By Jeff Burkhart
It may not have been exactly how Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder drew it up in the week leading up to the game but the then No. 20 Wildcats' 24-17 victory over Missouri was huge for so many different reasons. It was K-State’s first victory over Missouri in five seasons. The Cats are now 5-0 for the first time since 2000 — a season in which K-State won the Big 12 North and finished with 11 victories. Whether or not it will be another historic season remains to be seen, but right now the Wildcats are taking care of business and putting themselves in a position for a great 2011.
It hasn’t been sexy the past couple of weeks, but the offense has managed to produce enough points for the Wildcats to squeak out two victories. The Cats managed to crack the redzone eight times against Baylor, and looked like a much better offensive football team than they did against the Missouri Tigers. This past Saturday was truly a feast or famine day for the Wildcat offense
The Cats took advantage of good field position early, picking up a touchdown following Ty Zimmerman’s interception return, and followed that up with a 58-yard drive that ended with an Anthony Cantele field goal. The following three drives would net just 20 yards on 12 plays.
"We are leaving a lot out on the table, which is good and bad,” quarterback Collin Klein said. “It is good in the sense that we are able to learn with wins, and we have a lot of room to learn and to keep going forward.”
|John Hubert's spin move in the first half|
was, in his opinion, "pretty nice."
It’s much easier to point out the negatives than the positives this week. The offense generated just 286 total yards and averaged just four yards per play and 3.2 yards per rush. Klein again struggled throwing the football. A sensational catch by Andre McDonald in the game’s final minutes saved K-State from what could have been a disastrous collapse.
One of the few individuals who did stand out was running back John Hubert, who put together a workmanlike 126-yard rushing effort. His biggest play, however, was not his head-turning, 17-yard scamper that set up Klein’s second rushing touchdown. Instead, Hubert rushed eight times for 41 yards on the Wildcats final drive of the game. Four of those totes ended with the sophomore running toward the boundary and making the heady play by going down in bounds. It may not sound like much, but staying in bounds and forcing the clock to run was huge for the Cats after Missouri had manufactured back-to-back touchdown drives to get within striking distance late.
The Cats didn’t have many possessions (10), but in that vein the Wildcat offense accomplished exactly what it needed to do to win the game. K-State held the ball for over 38 minutes and kept Missouri’s offense off the field. The rain may have affected the Wildcats’ offense to an extent but it’s hard to believe Bill Snyder would have elected to throw the ball more than 20-25 times against the Tigers. You would have liked to have seen Klein connect on the passes he needs to start completing for this offense to take the next step — the first quarter slant to Brodrick Smith and the overthrow on Chris Harper’s double move in the second quarter both come to mind. At the end of the day though, winning isn’t always pretty.
The K-State defense set the tone in this game, and set it early. Zimmerman’s interception on the first play of the game set up one of Klein’s three rushing touchdowns and Missouri was playing behind the proverbial 8-ball from that point on.
"That was a big boost,” cornerback David Garrett said. “They (Missouri) were going to come in swinging. Doing that the first play of the game really sparked us. We kept the momentum on our side."
The Wildcats neutralized two of the Tigers biggest threats entering the game in running back Henry Josey and quarterback James Franklin. Josey was leading the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (133.2) and yards per carry (12.4), but managed to scrape out just 57 yards on 12 carries against the Wildcats. Franklin had been completing 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns to just one interception through Missouri’s first four games. Against K-State, Franklin’s only managed to hit 54 percent of his throws, was picked off once, and failed to throw for a touchdown for the first time all season. Let’s not forget the job done on wide receiver T.J. Moe. One of the Tigers most valuable offensive players caught just three passes for 26 yards, well below his season average in both categories (5.8 receptions/game | 72.8 yards per game).
|Arthur Brown (4) and Tysyn Hartman (2) were part of a|
pretty solid effort in shutting down James Franklin
and the Missouri offense for much of last Saturday's game.
The secondary had one major breakdown on tight end Michael Egnew’s reception over the middle late in the game, but, beyond that, the backend performed admirably well against an offense that was ranked 11th nationally in total offense going into the game. Credit the front four, which generated fair amount of pressure on Franklin when he dropped back to pass.
"Having a defensive line is a big improvement,” Garrett said. ”Every time you do a good job covering you see the quarterback running around, scrambling trying to make a play. The effort that our defensive line has given us on this team is great."
For three quarters, the “Lynch Mob” was back. The Cats yielded just 173 yards of total offense on 46 Tiger plays through three quarters of action (3.7 yards per play). One could argue that the Cats let up in the fourth quarter after Klein and the offense had stretched K-State’s lead to 24-3. I don’t buy it. Even though the Cats surrendered two touchdowns during the final period, all 11 players continued to fly to the ball. The Cats forced two turnovers that would both be nullified by video review. The final quarter of play may have been nerve-racking but it certainly does not detract from what was the best defensive effort of the season for K-State.
Special Teams: A
Cantele took care of business when called upon. Ryan Doerr punted five times with a net average of 42.8 yards a boot, including one punt that the Wildcats punt coverage team downed at Missouri’s 1-yard line. Missouri averaged less than 20 yards per kick-return. Tramaine Thompson’s third quarter punt return of 26 yards set the K-State offense up with an extremely short field — 36 yards to the goal line — on what would ultimately be a touchdown drive. Even coach Snyder might be hard-pressed to find negatives in the Wildcats special teams play against Missouri.
"It always feels good to help the team out like that,” Doerr said. “I was able to kick the ball pretty well today. It feels good to have all of our efforts pay off and be able to help the team out like that. We go out there every week and practice every coverage unit, as well as returning the ball every day. It takes hard work and guys that want to be on the unit and help the team out."
Parting Thought: Make me Believe
|Don't worry, 'Cats fans. The scary man in the white shirt|
can't hurt you anymore...not next Saturday anyways.
There are still doubters and rightfully so. Statistically, the defense may be in line to be one of the best the school has seen in almost a decade, but the offense hasn’t shown it is where it needs to be for No. 17 K-State to legitimately take the next step toward an upper division finish. The running game has been effective through the first five weeks; however, match-ups with Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Texas still loom on the schedule. Say what you want about each respective team. There is plenty of NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball at each of those schools, and certainly enough speed to counter K-State’s spread-option attack.
Up next is Texas Tech, a team that has abused K-State for the better part of a decade. The Cats' last three games against the Red Raiders (2005: 59-20 | 2008: 58-28 | 2009: 66-14) provided Texas Tech’s coaches with plenty of highlights to show high school recruits. But gone is the mad scientist Mike Leach, the former coach of the Red Raiders who had no problem watching his quarterbacks throw the ball against the Wildcats’ defense late in ball games when his teams were up big.
Texas Tech’s defense has struggled mightily throughout the 2011 season. Injuries have mired the Red Raiders offense, which took a hit this past weekend losing the team’s leading rusher Eric Stephens (formerly second in the Big 12 averaging 117 yards per game). This is unequivocally the best opportunity K-State has had to pick up a win at Texas Tech since the school’s last victory in Lubbock: 1997.