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2018 Season

6 Takeaways From Kansas State’s Win Over Oklahoma State

Breaking down the Wildcats upset win over the Cowboys, and what it means for both teams.

Getty Images - Peter G Aiken

Both Kansas State and Oklahoma State were in desperate need for a win on Saturday. With any chance to salvage preseason expectations on the line, the Wildcats played their best game of the season so far, while the Cowboys didn’t. Kansas State pulled off an upset win, running away in the second half for a 31-12 win.

With their first Big 12 win of the season, the Wildcats improved to 3-4 overall, while the Cowboys are now 4-3, and both teams have a 1-3 conference mark. That conference record bests just one other team in the league, Kansas.

For K-State, the positive momentum and further development for a couple key players on offense will be vital following its bye next week. As for the Pokes, they enter their bye week with a lot of questions to answer before taking on the Longhorns in two Saturdays.

Following Saturday’s showdown, the effectiveness of running backs and quarterbacks is at the forefront for both squads.

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Alex Barnes is K-State’s Most Important Player

Kansas State’s offense has been disjointed for most of the season. It’s no coincidence, though, that the team’s best offensive performances have come in the last two weeks, when junior running back Alex Barnes took control.

Barnes rushed for 181 yards, and tied a career high with four touchdowns on 34 carries against Oklahoma State. Over the past two weeks, Barnes has 431 rushing yards on 56 carries with seven touchdowns. He has essentially been the entire Wildcat’s offense, and that trend needs to continue for K-State.

The Wildcats are a run-first team, so giving the ball to their best running back is an obvious strategy. Again though, this is an offense which sputtered at best through the first chunk of the season. Before Barnes broke out versus Baylor in Week 6, Kansas State averaged under 20 points per game through its first five games, and had two games with under 250 yards of total offense. Over the past two weeks, however, K-State has averaged 32.5 points per game and 444.5 yards per game. Barnes is the so-called “X-factor” for the Wildcats, and they need to keep his production up in order to stay competitive offensively.

Justice Hill Must Be Utilized More, Better

When you’re behind, especially late in a game, passing almost always comes before running. That said, only giving the Big 12’s leading rusher 11 carries is rarely a good strategy. Hill averaged 3.7 yards per carry in Saturday’s loss, but for a team that averaged just 4.9 yards per play in a losing effort, continuing to feed a home run threat running back could have eventually paid off. Or better yet, finding creative ways to get Hill the ball in space would put your best playmaker in a position to make a play.

Credit is owed to Kansas State’s defense for playing a strong game overall. The same can be said for Iowa State last week, as the Cyclones also shut down Hill and the Cowboy’s offense.

Through seven games, Hill has 684 rushing yards. Just 31.9 percent of his rushing production has come in Oklahoma State’s three losses this year. While defenses deserve credit for making stops and stifling the Cowboys’ rushing attack, OSU needs to keep Hill involved. If your best offensive threat is a running back, you’re putting too much pressure on the rest of the offense by only giving him 13 total touches in a game (11 rushes, two receptions).

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Skylar Thompson Is The Only Quarterback Option For K-State

If you have followed Kansas State football closely this season, this isn’t news to you. Sophomore Skylar Thompson is a better passer than K-State’s other part-time quarterback, junior Alex Delton, and he’s a good enough runner that this difference between the two is close to negligible.

Along with Barnes’ explosive numbers, there’s been another prominent trend for K-State’s offense the last two weeks: Thompson is the only quarterback that’s played. Delton has been out injured, which makes the playing time split easy for coach Bill Snyder at the moment, but Thompson has showed that he deserves the job full time.

He hasn’t been perfect over the past two weeks, especially two games ago when he threw two interceptions. But after a clean and effective game against Oklahoma State (130 passing yards, 80 rushing yards, no turnovers), there shouldn’t be any doubt going forward, regardless of Delton’s health.

Oklahoma State Needs More Out Of Taylor Cornelius

If Hill is only going to touch the ball 13 times, then senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius needs to play far better than he did in Week 7 for the Cowboys to continue winning games in the second half of the season. Cornelius completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the loss to K-State, averaged only 5.3 yards per attempt and threw two interceptions. That wasn’t enough on Saturday, and it won’t be against teams like Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia down the stretch, either.

Again, Kansas State deserves credit for playing well defensively. The Wildcats made things hard on the Cowboys all afternoon. That doesn’t completely excuse a poor offensive performance, though. It’s hard to win with an 81.3 passer efficiency rating, especially in the Big 12 and especially if your defense is allowing 31 points to a below-average offense.

Cornelius doesn’t deserve all the blame for the loss, not even close. And there’s something to be said for other aspects of the team putting more pressure on him to succeed and giving him less help than he needs. Even so, he has to lead a more productive passing attack for the Cowboys going forward as they get into the hardest part of their schedule.

When Do You Take A Risk Over Playing The Percentages?

Down two scores, with eight minutes minutes left, against a team that likes to grind the clock, who has scored their last three drives, coach Gundy decided to punt from midfield.

It was obvious that Gundy was playing the percentages, and he confirmed as much in his post-game press conference. The Cowboys faced fourth and 9, and the percentages say you don’t have a great chance of converting.

“It was tough,” Gundy said on making the call. “You try to stop them, you try to score, the chances on 4th-and-9 or 4th-and-10 are really low. So, I didn’t really feel like that was a tough time. Basically, if you miss there, the percentages kind of climb down there. And holding them back in time and trying to score again.”

The problem is though, what about the percentages to win the game by punting? There was just over eight minutes remaining on the clock, and unless you force a turnover, against a team like K-State, you probably only have one more possession in the game. That’s a problem when you’re down by two possessions; meaning, the percentages say that they couldn’t afford to punt there.

To make matters worse, the Cowboy’s defense was gassed and couldn’t get the Wildcats off the field. Kansas State has scored on the previous three drives. And sure enough, they scored on the next drive to go up by three scores while chewing over five minutes of clock. What do the percentages say about scoring three touchdowns in two and a half minutes?

The Cowboys Bowl Chances Are On Life Support

The win helps the Wildcat’s bowl chances a bit, but the writing has been on the wall all season that a bowl bid is probably out of reach for this team. However, for the Cowboys, not making a bowl game didn’t even seem to be in the realm of possibilities before the season, but after the loss, it now seems like the most likely outcome.

At 4-3, Oklahoma State needs just two more wins to become bowl eligible, and they have five games left to get them. However, when you consider the way they have been playing lately and who they have remaining on the schedule, it’s tough to see where they will get the needed wins.

After the bye week, the Pokes get Texas at home. The Longhorns are currently the hottest team in the conference, and will be favored to win. After Texas, they have Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia and TCU to close out the season. The Sooners and the Mountaineers will be heavy favorites, leaving Baylor and TCU as the Cowboy’s best bets to get the needed wins. They might get one win between the two, but does anyone feel confident they will get both?

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