UCF braces for physical Kansas State in Big 12 opener

As UCF prepared for its first Big 12 showdown at Kansas State on Saturday, the Knights know they will face one of the more physical teams in college football.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for physical football teams. I’ve got an appreciation,” coach Gus Malzahn said earlier in the week. “It will be good for us to experience that. I’m looking forward to that.”

The Wildcats have built their program on that physicality, first under legendary coach Bill Snyder and then fifth-year coach Chris Klieman, who brought his style of football from his time at North Dakota State. The Bison won nine national titles between 2011-21, including four under Klieman.

The success has continued at Kansas State, which won the Big 12 title last season.

“They’re a very good football team and very good on defense,” said UCF offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw. “They’re physical and do a great job with their schemes. They’re hard-nosed and physical and there’s a reason why they were the Big 12 champs last year.”

Added Malzahn: “They play in people’s backfield and are very disruptive.

Malzahn has been pleased with his team’s progress through the first quarter of the season.

“We haven’t played our best football, but we have played extremely hard,” he said. “We have a lot of areas to improve on and our guys understand that.”

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Coaches: Malzahn, 3rd season at UCF, 21-9 (98-47 overall); Klieman, 5th season at Kansas State, 32-21 (104-34 overall).

Quick slant: This is the second meeting between these programs, with Kansas State holding a 1-0 advantage. UCF jumped out to a 10-3 lead early in the fourth quarter of the road contest but the Wildcats scored 14 points, including a touchdown by Carson Coffman with 24 seconds left, for a 17-13 win on Sept. 25, 2010. … Malzahn is 1-0 against Kansas State in his career after leading the then-No. 5 Auburn to a 20-14 win against the No. 20 Wildcats on Sept. 18, 2014.

About UCF (3-0, 0-0 Big 12): Receiver Kobe Hudson is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career. The senior is looking to become the first UCF player with three consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Charles Lee (1999). … Running back RJ Harvey leads the team in rushing yards (239) and is eighth in the Big 12 with an average of 6.1 yards per attempt. … UCF leads the conference with 26 explosive plays (20-plus yards), including 17 passing and nine rushing plays.

About Kansas State (2-1, 0-0 Big 12): Phillip Brooks is a triple threat for the Wildcats as a receiver and in the return game. The senior leads the team and is fourth overall in the Big 12 all-purpose yards (368), including a team-high 184 receiving yards, 114 kickoff return yards and 68 punt return yards. … Fullback/tight end Ben Sinnott is the second-most targeted player in the offense (behind Brooks), with the junior splitting time in the backfield, on the line of scrimmage and in the slot.

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Establish the run: Kansas State ranks third in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 50 yards per game. The Wildcats haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since TCU quarterback Max Duggan (110 yards) in the Big 12 championship game last year. UCF, meanwhile, is averaging close to 300 rushing yards, with 60% (144) of the Knights’ offensive plays coming from the ground game.

Force turnovers: UCF defensive backs have recorded an interception in every game, led by DeJordan Mask (vs. Kent State), Corey Thornton (at Boise State) and Nikai Martinez (vs. Villanova). The Knights rank near the bottom of the Big 12 in turnovers forced (three), just ahead of Kansas State (two) and Oklahoma State (one).

Protect the quarterback: UCF has allowed four sacks, and Kansas State’s defense ranks 15th in the nation in sacks (10). Defensive ends Khalid Duke (three) and Nate Matlack (two) have been a force up front for the Wildcats, who have pressured opposing quarterbacks 52 times with 27 hurries, per Pro Football Focus.

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium

When: 8 p.m.

TV: FS1; Radio: AM 740/FM 96.9 The Game; SiriusXM Ch. 392

Weather: 58 degrees, 41% rain chance

Favorite: Wildcats 4.5 points

Email Matt Murschel at or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.