Stillwater, OK (SportsNetwork.com) - The 15th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys will attempt to extend their season-long winning streak to five games on Saturday afternoon, as they are set to host the Kansas Jayhawks for a Big 12 Conference clash.
After finishing the 2012 season just 1-11, Kansas has shown slight improvement this season, but not enough to be considered a threat in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have lost five in a row, most recently dropping a 35-13 decision at Texas last Saturday to remain winless in league play.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has been rolling in recent weeks, ripping off four straight victories. The Cowboys have been especially dominant in the past two games, logging strong road wins over Iowa State (58-27) and Texas Tech (52-34) to move to 4-1 in the Big 12, although they are still looking up at both Texas and Baylor in the standings.
"I really like how our guys play," coach Mike Gundy said. "I like their chemistry. I thought it was a really good effort (in the win over Texas Tech). A good win for our team. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but we're starting to get a little bit better."
The Cowboys hold a narrow edge in the all-time series with the Jayhawks, going 32-29-2 dating back to 1923. Kansas has been on the short end of the series for some time now, claiming just eight wins over OSU in the last 33 years.
Kansas hasn't been able to generate much offense this season. Not only does it have the league's worst offense, but it's just 114th in the FBS in scoring (17.1 ppg) and 118th in yardage (292.5 ypg), and has scored fewer than 20 points in seven straight games.
Jake Heaps has had difficulty getting much going this season under center, completing just 50.2 percent of his passes for 1,148 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Heap was only 11-of-21 passing in last week's loss for 160 yards, although his head coach suggests that the numbers don't tell the whole story in terms of his progress.
"He's significantly improved over the last two weeks," Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. "Sometimes stats are a little bit misleading, because you throw in a couple throwaways and a couple of dropped balls ... and all of a sudden, he could have been a 75-percent completion guy."
James Sims is the team's top playmaker, as he has carried the ball 129 times for 589 yards and four touchdowns.
With Tony Pierson (21 receptions, 327 yards, TD) questionable for this bout after suffering a concussion last week, Jimmay Mundine (15 receptions, 173 yards, four TDs) could see an increase in targets.
The Jayhawks offense certainly hasn't done the defense any favors, but regardless, the unit has still underperformed in allowing 31.6 ppg and 450.7 ypg.
Isaiah Johnson has picked off a pair of passes and also has a team-best 53 tackles. Ben Heeney is a high-impact linebacker with 43 stops, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and two interceptions, while JaCorey Shepherd also has a pair of picks.
On the other end of the offensive spectrum is Oklahoma State, which ranks second in the Big 12 behind only high-flying Baylor in scoring with 40.5 ppg, and the points have been coming even more frequently since Clint Chelf has taken over as the starting quarterback.
Chelf assumed a larger role in the offense in October and eventually took over the starting gig from J.W. Walsh (1,324 passing yards, 294 rushing yards, 12 TDs). Chelf's numbers don't appear outstanding (.504 completion percentage, 760 passing yards, 213 rushing yards, nine TDs, four INTs), but the team has scored 44.7 ppg in his last three starts.
"He's gotten a little bit better each week," Gundy said of his signal caller. "He didn't throw the ball as well as we would've wanted him to in Iowa. He started showing signs of being successful. I think that, with the personnel that we have, we're trying to get a feel for where we are going offensively. It gives him a chance to get better."
Desmond Roland (462 yards) and Jeremy Smith (296 yards) have both been adequate in the backfield, but they have really paid off in the red zone with a combined 18 touchdowns.
Chelf's top target is Josh Stewart, as he has hauled in 40 passes for 510 yards and two scores. Tracy Moore (29 receptions, 369 yards, two TDs) and Jhajuan Seales (25 receptions, 363 yards, TD) have also played well.
The Cowboys' impressive scoring attack wouldn't be much without a stout defense to support it, and the unit has been up to par in yielding just 21.4 ppg while holding opponents to 30 percent success on third down.
Linebacker Caleb Lavey makes plays all over the field, tallying 59 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Justin Gilbert (four INTs) and Shaun Lewis (three INTs) are also active in the turnover battle, while Tyler Johnson anchors the defensive line with 8.0 TFL and 4.0 sacks.