 game.

Another thing the 2019 and '20 games had in common was Skylar Thompson at quarterback for K-State. But Klieman and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham both said this week that it is unlikely Thompson will be ready to go for a third straight against OU after suffering a knee injury three weeks ago against Southern Illinois and missing the last two games.

Although the Sooners are 4-0, three of their victories are by a touchdown or less, including a 16-13 home decision against West Virginia last week in their Big 12 opener. Their only blowout was a 76-0 romp against Western Carolina, while they beat Tulane 40-35 to open the season and Nebraska 23-16 two weeks ago.

K-State looked lost in the first half last week at Oklahoma State, trailing 31-13 at the break, but got a shutout performance from its defense after intermission. The Wildcats now must try to contain an Oklahoma offense that averages 443.8 yards per game — 282 passing and 161 on the ground.

"It's another week to go out there and prove something," said K-State middle linebacker Daniel Green, who will be back in the lineup Saturday after missing the second half of the Oklahoma State game as the result of a targeting penalty. "We feel like we've got a lot to prove, just coming off a loss like that.

"We've got a lot to fix and get better at."

Rattler leads the league in passing with 254.3 yards per game and in completion percentage at 74.1.

With sophomores Will Howard and Jaren Lewis taking over for Thompson at quarterback, K-State ranks last in the Big 12 in passing. And last week the Wildcats managed just 62 yards rushing as Oklahoma State limited Deuce Vaughn to 22 yards.

Vaughn wasn't overly concerned about last week's rushing performance, nor caught up in the hype of going for three in a row against Oklahoma. Then again, he was still in high school in 2019.

"Really it's one of those things where you can't take anything from the past two years into this season," Vaughn said. "It's a completely different team.

"They're a completely different team as well, and the only thing we're worried about is the game in front of us, because the past two years aren't going to do anything to help this weekend."