The last time Kansas State sacked an Oklahoma quarterback, it was the final season of Bill Snyder’s first stint as head coach of the Wildcats.
In a 42-31 loss in Norman, Okla., in 2005, linebacker Brandon Archer got to then-OU quarterback Rhett Bomar for the Wildcats’ only sack of the game. Since then, the well has dried up for K-State in three consecutive matchups with the Sooners, two against current quarterback Landry Jones.
But things seem different headed into this weekend’s contest in Norman, as the Wildcats have gotten off to a strong start on defense with eight sacks in three games and 22 tackles for loss, including 10 in each of the last two games.
On the other side of the ball, OU quarterbacks have been sacked six times this season in two games, with Jones taking four of those himself, including three in the first game of the season in a 24-7 win over UTEP.
So as the Wildcats head into their first road contest, senior safety Jarard Milo said this group wants to end the streak of sackless games with the Sooners.
“We want to do it a lot, do it as many times as we can, but it’s all on how the game goes,” he said. “We can only do as much as we can. We can’t play too high, we can’t play too low, we’ve got to go out there and do the best that we can.”
Slowing Jones and making him uncomfortable is clearly a key for any team facing the Sooners, especially on the road. When the Sooners finish with an even or positive turnover differential under Bob Stoops at home, they are 63-1.
K-State won that battle at home a season ago, intercepting Jones twice. But they failed to score in the second half, and OU eased to a 58-17 win. But again, there were no sacks.
Heading into this game, the Wildcats are led by defensive end Adam Davis, who has three sacks and three forced fumbles. Snyder said they need guys like Davis to keep up their production as the level of competition stiffens throughout the season.
Snyder said there is motivation to be gained for the defensive line in creating pressure.
“As a defensive lineman, if you’re going to get any recognition, which shouldn’t be the main thing, but if you are to get any kind of numbers it’s going to come with tackles for losses and sacks,” he said. “There should be, from an individual standpoint, some motivation to do that. From a team standpoint, it’s major in regards to your contribution to the success of your football team.”
Jones is regarded as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, and he has eased through his first two games with 474 passing yards and four touchdowns, with just one interception.
The Sooners feature a tough-to-defend passing scheme that includes short routes that turn into long gains, and the ability to chuck it over the defense.
In the 2011 contest in Manhattan, the Sooners took advantage of the opportunity to bomb it over the heads of the defensive backs.
Milo said the defense got off to a slow start, resulting in easy pass plays for Oklahoma.
“They started getting deep passes, passes over the top, passes that we didn’t really do a good job of covering,” he said. “I just think we can’t let that happen this year.”
It’s not an easy thing to defend either. Snyder said if you try to focus on stopping one part of the pass game, Jones will get you in another.
“You cant narrow it down to (short passes) because he can lay the ball up anytime he wants to,” he said. “He’s got quality receivers, they’re reasonably good sized receivers — 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 — they can all run. They will throw the ball down field — it’s not eliminated from their game — they will do it and they’ll do it on a somewhat regular basis as well.
“By being able to keep the ball in front, we also give them the opportunity to move the chains and get the first down. Everything we are talking about is a dilemma, you have to realize that.”
That’s why pressure becomes such an important thing this weekend for the Wildcats. Pressuring Jones is the key to causing turnovers and incomplete passes, thus giving the offense more chances with the ball.
When the Wildcats don’t pressure OU’s quarterback, and the K-State offense falters, the Sooners have scored in flurries in recent contests.
Snyder said the defense has to try to disrupt the Oklahoma passing attack.
“Landry Jones is a very, very talented young quarterback, and with great experience,” he said. “Yes, you have to get pressure on him. We’ve been better in the first couple ball games than we were a year ago, at least statistically, but this is a level up in regards to how they protect him and how quickly he can get the ball off, and his ability to move around in the pocket and avoid the rush.”
Snyder said the defensive production to this point has been good, but now it’s about continuing the sacks and tackles for loss during conference play.
“I think the true tell-tale factor will be now that we get into conference play how productive we are in that regards,” he said. “I like to believe we can continue to be productive in that regard, but it remains to be seen. I think the fact that we’ve got young guys that have a year or so in the system as part-time of full-time players certainly is a benefit. I think enhancing the effort level has assisted that as well.”