LAWRENCE, KS - NOVEMBER 03: Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Reggan Northrup (9) tries to tackle Kansas Jayhawks wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (11)) short of the end zone in the fourth quarter of a Big 12 football game between the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas Jayhawks on November 3, 2018 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, KS. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Sunflower Showdown Preview starts with a 116-year-old rivalry between Kansas State and Kansas. Both teams have a 3-6 record and are 1-5 in conference play. The Wildcats have struggled mightily this season and they are having a disappointing season. The Jayhawks are performing well considering where the program has been in the past. Kansas has three wins this season, which matches the three wins they had in 2016 and 2017 combined. The Wildcats, however, are underperforming this season. They expected to be in contention for a Big 12 championship, not at the bottom of the conference. There are two reasons why the game is crucial to both.

Sunflower Showdown Preview

Beaty Out As Head Coach

The first reason is the Jayhawks fired head coach David Beaty on Sunday. Athletic Director Jeff Long gave some thoughts at his press conference: “As you all know, earlier today I informed coach Beaty that he will not be retained at the conclusion of this football season. After a thorough and thoughtful evaluation of our football program over the last three months, I arrived at a decision this morning that it was in the football program’s best interest to move forward with new leadership. … Our search is already underway. I’m excited by the wide-ranging interest we’ve already received and I anticipate receiving in the days and weeks ahead.”

The timing of the firing is peculiar because there are still three games left in the season and they play their arch-rival on Saturday. This is what David Beaty had to say on the firing: “From a personal level, am I upset I won’t be with these guys and this great university? Absolutely. But it’s the way of the world. I get it and we understand it. I’m just going to enjoy every minute of the next three weeks.” Beaty is optimistic and the Jayhawks will rally around him as they take on the Wildcats this weekend.

K-State’s Special Team Struggles

The Wildcats special teams continued to be poor on Saturday against TCU. Wide Receiver Isaiah Zuber fumbled a punt return in the first quarter and the Horn Frogs scored off the turnover. In the second quarter, K-State marched down the field and attempted a field goal from the TCU nine-yard-line. The snap was low and grazed the ground. The holder Colby Moore could place the ball in time, so he had to scramble and heave the ball towards the end zone. It was intercepted by TCU with three minutes left in the first half.

In the third quarter, K-State had the ball at the TCU 35 yard-line and it was 4th and 3. Bill Snyder chose to punt the ball instead of going for it or attempting a 52-yard field goal with a wind at their back. The punt went into the end zone and K-State only gained 15-yards of field position. The last special team blunder came in the fourth quarter after they scored a touchdown. The holder had the laces facing kicker Blake Lynch instead of away from him and the kick went wide left. That is at least four points that were left off the board.

Snyder’s Worst Special Teams Unit

This is the worst special teams unit that Snyder has ever had at K-State. Last year K-State finished first in the country in overall special teams efficiency. The Wildcats lost their kicker, punter, long snapper, holder, and kick returner. This is the first time under Bill Snyder that they have had to replace every single one of those players on special teams. Here are the Wildcats national rankings in special teams this season via NCAA.com: 85th in extra point efficiency, 83rd in kickoff efficiency, 75th in net punting, 71st in field goal efficiency, 116th in punt return defense and kickoffs returns, 127th in kickoff return efficiency, and their overall special teams’ efficiency is 81st.

The worst finish K-State has had at the end of the season in special teams is 41st in 2016. The Wildcats have to figure out a way to get better on special teams because that has been the difference maker for them under Snyder.

Keys to Victory For K-State and KU

The Sunflower Showdown will be at 11:00 am on Saturday on the Fox Sports Network. The Wildcats will have to be better on special teams and offense. They have only produced 27 points in the last two games. The defense played well last week after getting scorched by Oklahoma. They gave up less than 300 yards of offense and only 14 points. Skylar Thompson missed a majority of the TCU game, so he is questionable for Saturday. Whether it’s Skylar Thompson or Alex Delton at quarterback, they will need to play better.

The Jayhawks struggled on offense last weekend against Iowa State. They only had three points but they had 332 total yards on 83 plays. The offense moved the play fairly well, but they couldn’t score. Kansas will need to put points up on the board if they want a chance of making a bowl game for the first time since 2008. They need to get Pooka Williams the ball, whether in the running game or passing game. The quarterback play for Kansas needs to be better, as well. Peyton Bender needs to play better than he did against Iowa State. He only completed 46% of his passes. The running game will be key for the Jayhawks and that is where they can have the most success against the Wildcats.

Prediction

My prediction is the game will close on Saturday, and K-State will barely get by Kansas. The Wildcats are predicted to win by 11, but the game will be closer than that. K-State will win 27-24 with a late touchdown from Alex Barnes. Barnes will be the x-factor the Wildcats because he has been so dominant in three of the last four games. Whoever wins this game will have momentum towards making a bowl game and it starts with one of the oldest rivalries in college football.

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