By now, Kansas State safety Denzel Goolsby has earned a front-row seat to what most only can observe from a distance: Oklahoma State wants to play fast.
When Goolsby and the Wildcats line up against the Cowboys’ scintillating offense Saturday night in Stillwater, Oklahoma, they’ll know what the hosts want to do. Get to the line of scrimmage. Snap it. Run the play. Lather, rinse, repeat.
K-State has won its past two matchups with Oklahoma State, so even though the Cowboys’ weapons look different this year, the Wildcats know what they’re getting themselves into.
Goolsby, though, knows something else that may prove vital on Saturday.
“The most times when you make mistakes is when you’re tired,” Goolsby said. “So if we can condition well this week and continue to have a great week of preparation, playing fast and practicing fast, then that’ll eliminate the explosive plays on offense for them.”
With that in mind, K-State has gotten to work on preparing for Oklahoma State.
Mostly, that’s meant trying to simulate the Cowboys’ frenetic offense by practicing in a hectic environment. In practice, K-State’s scout team has assembled two huddles of players, which alternate plays. That way, they can run as many plays as quickly as possible.
Still, that only accounts for the speed with which Oklahoma State operates. The Cowboys’ players are harder to mimic.
The key cog is quarterback Spencer Sanders, a redshirt freshman who has helped turn his team’s offense into the third-highest scoring in the Big 12 and 16th-highest in the country. Last week against Texas, Sanders completed 19 of 32 passes, including two interceptions, but he did his real damage on the ground.
He carried it 18 times for 109 yards and a touchdown, good for an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Translation: He’s dangerous through the air and on the ground.
Oklahoma State also enlists running back Chuba Hubbard. He’s averaging 160.5 rushing yards per game and has scored nine touchdowns, which ranks tops in the conference.
Wde receiver Tylan Wallace completes Oklahoma State’s three-headed monster of sorts. A speedy junior, Wallace is averaging 118.2 yards per game to pair with six touchdowns. He’s one of Sanders’ favorite targets.
“He has good speed and he can go up and get the ball, so he has good ball skills,” said K-State cornerback A.J. Parker, who may match up with Wallace. “He’s in a dynamic offense with a QB that can throw the ball, so when you mix all those dynamics in, it’s a good offense, and it’s a good receiver. So we’re going to have to go out there and play a good, unified game as a team.”
Easier said than done. Oklahoma State’s identity is its offense. That’s been true for some time now, and the Cowboys have used it to register a 3-1 record this year.
K-State is well aware, but the Wildcats also know that they might get sped up. They might not always be 100% ready for each play when it starts. The Cowboys are that fast.
So they’ve prepared under that assumption. They’ve been practicing starting plays without everyone being on the same page.
“We’re just trying to move around as fast as possible, get used to running and getting lined up in a position maybe not always as comfortable as you would like,” Goolsby said. “That’s just the nature of the game. We know they’re doing a lot of things where they’re going to try to get us out of position, so if we can try to maintain our focus level and our discipline, then hopefully things will take care of itself.”
And if not?
“It goes back to alignment, assignment and what your keys are,” Goolsby said. “Maybe you’re not always in the best alignment, but you know what the play is going to be, you know what your assignment is going to be. You just have to have an extreme focus to try and get that play done as well as you possibly can, being out of position.
“When they’re going hurry-up, they’re trying to get guys out of position, so if we can fight back with great discipline and great eyes, then I think we’ll be able to eliminate the explosive plays because explosive plays happen when you’re out of position.”
The good news for K-State is that two key defenders will return from injury: defensive end Wyatt Hubert and cornerback Walter Neil, both of whom missed the team’s Sept. 14 win over Mississippi State with undisclosed injuries. K-State coach Chris Klieman said both will be available against Oklahoma State.
Also of note from Klieman’s Tuesday news conference: The team has been practicing its starters against starters at times.
“We’re always going to do that during the week at some point, just because I think it’s really important to get the speed of the game,” Klieman said, “not only at wide-out and skill positions, but up front as well. We have some unique ways to work on tempo that we’ll keep it to ourselves, but we have a lot of unique ways to work on the tempo to try to get multiple plays off in a realistic look, something that’s not realistic.”
In fact, Klieman said, K-State’s best defense may be a good offense.
If quarterback Skylar Thompson can lead the Wildcats on long, sustained drives, the Cowboys’ offense will stay on the sideline for longer.
Either way, this much is true: K-State feels ready to disarm Oklahoma State’s offense one way or another, on one side of the ball or the other.
The Wildcats’ emphasis on staying in shape helps, too.
“You’ve just got to be conditioned,” Parker said. “You’ve got to be ready to run, and you’ve got to be in shape. You’ve got to practice that in the week, and when you practice that in the week, it’ll come out and you’ll be successful in the game.”