Bill Snyder transformed Kansas State from a punchline to a national power in his first stint at Kansas State, and he has the program back as a Top 25 regular in his second go-round.
That success, however, has not typically carried into matchups with Oklahoma.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats head to Norman on Saturday to face the No. 11 Sooners – the only current Big 12 team with a winning record against Snyder.
“You only have 12 or maybe 13 opportunities to play our best out of 365 days,” said Snyder, brushing off the idea of Kansas State (4-1, 2-0) having a rivalry with Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1). “You cannot go through and pick and choose what is important and what is not. They all count – every single one of them counts.”
Snyder is 7-12 in his career against the Sooners, and has lost eight of 10 meetings with Bob Stoops – though one of those wins came in his most recent trip to Norman. The Wildcats stunned the No. 6 Sooners 24-19 there in September 2012.
Oklahoma was ranked 22nd last Nov. 23 when it defeated Kansas State 41-31 in Manhattan largely thanks to 301 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
It was cornerback Zack Sanchez’s 74-yard interception return that accounted for the Sooners’ final points, but Oklahoma also failed to contain Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett.
Waters threw for a career-high 348 yards and Lockett posted the best receiving performance in school history with 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns. With 162 kickoff return yards, Lockett also tallied a school-record 440 all-purpose yards.
After amassing 1,262 yards and catching 11 touchdowns passes as an all-Big 12 receiver last season, Lockett started somewhat slow in 2014 with 17 catches for 274 yards and one score in his first four games.
But he caught 12 balls for 125 yards and two of Waters’ four TD passes in his latest game, Kansas State’s 45-13 rout of Texas Tech on Oct. 4.
Waters and the Wildcats might be able to have some similar success through the air in this one. Since beginning conference play on Sept. 20, Oklahoma has allowed an average of 342.7 passing yards – tied for 122nd in the nation.
The Sooners have surrendered a total of 96 points in those three contests, and were outgained 482-232 in last Saturday’s 31-26 win over Texas. They only had 29 yards in the first half, though an Alex Ross kickoff return TD and a Sanchez INT return for a score played a part in those limited numbers.
”A little bit of that, the rhythm of it, you lose an offensive possession when you return the kick for a touchdown, the offense doesn’t get their possession when you return an interception for a touchdown,” Stoops said. ”I’m not complaining about the touchdowns, but it does throw you off.”
The long-term concern for Stoops’ team might be sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight, who has been inconsistent under center since thrashing Alabama for 348 yards and four TDs in a Sugar Bowl win. He’s completed just 50 percent of his passes in Big 12 play so far with two TDs and three INTs.
”As long as things aren’t going perfectly, there’s going to be criticism, there’s going to be doubts,” Knight said Monday. ”You just have to stay internal with that. You have to stay confident with who you are as a player, who you are as a team, who you are as an offense and continue to press forward.
Snyder has his own answer to the critics of Knight’s low completion percentage.
“Look at the throws he’s making,” Snyder said. “They’re some of the hardest throws you can possibly make. There’s a reason why short throws enhance your completion percentage and long throws don’t. They’ve thrown the ball extremely deep, a lot of deep throws.
“… They’re still scoring points.”
Knight averaged 6.6 yards on 67 rushing attempts last season but has been held to 4.3 per carry on his 31 so far in 2014. That number doesn’t figure to increase against a Kansas State rush defense that’s fourth in the nation, allowing just 81.4 yards per game and 2.8 per carry.
But after watching Knight run 14 times for 82 yards and a score against his defense last year, Snyder certainly seems wary.
“You have to be prepared for the quarterback draw, the zone read aspect of it and just his ability to pull it down and scramble with it,” Snyder said. “If you are successful enough to cover receivers, he has good feet and can pull it out.”
Kansas State’s win in Norman two years ago remains Oklahoma’s only loss in 15 home games against ranked Big 12 opponents in the Stoops era.