A shot at redemption is on the table almost immediately for Oklahoma as the Sooners will begin conference play, on September 26th, by hosting the Kansas State Wildcats. It provides the opportunity to avenge the only loss of the 2019 regular season campaign and launch into the quest for a sixth consecutive Big 12 championship on a high note.
After an eight-win debut season for Wildcat head coach Chris Klieman, the bar has been set pretty for the purple faithful in Manhattan. The key will be how quickly Klieman can replace 15 departed senior starters from 2019. Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson and senior linebacker Justin Hughes are going to be the key cornerstones for the offense and defense to build upon this fall.
That said, there still seem to be more questions than answers surrounding the Wildcats this season.
Can Skylar Thompson develop his passing game a bit more?
Don’t get me wrong, Thompson has been more than solid as Kansas State’s signal caller. He’ll be a four-year starter this fall and last season his 2,315 passing yards and 405 yards not only accounted for 23 total touchdowns but also helped exceed the year one expectations for Klieman. However, Thompson is going to need to look to run less and pass more in order for the Wildcats to continue moving forward in Klieman’s second year.
The addition of Northern Iowa graduate transfer Briley Moore gives KSU an experienced tight end with more than 1,000 receiving yards under his belt. Plus, Thompson has playmakers Joshua Youngblood and Malik Knowles that are capable of turning a game around if they get the ball in their hands more often.
Can the Wildcats reload the offensive line?
All five starters along the offensive line are gone from 2019 which creates the biggest question mark for the Wildcat offense. Josh Rivas, Cooper Beebe and Noah Johnson will feel the pressure to produce immediately and of that group Rivas is the only one with experience. It goes without saying that this group is the most vital position group to offensive success in 2020.
Can Joe Klanderman sustain the defense with a new crop of players?
In 2019 the Wildcats ranked second in the Big 12 in points allowed per game (21.4), fourth in yards allowed per game (368.4), and held opponents to a paltry 202.9 passing yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton left for Michigan State after the season and the Wildcats promoted Joe Klanderman from coaching defensive backs to running the entire defense. The good news is that promoting from within allows K-State to keep continuity and familiarity. However, the bad news is that, like the offense, the defense was ravaged by departures at key positions.
Linebacker will be a strength with Elijah Sullivan and Justin Hughes returning. Sullivan had a strong 2019 campaign and Hughes is back after missing last season to a knee injury. He was stellar in 2018 with a team-high 56 tackles.
The news isn’t as good along the defensive line and in the secondary. The Wildcats will miss Reggie Walker, Trey Dishon and Jordan Mittie up front. In the secondary Denzel Goolsby is gone at free safety and Kevion McGee at cornerback.
The Wildcats are a team you never want to take for granted. Oklahoma only has to go back to last season’s loss in Manhattan for evidence of this. The fact that the Sooners get them to open up conference play, after a warm-up game against Missouri State, may be a small advantage but there’s plenty of talent being replaced on the Oklahoma depth chart as well. That could prove to be a challenge going up against a team that should finish in the top half of the conference.
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