MANHATTAN — For all the issues Oklahoma State and its three-headed monster of an offense present, Kansas State coach Chris Klieman knows his Wildcats will need some help.
Thus the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.
"It's really challenging," Klieman said of stopping No.14-ranked Oklahoma State, which visits Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 3 p.m. Saturday with a share of the Big 12 lead on the line. "That's why we have to do a great job of what we talk about (as) complementary football.
"We have to be able to stay on the field offensively and be able to churn out first downs, even if we're not maybe getting a scoring drive. We've got to be able to take four or five minutes off the clock and get some first downs, so that limits some of their opportunities."
The Cowboys (4-1, 3-1 Big 12) boast a pair of All-Americans in junior running back Chuba Hubbard and senior wide receiver Tylan Wallace, and since sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders returned from an injury two weeks ago — he missed most of the season opener and two more games after — they have averaged nearly 500 yards total offense.
"If they're getting 100 plays, we're in trouble, and that's what they want to have," Klieman said. "So for us, we have to be able to slow down the rush. We know that.
"You can't just sit in Cover 2 the whole game and let them run the football. But in the same respect, we have to pick and choose our chances when we're going to be aggressive — maybe run blitz or whatever it may be — because you've got some receivers on the edge that can make plays."
When the Wildcats (5-1, 4-1 Big 12) have been good defensively, the formula has been simple: limit explosive plays, force turnovers and get off the field on third down. None of that happened last week in a 37-10 loss at West Virginia.
Add a subpar offensive performance and the Mountaineers controlled the ball for 34 minutes.
"We just couldn’t get going and I think the big thing for us to try to work on is staying on the field," K-State running back Harry Trotter said after the Wildcats managed just 41 rushing yards against West Virginia. "They had a lot of time of possession today and I think that's one thing that we can learn from and just try to stay on the field more — convert third downs and be more positive on first and second down to get to third and manageable."
Last year, the Wildcats opened Big 12 play with a 26-13 road loss to Oklahoma State. Ten of their points came in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys firmly in control.
On defense, the Wildcats won the turnover battle with a pair of interceptions, but little else. Hubbard went off for 296 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown, and averaged 11.8 per carry.
Sanders, then a redshirt freshman, threw for just 153 yards, but 145 of them were to Wallace, who had eight catches.
"Offensively, we have our hands full because they can beat you at every level in the fact that the quarterback can beat you with his arm or his feet," Klieman said. "(They have) two great running backs. One everybody knows about, but they have two really talented running backs.
"At wide receiver, I think they have one of the best wide receivers in the country in (Tylan) Wallace, so we’ll have our hands full trying to come up with a great plan. You can’t stop them, but you have to slow them down."
Hubbard ranks third in the Big 12 with 110 yards per game, but senior LD Brown has been an effective backup, averaging 52.4 yards on 5.8 yards per carry. Wallace leads the league in receiving with 35 catches for 588 yards and four touchdowns despite playing just five games.
Sanders is not ranked in the league because he has appeared in just three games, but passed for 400 yards in last week's overtime 41-34 overtime loss to Texas.
Before Texas lit them up for 41 points last week, the Cowboys had not allowed more than 21 in a game and they still lead the league in scoring defense at 17.8 and rank second in total defense, giving up an average of 299.8 yards.
The West Virginia game was the worst of the year for K-State true freshman Will Howard, who threw three interceptions, and running back Deuce Vaughn, who was limited to 22 yards rushing and 1 receiving yard. Tight end Briley Moore, the Wildcats' most consistent receiver, also went down with a back injury late in the first half and offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said Thursday that his availability against Oklahoma State would be a game-day decision.
K-State's offense seemingly never recovered at West Virginia after failing to reach the end zone with a first and goal from the 2, settling instead for a short field goal.
"The crazy part is, that was a huge emphasis last week, because a year ago I thought the reason we weren't successful against West Virginia was because they forced us to kick two field goals in the red zone," Messingham said.
It remained an emphasis this week.
"We need to be able to score," Klieman said. "That's been kind of where we've been the last few weeks.
"We had a couple of short fields against KU and didn't get touchdowns and had to settle for field goals. The way that we're going to play and the way we need to play, is to be able to convert those into touchdowns in the red zone."