Welcome to the 10th iteration of “10 Burning Questions”, where I ask the most important questions in the Big 12 for the upcoming week. A few of last week’s questions were answered over the weekend, but the action also raised some new ones. There are plenty of unanswered questions around the conference, but I’ll keep it to one per team.
10. ARE THERE ANY POSITIVES LEFT FOR KANSAS?
Kansas is coming off their biggest loss of the year, a 56-3 skewering at the hands of Oklahoma. The Jayhawks couldn’t really find anything that worked on either side of the ball. When a game like that happens, it can crush a team’s spirit. The Jayhawks didn’t just lose, they have nothing to build on from last week.
Montell Cozart struggled, throwing for just 120 yards and 2 interceptions, and their running game was somehow even worse than that, as Taylor Martin led the team with 9 carriers for 20 yards. The defense let Oklahoma do whatever they wanted, and overall, it was a no good, very bad day for the Jayhawks. they have to look at the rest of the season as a clean slate, and try to get some momentum generated for next year.
9. CAN IOWA STATE LEARN HOW TO WIN BY THE END OF THE YEAR?
By learn how to win, I don’t mean that any team can just win every game they play if they try really hard. I mean that Iowa State has been close to winning in almost every Big 12 game they’ve played, but they can’t find a way to finish games.
Last week wasn’t a great example, because they weren’t the team that blew a big 4th quarter lead, but they still didn’t do enough to win the game, coming up just short. Coming up short has seemingly become the norm in Ames. To break that norm, they need to figure what to do when the game is close, and how to hold leads late in the game. The main way most teams accomplish this is by finding a go to player on offense that can be consistent when the game hangs in the balance. Iowa State doesn’t have that player yet, and they need one to emerge soon to try to salvage this season.
8. DOES TCU HAVE ANY CHANCE AGAINST BAYLOR?
TCU’s season has been disappointing over the last four weeks. Three losses in four games, even if two of them came against ranked teams, has the Horned Frogs worried about the direction this season is headed in.
Kenny Hill has struggled with consistency, as has the entire offense. TCU has the 24th best offense in the country for yardage, but that’s not the whole picture. They are completing just 59.7% of their passes for 7.45 yards per attempt. That’s respectable, but no where close to as efficient as some other offenses around the conference.
But offense isn’t everything. TCU managed to keep Patrick Mahomes in check with a defensive back heavy set on Saturday, and while most Big 12 teams aren’t as one-dimensional as Texas Tech, the ability to slow down the pass is a big plus for TCU.
When looking at if they have a chance against Baylor, yeah, they do. If their defense can slow down Seth Russell, and if Kenny Hill/Foster Sawyer can avoid too many mistakes, we could be in for a great one.
7. CAN TEXAS BUILD ON THEIR BIG WIN?
Texas got their biggest win of the season with an upset over Baylor on Saturday. While that win is not all that meaningful when it comes to the conference championship race, it does get Texas back to .500, and back into the bowl discussion. The Longhorns finally played to where they should be playing. Granted, D’Onta Foreman should not have to run for 250 yards for Texas to win, and he certainly won’t very often, but it wasn’t just the running game that was solid.
Shane Buechele was not super accurate, but when he was, it was usually for big numbers, as he completed just 12 passes for nearly 300 yards. Offense hasn’t been the problem for Texas this year though, and while the defense wasn’t great, it was enough, especially late, to help secure the win.
For Texas to build on the win, they need to keep the offense at the level it’s at, and somehow get the defense to play to their potential consistently. They forced two turnovers against a Baylor team that rarely coughs up the ball. Even with the turnovers, Texas still allowed over 600 yards to Baylor’s offense, including almost 400 on the ground, supporting the idea that the front seven needs to be improved to keep the momentum from this game going.
6. WILL TEXAS TECH GO BACK TO THE PASSING GAME?
As some very passionate Texas Tech fans informed me (I appreciate you guys, I really do. You help me improve and keep me in check), Texas Tech did not pass much on Saturday because TCU played with eight defensive backs and sold out to stop the pass. Obviously an offense wants to take what the defense is giving them, but that misses the point of what I meant by “pass more”.
Teams are going to go defensive backfield heavy against Texas Tech, that’s a given. Any team that passes as well as the Red Raiders will face pass heavy defenses. That doesn’t mean the Red Raiders should get away from what they do best. Passing is Texas Tech’s bread and butter. Despite their insane pass count, they manage to maintain incredibly high pass efficiency numbers. Adjusting routes and formations to confuse and find holes in the secondary, would likely be significantly more successful than a team with an offensive line built to pass trying to run the ball 50 times.
