MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State is one win away from earning a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
Standing in the way of the Wildcats is a well-known opponent they haven’t lost to since 2008. However, coach Chris Klieman knows he will be up against a new and improved Kansas roster. After all, the Jayhawks are bowlable for the first time in 13 years and have one of the best offenses in the Big 12.
Though the Wildcats have outscored the Jayhawks 128-34 in the last three meetings under Klieman, he still expects a bitter fight under the lights Saturday.
“I don’t know their squad, but they play hard and believe in it, and they undoubtedly have talented players,” said Klieman. “They played inspired getting her to a bowl game, which I know was great for the program.”
Klieman is aware that Kansas has lost five of their last six games. Still, Klieman has great respect for Lance Leipold and the direction he has taken the Jayhawks.
There’s no denying that Leipold’s team would love nothing more than to play spoilers, giving the Wildcats a 13-game losing streak and preventing them from advancing to the title game. And that’s why Klieman keeps his players focused on the task at hand.
“I know this is the potential cherry on top for them in this game because they’re already qualified for the bowl, so they have nothing to lose,” he said.
Kansas’ explosive offense caught Klieman’s attention. The Jayhawks are averaging 34.8 points per game, which ranks third in the Big 12 and 27th on the FBS. Not to mention, Kansas was able to maintain those numbers with quarterbacks Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean lining up behind center.
Daniels is dynamic with his arms and legs and Bean is the seasoned veteran, but Klieman knows both can hurt defenses in different ways. And he plans to see both gunslingers, especially Daniels.
“He (Daniels) causes a lot of problems because he can throw exceptionally well, he can run, he can lengthen plays and do a little bit of everything,” said the 55-year-old coach. “He makes everyone around him better, and I would say the same about Bean.”
The Jayhawks have a gimmick offense that confuses defenses with pre-snap moves and misdirection plays, so Klieman thinks it’s important for his defenders to keep their eyes peeled. It’s no secret that this is Kansas State’s biggest game of the season (8-3), and it’s going to be an emotional game because of Senior Day.
Klieman genuinely wants that win but downplays the pressure that comes with territory. Regardless, he has an abundance of experienced players in his roster who are just as hungry.
Quarterback Will Howard has thrown for five touchdowns and one interception in his last two games. Running back Deuce Vaughn has surpassed the century mark in rushing yards in six games this fall. Veteran receivers Malik Knowles, Phillip Brooks and Kade Warner are all safe hands and never afraid to get through the clutch.
On defense, the Wildcats have arguably the best player in the Big 12 in Felix Anudike-Uzomah. He leads the conference with 7.5 sacks and should keep Daniels and Bean busy. Kansas (6-5) is no pushover, however, so something has to give way. And in Klieman’s eyes, it’s still just a normal fall Saturday, especially when his team has a trip to Jerry’s World at stake.
“I know they’ve been beaten in recent weeks but they’re a good football team and it should be a hell of a tough battle here on Saturday.”