No. 25 K-State Visits Oklahoma State, Each Seeking 4-0 Start

Kansas State tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Nevada on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas State tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe runs the ball for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Nevada on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — No. 25 Kansas State and Oklahoma State open Big 12 play against each other Saturday after putting together 3-0 nonconference records while dealing with several key injuries.

Kansas State will still be without starting quarterback Skylar Thompson due to a knee injury suffered two weeks ago. Sophomore Will Howard did well in his place in a win over Nevada, completing 7 of 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown while adding 56 yards and two scores on the ground. Jaren Lewis also played in his first collegiate game, completing 2 of 3 passes for six yards.

“I think we saw that both players give us an opportunity to be successful,” said Wildcats coach Chris Klieman. “Both players deserve the opportunity to play, and I think our football team knows that both guys can get behind center and help us win.”

Defensive end Khalid Duke will miss the rest of the season due to injury.

For Oklahoma State, the passing game suffered a bit in last week’s 21-20 victory over Boise State because the Cowboys were missing three of their top four receivers due to injury and lost another one during the game. It is unclear if any of Braydon Johnson, Tay Martin, Jaden Bray or Bryson Green will be back Saturday.

The thin receiver corps resulted in quarterback Spencer Sanders throwing the ball just 13 times, completing six for 82 yards, while the Cowboys rushed the ball 57 times.

“We just need to stay the course,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “Personnel-wise, we have got to try to come up with some answers to allow ourselves to throw the ball a little better so we can be somewhat balanced.”

The Cowboys will also be without starting safety Tre Sterling and starting defensive end Trace Ford for the rest of the season.

GROUND GAME, PART 1

After gaining 194 yards combined over their first two games, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, Oklahoma State’s ground game finally came alive last week against Boise State, amassing 246 yards. That was due in large part to the breakthrough performance of Jaylen Warren, who rushed for a career-high 218 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Warren, a transfer from Utah State, took over the starting job from L.D. Brown and excelled.

“He’s aggressive, he’s strong,” Gundy said of Warren. “Everybody in the stadium knew we were running the ball and he still broke some tackles”

DEFENDING THE RUN

Warren will face a stingy K-State defense that has allowed just 164 total yards rushing on 85 carries (1.9 yards per carry), ranking them sixth nationally with 54.7 yards per game. The Wildcats held Nevada to just 25 yards rushing on 23 carries. It’s the first time Kansas State has allowed 100 or fewer rushing yards in three consecutive games since 2007.

GROUND GAME, PART 2

After gaining a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against Nevada, K-State running back Deuce Vaughn has 371 rushing yards on the season, tops in the Big 12 and eighth in the nation. He also has five touchdowns on the ground, also best in the Big 12, and five straight 100-yard games dating back to last season. Overall, K-State is third in the Big 12 and 20th nationally in rushing offense (225.7 yards per game).

MORE DEFENSE

Traditionally known for its offense, Oklahoma State’s defense has been strong this season, allowing just 19.7 points per game. The Cowboys’ ability to hold Boise State to just 64 yards of total offense, and zero points, in the second half played a huge role in the one-point victory. OSU is led by super senior linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who topped the team with eight tackles last week, giving him 36 on the season. His average of 12 per game tops the Big 12 and ranks third in the nation.

FINISHING STRONG

Kansas State has locked down each of its three victories by outperforming opponents in the fourth quarter, holding a 38-7 scoring edge. The Wildcats have averaged 60.7 rushing yards in the final period to help wear down the clock, while allowing just six total yards rushing, including negative totals by both Southern Illinois and Nevada.

“We’ve been successful in the fourth quarter of our first three games because of great focus and preparation and being in shape,” Klieman said. “For us to win, we’ve got to be able to win four-quarter games.”