Kansas football is set to play host to No. 23 Kansas State for Senior Night in the 121st edition of the Dillon’s Sunflower Showdown inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Kansas currently leads the all-time series, 65-50-5. They also hold an all-time record of 37-22-2 record in games played in Lawrence. However, K-State currently has a 14-game winning streak against the Jayhawks.
This will be the first time that Kansas has played host to K-State at night since 2004. The last time these two schools met for an evening matchup, the Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats, 31-28.
Kansas State won last season’s matchup over the Jayhawks, 47-27.
The Jayhawks are coming off a tough loss at home to Texas Tech, 16-13. The Red Raiders knocked in a game-winning 30-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the game.
It was their first home loss of the season, and their third loss this season as a ranked team. They are now 1-3 this season when ranked.
Kansas lost senior quarterback Jason Bean in the 1st quarter last Saturday due to a ‘head injury.’ Walk-on freshman quarterback Cole Ballard stepped into Bean’s place against Texas Tech, and completed nine out of 20 passes for 124 yards.
Head coach Lance Leipold addressed to the media on Monday regarding Bean’s injury.
“I’m not going to get into the nature of injuries in-depth, but he did not practice last night (Sunday night),” Leipold said. ”But my latest is I’m very optimistic that he’ll be playing on Saturday.”
Even though the Kansas offense struggled against the Red Raiders, the Jayhawks defensively were able to hold against one of the best running attacks in the country to only 136 yards. Their (Texas Tech) average rushing yards per game currently stand at 169 yards a game.
No. 23 Kansas State is coming off a 59-25 victory at home over the Baylor Bears. The win maintained their perfect record at home this season. The Wildcats are 6-0 at home this season.
K-State senior quarterback Will Howard broke the program’s all-time passing touchdown record in the second quarter, passing former K-State quarterback Josh Freeman with 45 career touchdown passes. Howard threw for three touchdowns and completed 19 out of 29 passing attempts for 235 yards last Saturday.
Keys to the game and prediction:
This might be the biggest Sunflower Showdown football game in a long time. Both teams share the same record, and this game will be played in Lawrence and under the lights at the Booth for the final time, on Senior Night. Stadium renovations for Memorial Stadium are expected to begin after the conclusion of this season.
For the Jayhawks, there will be many things to look at about this game to use as motivation. From the 14-game losing streak, the final game at the Booth before renovations begin, Senior Night, the opportunity to play for the state of Kansas, etc.
However, this Kansas State team is a very talented team. No Deuce Vaughn? It has been no problem for their running game this season.
K-State sophomore running back D.J. Giddens has averaged six yards a carry this season, with seven touchdowns so far. They also have a senior running back in Treshaun Ward that has been averaging 5 yards a carry this season, while he has only rushed for four touchdowns. The K-State running attack will once again be a true test for the Jayhawk defense on Saturday.
Not only do the Jayhawks need to worry about these two, but they also need to worry about Howard and K-State freshman quarterback Avery Johnson in the run game. Johnson ran for five touchdowns in their 38-21 win over Texas Tech earlier this season. We don’t know how much they’ll involve Johnson on Saturday, but do not be surprised if they create a package for him against the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks did a good job of containing Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks for the majority of the game last weekend, but they have given up an average of 4.4 yards a carry this season. Specifically on 1st down, they give up an average of 7.9 yards a carry. They will have to tighten it up in the run game against a pair of talented running backs, and a pair of quarterbacks that have the ability to gain decent running yardage.
Look for Will Howard and the K-State offense to implement a pound-and-ground offensive scheme this week, with consistent play action in the short passing game involving junior tight end Ben Sinnott. Sinnott has 35 receptions for 501 yards and four touchdowns this season.
This offense loves to set up screen plays with their running backs, so the Jayhawk defense will need to carefully show blitz, because a mis-read on a blitz is going to result in big yardage for the Wildcats. Their offense averages 12.1 yards per completed pass this season. They will be consistent in what they are going to be doing against Kansas, and the Jayhawks will have to be ready.
