Oklahoma State is coming off a bye week and hits the road for the first time in more than a month when the Cowboys face Kansas in Lawrence. They will also be trying to rebound after a last-minute loss to Texas two weeks ago.
Which quarterback starts?
I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t J.W. Walsh, though Wes Lunt is still listed as a co-starter on the depth chart. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken seemed pleased with Lunt’s progress Monday, saying he was throwing in full pads, but coach Mike Gundy stressed that they won’t bring Lunt back until he’s 100 percent healthy. Walsh has certainly proven that he is good enough to lead this offense — and is clearly capable of beating Kansas.
Does the defense find traction?
OSU’s defense has been criticized for giving up too many passing yards and points against Arizona and failing to get off the field on third and fourth down against Texas. Cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown have been beat up for struggling and not living up to the preseason expectations of being perhaps being the best cornerback duo in the Big 12. The unit as a whole hasn’t forced enough turnovers. Playing well against Kansas won’t suddenly flip this defense’s reputation, but it could build confidence and create momentum going forward.
Is weather a factor?
I’m writing this from my hotel in Topeka, where outside it’s gray and rainy and, really, not all that pleasant. Forecasts say there’s potential for some severe weather later this afternoon. Either way, it looks like the field will be wet and soggy, and the football could be slick. Which team does that affect more?
Despite the Jayhawks’ 1-4 start, they have hung in with teams during the first half. Yes, even Kansas State last week. OSU is coming off both a heartbreaking loss and a bye week. How will the Cowboys respond? Will the Cowboys score 56 points in the first half like last season? Probably not. But putting KU out of the game early should be the goal.
Run the ball
Again, part of this has to do with the weather. But Joseph Randle is coming off his best game as a Cowboy and is returning to his home state and the stadium where his older brother once played. Expect a big performance from him. I’m also curious to see if — or how much — Jeremy Smith plays after he left the Texas game with an undisclosed injury. This game could also give Desmond Roland a good chunk of carries.
Force three turnovers
This is going to continue to be a goal until the Cowboys accomplish it. They can beat KU without three takeaways, but it will be tough for this defense to find success against most other Big 12 opponents if it doesn’t return to its opportunistic, turnover-heavy style. It’s the Cowboys’ identity and what coaches preach. Defensive coordinator Bill Young told me last week that they believe once a big turnover game comes, it could get the Cowboys really rolling in that department. This game seems like the perfect opportunity for that.
Uniform prediction: Gray helmet, white jersey, orange pants
We know the jersey will be white. And after a repeat combo in the Cowboys’ first road game against Arizona — not to mention in their last game against Texas — I bet we see a new look. The gray helmet hasn’t been worn yet this season.
Final score prediction: OSU 49, Kansas 23
The backups won’t be in the game before halftime like last season, but they still get plenty of work in this game.