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Sunflower Showdown Preview: Kansas Jayhawks vs. Kansas State Wildcats

Breaking down the Wildcats and identifying the road map for a Jayhawk win.

David Purdy

Just a couple weeks ago the football team eased some of the concerns about the state of the program with the dominant win over West Virginia.  However, as we have become used to, the good will quickly disappeared as the team went to Ames and was shut out by Iowa State.  They have one game left to make a statement about the direction of the program before the offseason begins and we turn our attention to recruiting, position battles for the 2014 squad, and apparently the coaching staff.  This game isn't just the last game of the season, it is also the biggest rivalry game on the schedule.  Can they rebound from last week's loss and close out the season with a huge win over in-state rival Kansas State?

It's possible.  While Kansas State has been better throughout the season, as evidenced by their 25th ranking in Football Outsiders' F/+ and being 27th in Sagarin's Predictor.  Those numbers look intimidating but it also sounds a bit of an alarm.  Generally, the advanced numbers tell an accurate story about a team.  However, when a team is that highly thought of by the computers and still has five losses, something is happening that isn't being picked up by numbers.  For example, the next highest rated team with 5 losses is North Carolina at 37.  At this point, wins and losses also have meaning.

With five losses this season, the Wildcats are not without their warts.  The Cats opened the season with a loss against FCS North Dakota State, the greatest FCS team of all time according to K-State fans (we know better).  Rationalizing a loss gets you nowhere and they lost to a team that is undoubtedly less talented.  Texas ran all over them for 227 yards.  TCU outscored them 24-19 in the second half and led until the final minute.  Oklahoma absolutely abused their defense last week.  The problems that have led to their five losses on the year provide the opportunity for Charlie Weis and the Jayhawks to get a huge win this season.

Kansas State has had an identity crisis throughout the season.  At the beginning of the year, transfer Jake Waters was the starting quarterback.  After the loss to NDSU, fans begin to question the decision to play Waters over Daniel Sams.  Bill Snyder made the full switch to Sams for two games, against Texas and Oklahoma State.  Since those two losses, it has been back and forth until last week when Sams only had 3 rushing attempts and zero pass attempts.  Over the last 4 games, Sams has attempted to pass 8 times while running the ball 46 times.  If Daniel Sams plays, the defense will be able to focus on the one-dimensional attack.

Amazingly, even though K-State is one-dimensional with Sams, Waters being on the field is even better in terms of winning the game.  Waters is the type of player that looks like a workout warrior.  Have him hit trash cans or a moving target with no rush and he'll look like an All-American.  Throw some defense out there and have him throw with a rush though?  That's when he starts to struggle.  He's thrown 8 interceptions on the year, 3 in the last two weeks.  Kansas is going to need a big turnover or two in this one and Jake Waters simply wants to be the guy to serve them up.

Speaking of turnovers, the Wildcats are -4 for the year in turnover margin.  Two things stand out when looking at their turnovers throughout the season.  First, at home the margin is even.  On the road? -4.  In games they win, they are +5.  That means in their losses, their turnover margin is -9.  That something that is throwing off their advanced ratings and record?  This is a big something.  It is easy to say the turnovers are the reason they lost the games and buy into the idea that the road isn't the reason for the difference.  It's not that simple, they are turning it over for a reason in those situations.

As Jon Morse said in the comments of the Q&A this week, Waters has a habit of trying to do too much and it hasn't worked out well.

"Almost all of Waters' turnovers have been "crap, we're in trouble, I have to do something" situations."

You know what can put teams in those situations?  Penalties.  Just looking at the overall stats will show K-State commits the fewest penalties per game overall and is penalized the fewest yards per game.  A deeper look shows the Cats average 3.3 penalties per game at home.  On the road?  That numbers jumps to 8.7 and the yards penalized per game triples.  Sounds like quite a few situations where the quarterback will believe he has to do something.

The last positive from a Jayhawk perspective about this weekend is the Wildcat defense has struggled over the last couple of games.  TCU averaged their second highest yards per play in conference games against the Wildcats.  Oklahoma ran for their second highest total on the ground in conference games against the Wildcats.  This is a defense that is reeling and now James Sims gets to face them in his last game as a Jayhawk?  Sounds like an ideal situation.

So can Kansas pull off the win?  Absolutely. If both teams come out and play an average game, the hopes aren't high.  But if the turnover and penalty issue continues for K-State, the door will be wide open for James Sims and Montell Cozart to run through.