KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
SERIES: Oklahoma State is 36-23 against Kansas State. One of the best games in the series was staged during the Cowboys' Big 12 title run in 2011 when they held off the Wildcats, 52-45, behind QB Brandon Weeden. The game ended with a goal-line stop by OSU and a few minutes later an earthquake sent tremors through T. Boone Pickens Stadium.
RANKINGS: Kansas State unranked, Oklahoma State No. 21
KEYS TO THE GAME
Just when it seemed quarterback J.W. Walsh was comfortable running the Oklahoma State offense, the first-year starter struggled mightily at West Virginia.
The Mountaineers had a say in that development, mixing looks and coverages while riding the momentum, and crowd involvement, generated by an early pick-six.
Walsh went on to finish 20 of 47 passing and acknowledged that both of his interceptions were bad throws. The performance again puts in play the concern whether the sophomore is an accurate thrower given his ability to bolt for big gains off scrambles and designed runs.
Not all of the blame should be thrust on Walsh, who did manage to throw for 322 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage total could have been much more had receivers not dropped several balls. In addition, the Cowboys sputtered on the ground. Their starting tailback, Jeremy Smith, averaged 0.1 yards on 15 attempts.
When it mattered most, Oklahoma State could not punch in a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It reached the West Virginia goalline, but was backed up, prompting coach Mike Gundy to call out the field goal unit for a game-tying boot. The 23-yard attempt by freshman Ben Grogan missed.
So, yes, count the special teams as another problem area. Enough that Gundy needs to evaluate all units after punter Kip Smith had attempts that went just 16 and 13 yards.
"We certainly have to get better," Gundy said. "We have always been very sound in our kicking game. But we're behind those (kickers) 100 percent right now and we'll show them support and we expect them to work hard to get better."
The same applies to the entire squad. The defense had slips too trying to contain an attack engineered by the third starting quarterback West Virginia has used this season.
If there is one plus it is that Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) at least returns home for an Oct. 5 clash against Kansas State (2-2, 0-1). Both teams, however, will be desperate to stay in the conference chase; Kansas State as the defending Big 12 champion and Oklahoma State as the preseason favorite after claiming the 2011 title.
The Wildcats have had their share of problems stemming from a rotation involving two new quarterbacks, Jake Waters and Daniel Sams. An inexperienced defense has also had its troubles with tackling, positioning and sheer toughness, though Kansas State did have a week off under veteran coach Bill Snyder to prepare for the Cowboys.
Still, the loss to West Virginia, which completed fewer than half its pass attempts and rushed for just 66 yards on 29 carries, is the first concern Oklahoma State must address. In particular, the late failures were disconcerting since the Cowboys had converted all 15 trips into the red zone for touchdowns prior to the trip to Morgantown.
"It was more execution," Gundy said. "When we have a game like that, what I think is important is for us to identify was it the plan that failed, and the players didn't have a chance? That has happened before. That wasn't the case here."
The Cowboys will be playing in T. Boone Pickens Stadium for just the second time in eight games when it faces Kansas State. Oklahoma State has won 13 of its last 14 at home.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB/KR Charles Sims was Oklahoma State's top threat in the loss at West Virginia, rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He also caught five balls for 82 yards and had one kick return for 15 yards. Expect Sims to continue getting a lot of touches after RB Jeremy Smith struggled.
--WR Josh Stewart got the game against West Virginia started with a big play, a 73-yard touchdown strike from QB J.W. Walsh. Although several receivers are incorporated into the Oklahoma State attack, Stewart remains the most consistent threat. After snagging seven catches for 127 yards at West Virginia, Stewart leads the Cowboys with 19 receptions for 312 yards, a 16.4-yard average. Stewart drew an ejection after throwing a punch late in the West Virginia. His status for the Oct. 5 game against Kansas State will be determined by Big 12 officials.
--PK Ben Grogan needs to improve. The freshman is just 1-for-4 on field goal attempts. He bounced a 23-yard chip shot off the right upright in the fourth quarter of the West Virginia defeat. Two other misses were from 44 and 49 yards, including a low kick that was blocked and nearly returned for a touchdown.
--RB John Hubert has struggled at times, generating a 4.1-yard average per carry and averaging just 59.5 yards through four games. The diminutive back has not gotten consistently good holes to run through, which has been surprising since Kansas State fields a veteran offensive line.
--WR/KR Tyler Lockett is one of the top all-around threats in the Big 12. His 29 receptions for 469 yards easily double the production of any other Kansas State receiver. In addition, Lockett has seven kickoff returns for a 22.9-yard average. Lockett lines up opposite another deep man, Tramaine Thompson, who has a touchdown among his two kickoff returns.
--LB Blake Slaughter leads the Wildcats with 37 tackles, including two sacks, while also breaking up three passes. Slaughter redshirted last season while realizing he would be behind standout Arthur Brown on the depth chart. Although Slaughter has been effective, he needs more help up front for Kansas State to improve against the run.