Throughout the 2012 season, SoonerNation will look at five different storylines that could have a major impact in Oklahoma’s upcoming game each Thursday. Here are the storylines as the Sooners host Kansas State at 6:50 p.m. CT,Saturday at Owen Field.
1. Will Collin Klein pass the ball well enough to make the Sooners pay if they overload the box?
The Kansas State quarterback enters the game with a 72.9 completion percentage after completing just 57.3 percent of his passes in 2011. Klein worked hard to improve his passing ability during the summer and it appears to be paying off early in the season.
The Sooners will be looking to stop Klein’s feet before they worry about his right arm. Expect OU to be aggressive and load the box to stop the run, forcing Klein to look to the air. If the Wildcats hit two or three passes for big plays early in the game, it will force the Sooners to respect their passing game. If not, the Sooners can tee off on Klein and company.
2. Will the Sooners' defensive interior hold up against KSU’s power rushing attack?
The answer to this question could define the game. Injuries, off-the-field issues and suspensions forced defensive end David King to move to defensive tackle for the Sooners' first two games, allowing questions about OU’s interior defense to run rampant.
Casey Walker, who missed OU’s first two games, returns against Kansas State, giving the Sooners a needed boost. He joins Jamarkus McFarland in the interior, allowing King to play defensive tackle and defensive end against the Wildcats. Regardless of which Sooners line up at defensive tackle, OU will have to hold up in the interior with Klein and running back John Hubert running behind a physical K-State offensive front.
If OU’s defensive interior makes plays and holds its ground, it will allow Tom Wort and Corey Nelson to make plays closer to the line of scrimmage. If not, K-State should be able to use its ball-control offense to wear the Sooners down and keep OU quarterback Landry Jones off the field.
3. Are Jones and the Sooners ready to take advantage of a Wildcat defense allowing 7 yards per pass attempt?
This is a game where Jones can cement himself in the Heisman race. With Kenny Stills, Justin Brown and Trey Metoyer, Jones has the weapons to take advantage of a KSU pass defense that has allowed a 67.4 completion percentage and 753 passing yards. Jones, Brown and Metoyer have been putting in extra time after practice to get their timing down with the hopes it would pay off in games like this.
The Wildcats pass defense has been particularly susceptible on third down, allowing 64 percent of opponents' passes to be completed through three games, ranking worst in the Big 12 according to cfbstats.com.
In one-on-one situations, OU should have the advantage on the perimeter. Will Jones make K-State pay?
4. How will special teams impact the outcome?
Just three games into its 2012 season, K-State has already recorded a kickoff return for a touchdown, punt return for a touchdown and blocked a kick. There’s a pretty good chance the Wildcats will step on Owen Field with a plan to make a game-changing play via special teams.
Return specialists Tyler Lockett (kickoff) and Tramaine Thompson (punt) each have kick returns for touchdowns this season, but the Sooners did a great job handling the Wildcats’ duo in last season’s 58-17 win, as KSU averaged 22.67 yards per kickoff return and didn’t have a punt return against the Sooners.
Head coach Bob Stoops said the Sooners have been working hard on their special teams with the Wildcats on the horizon, so OU understands the challenge it faces. In addition, kicker Michael Hunnicutt, punter Tress Way and punt returner Justin Brown give the Sooners the weapons to make a mark of their own.
5. Could turnovers spark an upset?
The odds of winning on the road always increase when the road team wins the turnover battle. KSU enters the game with a plus-1 turnover margin, while OU sits at minus-1.
Last season, losing the turnover battle was a major issue for OU, as the Sooners finished minus-7 in four games against ranked opponents. They must get on the right side of the turnover margin ledger if they expect to compete for a national championship.
And it starts on Saturday.