They have scored 30 points or more in 9 out of their last 10 games. No matter how they will attack, this team has the capability to put up points. The work has been cut out for the Jayhawks.
On the other side of the ball, K-State’s defense has only allowed 18.5 points per game, while allowing 3.9 rushing yards per carry, and 11.1 yards per completion. What might those stats tell you?
The Wildcats have done a better job of stopping the run than defending the passing game so far this season. However, this is a very physical defense with a lot of size and strength up front. That being said, there is still hope for the Jayhawk offense to get around this defense.
If Jason Bean is available for Saturday’s game, the game plan for him will involve lots of play action and a short passing attack. However, I think the offense will continue to give junior and sophomore running backs Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw carries on Saturday.
One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough, is the special teams. This game may very well come down to it at the end of the day.
Senior placekicker Seth Keller went 2/2 in field goals last week, 1/1 in extra points. However, punter Damon Greaves struggled early on against the Red Raiders as his first two punts gave Texas Tech great field position to set up a 10-0 lead in the 1st half. He ended up finishing the game averaging 33 yards a punt on four attempts, which is below his season average of 40 yards a punt.
K-State is known to have one of the best special teams units in college football every single year. Senior K-State punter Jack Blumer is averaging 43.5 yards a punt this season.
If there is anything else the Jayhawks can do to win on Saturday, is winning the special teams game. Blumer for K-State has done an excellent job of switching the field position for opponents this season, and Greaves for KU is going to need to do the same thing. Consistency in the punting game, and knocking in every kick through extra points and field goals will help the Jayhawks be successful.
However, the biggest thing for the Jayhawks, will be to win the battle up front. The offense has the ability to make plays and gain big yardage, but it won’t matter unless the offensive line wins up front. Same thing goes for their defense in slowing down K-State’s running attack.
If Bean is healthy and gets the start on Saturday, the Jayhawk offense will be in great shape to put up a fight against K-State on Saturday night. Winning the battle up front, establishing a consistent short-passing attack, slowing down the run game, and capitalizing on special teams are the keys to victory for Kansas.
Like we have been talking about all season long, it is important that the Jayhawks do not turn the ball over, as Kansas State’s been a team that typically does not make self-inflicted mistakes, and capitalizes on opponent’s mistakes. 68 of K-State’s points this season have been off of turnovers.
Even though both teams share the same overall record, Kansas State currently sits ahead of Kansas in the Big 12 poll with a 5-2 record in conference play, with the Jayhawks sitting with a 4-3 record in conference play after the loss to Texas Tech.
Kansas State is currently a 9.5 point favorite according to FanDuel. The Wildcats opened up as 7.5 point favorites when the line opened on Sunday.
This game could easily go either way, and for many reasons. Kansas wants to send their seniors and their stadium out the right way with a win, while K-State looks to extend their winning streak to 15 games against the Jayhawks.
This game is tough to predict in terms of an end result because there are questions yet to be answered. How is Kansas going to respond after a gut-wrenching loss last week at home? Is K-State going to continue their momentum on offense? Can Kansas continue their success in slowing down the running game?
The only way Kansas doesn’t walk out of this game victorious, is inefficiency in the special teams, and committing too many penalties and turnovers. The Jayhawks aren’t known to commit many penalties per game, but they need to execute.
Slowing down the running game and play-action defensively, executing in the short-passing game, winning the battle up front on both ends of the ball, and capitalizing in special teams are all keys to success for the Jayhawks.
No score prediction for me this week, but I anticipate this to be a high-scoring affair. It will all depend on Jason Bean being available for the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks will play host to No. 23 Kansas State Saturday night inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for Senior Night at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast live on KJHK 90.7 FM with Trenton Kraxner and Jimmy Adeniran on the call.