K-State’s rushing defense gets major test against OK State

Kansas State comes into the contest ranked fifth in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 102.3 yards per game, 27th in scoring defense (21.6) and 32nd in total defense (362.3).

Ben Queen/Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy got the game ball after the Cowboys upset West Virginia, 37-20, last Saturday, the 100th head coaching victory for Gundy in 12 seasons in Stillwater. But Gundy and his squad didn’t celebrate the milestone very long.

Not with a key Big 12 road game at Kansas State (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) on deck for the No. 22 Cowboys on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2) at Manhattan, Kan.

Oklahoma State (6-2, 4-1) begins the week alone in second place in the Big 12 behind Bedlam rival Oklahoma (6-2, 5-0), which plays Thursday night game at Iowa State (1-7, 0-5).

"Obviously, there’s been a lot said about the last game," Gundy said his weekly press conference on Monday. "We’ve moved forward as a team. Our focus now has been Kansas State. Our message to them last night was when you have big wins and when you have unfortunate losses, you have to get over them pretty fast and start preparing for the next team.

View from the sidelines: College football cheerleaders 2016.

"This game, like I would expect the others to be on our conference schedule from here on out, will be a challenging game for us," Gundy continued. "I would guess it would be a pretty close game right through to the fourth quarter. That’s what we’re expecting and what we’re preparing for."

The home team has won each of the last five meetings, with Oklahoma State edging the Wildcats 36-34 last year in Stillwater.

"They’ve always been a physical group and that’s kind of what (Kansas State coach Bill) Snyder’s always been about," Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph said. "They’re a well-disciplined unit and a good team all around, especially on the defensive side of the ball."

Indeed, Kansas State comes into the contest ranked fifth in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 102.3 yards per game, 27th in scoring defense (21.6) and 32nd in total defense (362.3).

Oklahoma State showed it could play some pretty solid defense itself in the win over West Virginia, not allowing a gain of more than 20 yards. Three takeaways were converted into 17 points as the Cowboys built a 17-point lead in the third quarter.

Turnovers have always been a huge factor behind any scheme that defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer devises. With 19 takeaways on the season, the Cowboys lead the Big 12 and also enjoy a plus-10 turnover margin, which is tops in the league.

"Whenever we don’t run back the ball in practice we do up-downs," Oklahoma State junior linebacker Chad Whitener, who had 13 tackles and a sack against the Mountaineers, told the Tulsa World. "We get punished for it. Whenever we have opportunities to make plays, we make plays. When we don’t, we have to do push-ups and all this other stuff."

Kansas State comes in off back-to-back wins over Texas and last week at Iowa State, contests that both featured some nervous moments at the end.

After taking a 21-point lead into the fourth quarter at Iowa State, the Wildcats gained just nine yards of offense and held on for a 31-26 victory.

That win followed a lackluster second half against Texas a week earlier that started with a lost fumble at the goal line on what would have been a touchdown rush. After holding a 14-point halftime lead, the Wildcats settled for a 24-21 victory.

The ending at Iowa State was just as frustrating after momentum was surrendered by allowing the Cyclones to recover an onside kick to begin the second half. Iowa State actually recovered another onside attempt inside the final minute, but it was disallowed because the ball did not travel 10 yards.

"I’m not saying it’s easy," Snyder said of the shaky finishes. "If it was, everybody would be doing it and they’re not. The only way you can become successful is start, finish and be consistent in between. We’re not doing that."

Wildcats quarterback Jesse Ertz did not complete any deep balls against Iowa State, which has been an issue since he injured his right (throwing) shoulder in an Oct. 15 loss at Oklahoma. Ertz’s longest completion at Iowa State resulted in a 22-yard gain. He finished 18 of 28 for 151 yards with no interceptions. But Ertz continues to progress in the run game, setting a career-best with 106 yards against the Cyclones.

Rudolph, by comparison, ranks third in the Big 12 in passing efficiency behind Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. Out of 291 pass attempts in eight games, Rudolph has thrown just two interceptions while averaging 316.5 yards.

He completed 26 of 36 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns against West Virginia and was even better against Kansas State last year in Stillwater, passing for 437 yards and three touchdowns in the 36-34 win.