Guerin Emig: Let’s spotlight Alan Bowman in his bid to match, or exceed, Kansas counterpart Jason Bean. Bowman should do that given his last game.
Mike Gundy sizes up Kansas this way: “Every bit as good as the team we just played.”
It’s been a long time since Kansas was playing as well as Kansas State, the team Oklahoma State beat 29-21 last Friday. Consider that KU has lost to K-State every year since 2009.
Let’s take this a notch higher: Kansas is playing better than Kansas State.
The day after OSU upset K-State, the Jayhawks vanquished UCF 51-22. It was KU’s most complete performance since waxing OSU 37-16 last November in Lawrence, highlighted by the Jayhawks’ 399 rushing yards.
So there’s the Cowboys’ first challenge Saturday afternoon — hold down running backs Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw, both of whom rushed for over 100 yards against UCF.
“They like running the ball because they’re running three or four yards past the line of scrimmage and not getting touched,” Gundy said. “It’s a pretty good deal.”
The burden on OSU’s position group Saturday belongs to the Pokes’ front six. Or seven if you count rover Kendal Daniels. Or eight if Bryan Nardo chooses to load the box to stop Neal and Hishaw and force Jason Bean to throw.
Bean did just fine throwing on the Cowboys last year, finishing 18-of-23 for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns. OSU starter Garret Rangel threw for 304 yards and 2 scores himself, but was also intercepted three times. That was a killer.
And that leads us to start the breakdown with…
One player: OSU quarterback Alan Bowman
It’s tempting to spotlight OSU tailback Ollie Gordon, assuming the Cowboys try to take advantage of Kansas’ 80th-ranked run defense by handing off, running clock and keeping Neal and Hishaw off the field. Gordon is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games. Perhaps he makes it three in a bid to match KU’s backs.
Let’s spotlight Bowman instead in his bid to match, or exceed, Bean. He should do that given his last game.
Bowman’s so-so numbers against Kansas State — 19-of-35 for 235 yards and no touchdowns — did not do him justice. He threw some of his prettiest balls of the season, balls that fell through the hands of receivers. He also threw no interceptions on a night counterpart Will Howard threw three.
Coaches talk about a quarterback’s “game management” constantly. Bowman managed the game, and his offense, the best he has at OSU in his second full outing as starter. He should settle in even more comfortably in game three.
One caveat here — that OSU’s receivers squeeze those catchable passes. A secondary spotlight not just on Gordon then, but on Brennan Presley, Jaden Bray, Rashod Owens and Josiah Johnson.
One problem: KU’s offensive line
Jalon Daniels hogged the attention when he was healthy and engineering Kansas’ offense. Focus has shifted mostly to Neal and Hishaw since Daniels’ back started bothering him, with leftover plaudits to the Jayhawks’ underrated receiving corps.
That isn’t fair to the heart of an offense averaging 36 points and 434 yards per game — the five fellas doing all of the blocking.
There are 234 career starts across KU’s offensive line, the 12th-most experienced line in FBS by that metric. To watch that group mash UCF for 399 rushing yards was to watch a well-connected, precisely-coached unit work in perfect concert.
OSU’s defensive front can contain Neal and Hishaw, but only by working through KU’s big blue wall first. That will be a chore.
The Jayhawks are just as adept at pass blocking, having allowed six sacks through six games. OSU’s pass rush has been pretty good, but the Cowboys shouldn’t expect to get to Bean without blitzing.
Put it this way — Big 12 defenses usually breathe a lot easier the week after putting up with Kansas State, with the Wildcats’ perpetually efficient run game and blocking prowess.
That is definitely not the case for OSU’s D this week, and that is mostly due to Lance Leipold’s offensive line.
One preposterous prediction: Gundy gets crazier
It was wild to see the Cowboys unleash chaos on K-State last week, Gundy’s track record (see: Bedlam) indicating he has been too careful, not carefree, through the years. OSU handed off to Presley, threw to Bowman and had running back Elijah Collins take a punt snap 4 yards for a first down.
It felt like an admission of two things: 1, The Cowboys don’t have the horses to beat like opponents without resorting to gadgetry (which they don’t); and 2, Gundy is in the midst of as critical an October as he’s ever had, given the malaise of September and the hard feelings that month left across OSU’s fan base.
Kansas being as important a turning point as K-State — the Cowboys emerge either 2-1 in the Big 12 or 1-2 — and straight-up KU being slightly superior to straight-up OSU, the tricks just keep on coming Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.
The one fans giggle about on their way home finds three OSU linemen split wide — Mike Leach’s classic “Ninja” formation — so they can escort Presley downfield after the motioning Presley catches Bowman’s little flair.
The design helps Presley to a 20-yard touchdown, his first score since Arizona State Sept. 9, and sets the tone for an even bigger result than OSU 29, K-State 21.
One pick: OSU 30, KU 22