By Cole Manbeck:
News came out on Wednesday that Oklahoma will be without the services of senior running back Damian Williams and senior receiver LaColtan Bester on Saturday against Kansas State. In addition to that, Ryan Aber of the Oklahoman reported on Wednesday that starting quarterback Blake Bell will not start for the Sooners due to a concussion that he suffered in Oklahoma’s 48-10 win over Iowa State last Saturday.
So how does this impact the Sooners’ upcoming matchup vs. K-State on Saturday? Trevor Knight, who won the starting quarterback job heading into the season, will be under center for the Sooners on Saturday. This can be both a good and a bad thing for the Wildcats, depending upon how you look at it. Knight is a tremendous runner. He’s run for 309 yards on just 37 carries this season, an average of 8.4 yards per rush. Bell, who is more of a power runner, only has 255 yards on 75 carries this season, an average of 3.4 yards per rush. So Oklahoma is getting an upgrade when it comes to its quarterback-run game.
However, Knight has struggled with his decision making in the passing game. The 6-foot-1, 201-pounder has completed just 47.6 percent of his passes (30-of-63) for 272 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Bell was completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,508 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. So the numbers say the Sooners will a take a sizeable hit in the passing game.
And that’s a big deal, because Oklahoma has three very good wide receivers, led by Jalen Saunders. Saunders, a 5-9, 157-pound senior, has 166 catches for 2,876 yards and 23 touchdowns in his Oklahoma career. He has 44 receptions for 520 yards this season. Sterling Shepard, who missed last weekend’s game vs. Iowa State due to a concussion, is expected to play Saturday. Shepard, a 5-10, 193-pound sophomore, has 78 receptions for 1,012 yards during his first two seasons in Norman. And then there’s Jaz Reynolds, who has 65 catches for 1,165 yards in his Sooners career.
Those numbers above are why Oklahoma can withstand the loss of Bester, who had 279 yards on 20 catches this season. But with Knight at quarterback, will Oklahoma be able to take advantage of a K-State secondary that will be without its leader in Ty Zimmerman?
Out of all the numbers above, here’s what I believe to be the most important factor Saturday. Knight will be making his first start on the road of his career. If K-State fans create a hostile environment, it will be interesting to see how the freshman responds.
Now, onto the running back situation and the loss of Williams: I don’t believe this is a huge loss. Williams is a very good running back, but Oklahoma has quality depth in the backfield. Williams has 114 carries for 553 yards this season, an average of 4.9 yards per rush. In his career, he has 290 carries for 1,499 yards, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Brennan Clay and Roy Finch will now shoulder the load for the Sooners this weekend without Williams. Both Clay and Finch are seniors and have experience with the ball in their hands. Clay has run for 643 yards on 103 carries this season, an average of 6.2 yards per carry. In his career, he has 1,599 yards on 307 carries, an average of 5.2 yards per rush.
Finch, a 5-7, 167-pounder, has 52 carries for 326 yards this season, an average of 6.3 yards per rush. In his four-year career, he has rushed for 1,391 yards on 255 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per carry. And over his last four games, he has carried the ball 32 times for 189 yards.
So with Clay, Finch and Knight, the Wildcats will still have their hands full against a Sooners rushing attack that ranks 17th in the country and No. 2 in the Big 12 with 236.4 yards per game. K-State has been good against the run this season, allowing just 137 yards per game, which ranks 29th in the country. The Wildcats defense has only allowed 3.85 yards per rush as well. K-State’s defensive line will have to once again be solid. K-State fans will need to hope that sophomore defensive tackle Travis Britz, who was injured late in the Wildcats’ win vs. TCU last weekend, is able to go on Saturday.