Against teams like Oklahoma State and Baylor, Texas Tech will struggle to run when the defense comes out in a nickel or quarters look, because three or four defensive lineman on those teams can beat Texas Tech’s line attempting to run block more often than they can’t, but those three or four guys can’t keep Patrick Mahomes from picking their defense apart five yards at a time.
5. CAN KANSAS STATE PULL AN UPSET TO GET BOWL ELIGIBLE?
Firstly, I don’t care what the spread for this game is, Kansas State is the underdog. Home-field advantage is great, but Oklahoma State is fresh off a huge win over West Virginia, and right now there’s nothing that leads me to think the Wildcats are better than the Cowboys.
With that being said, I could still see Kansas State winning this game, and I really don’t think it’s that far-fetched. Snyderball historically gives coach Gundy headaches.
Kansas State doesn’t have a great passing defense, 98th nationally, but if they play to stop the pass they could find success. Oklahoma State is at their best when Mason Rudolph plays well. When the passing game struggles, the Cowboys offense becomes stagnant due to the lack of a standalone running game. Forcing Oklahoma State to run would run the clock and keep the score low. Which is good, because their offense isn’t capable of winning in a shootout.
4. CAN WEST VIRGINIA GET BACK ON TRACK?
West Virginia suffered their first setback of the year at the hands of Oklahoma State last week, and while the loss has almost certainly knocked the Mountaineers (and the Big 12) out of the championship race, all is not lost for a really talented West Virginia team. They’re still in the Big 12 championship race, as it’s narrowed to basically a 4-team competition with five weeks to go.
One loss isn’t a death sentence, all of the talent has not evaporated and it isn’t panic time in Morgantown. However, West Virginia has things to address to avoid increasing the total in the loss column before the end of the year. First, they need to cut down on the turnovers. It’s hard to win against anyone when you give up the ball three times. While the turnovers may have been just a fluke, I’m sure Skyler Howard will be practicing ball control quite a bit this week. Secondly, Oklahoma State didn’t need to run well at all to have a dangerous offense. Mason Rudolph did whatever he wanted on the West Virginia secondary, and they need to adjust the defense to protect better against the pass in the future.
3. WILL BAYLOR GO BACK TO TERENCE WILLIAMS?
Two great performances from sophomore halfback Terence Williams in three games is encouraging for a Baylor team that has an extremely potent offense even when he doesn’t dominate. Williams’ 24-carry, 180-yard game in Baylor’s loss to Texas was his best of the season, though he wasn’t the only player who had success on the ground. Baylor accumulated nearly 400 yards on the ground, though stats like that mean nothing without a win.
To get back on track, Baylor needs to cut down on turnovers. The turned the ball over with a pick and a fumble last week, but it could have been even worse. They put the ball on the ground three times, but they were able to get two of them back.
Seth Russell is in concussion protocol this week, but should be good to go for their matchup with TCU on Saturday. Although, an effective running game would help him quite a bit against the defense that just seemingly found the solution to the Patrick Mahomes problem.
2. CAN OKLAHOMA STATE KEEP THEIR MOMENTUM GOING?
I’ve already discussed Mason Rudolph’s big game, so I really don’t need to break it down anymore. In short terms, he had a really good game, and aside from the turnovers from West Virginia, he’s the biggest reason Oklahoma State got a win on Saturday.
However, one big win doesn’t make a season. Just like one big loss doesn’t break a season. Oklahoma State still has four games left, including the Bedlam Series which is shaping up to be a great match-up for two teams that had to claw their way back into the national conversation after a bad start to the season.
1. IS A NY6 BOWL STILL IN PLAY FOR OKLAHOMA?
And now comes the other team that I mentioned as having to fight back from bad early season losses. Oklahoma has done that pretty well, as they now sit at 14th in the first edition of the CFP poll that came out Tuesday evening. With that ranking, and how Oklahoma has played in their last few weeks, the answer to this question seems simple: yes.
Oklahoma is undefeated in the Big 12, and if they can continue on the path they’re currently on, they’ll find themselves in the Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately for the Sooners, they still have to take on Baylor, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State, the three other top teams in the Big 12. If Oklahoma State can escape that murderer’s row unscathed, they could even have an argument for a playoff appearance.