By Jeff Burkhart
You could not have asked for much more from Kansas State. The ‘Cats came into Boone Pickens Stadium as three-touchdown underdogs and took then third-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys right down to the final play of the game. Though an errant K-State quarterback Collin Klein pass at the end of the game allowed the ‘Pokes to hold on for a 52-45 victory, there were plenty of positives in this game for the Wildcats.
There were several questions surrounding the Wildcats’ offense after it’s less than stellar showing against Oklahoma the previous week. The ‘Cats hung with the Sooners for a half, but the offense went stagnant in the final two quarters of play (32 yards on 29 plays).
K-State coach Bill Snyder called a gem of a game. The typically conservative approach went out the window in the first quarter after the ‘Cats found themselves in a 14-0 hole. Klein notched career highs in attempts (38), completions (22), and yards (231). The junior accounted for 375 yards en route to a four-touchdown performance (his third of the season). For an offense that is predicated on the veer-read, those are big time numbers.
Tyler Lockett continues to emerge as a playmaker not only as a returner but as a receiver as well. The true freshman returned to his home state and blitzed the Cowboys for 309 all-purpose yards (84 rushing, 32 receiving, and 193 returning). He showed patience when running his routes, finding the soft spot in zones.
Early on, it looked like Oklahoma State might be on their way to a route. The K-State offense went fumble, punt, punt on its first three possessions but the Wildcats stayed the course on the way to one of its best performances in years. The ‘Cats rolled up over 500 yards of offense for the first time all season (first time with 500+ since a 626 yard effort against Iowa State in 2008). Credit has to be given to the K-State offensive line. The front five had arguably its most active game of the season with the number of roll-outs and reverses K-State ran during the course of the game.
The Wildcat offense did everything it needed to do to walk out of Boone Pickens Stadium with a win. Can’t knock the play calling. Can’t knock the execution. Seeing Klein display a sense of comfort in the pocket is big for this team. He knew when to stand in, and he knew when to tuck it and run. This is the type of game that could go a long way in allowing him to build confidence in his arm and his ability to make the throws necessary to make this offense two-dimensional.
|Brandon Weeden had all the time he needed|
to dissect K-State's defense.
Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden in back-to-back weeks. Not what most defensive coordinators around the country would have asked for but that’s how the schedule worked out for K-State. Jones diced up K-State’s secondary to the tune of 505 yards passing (an Oklahoma record). It was a new quarterback this past Saturday, but the result was the same.
Weeden was seldom off-target. The 28-year old senior completed 36-of-46 passes for 502 yards (a career high) and four touchdowns. After missing last year’s game due to a suspension, wide receiver Justin Blackmon came out with a vengeance. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner abused K-State’s undersized corners season on his way to a season-high 205-yard performance. Blackmon’s 13 receptions tied a career-high he had set the previous week against Baylor. Brent Musburger tried to play up the match-up between K-State’s Nigel Malone and Blackmon. It was a very one-sided affair when it was all said and done.
“Obviously there are some issues,” Snyder said. “We have to get it corrected. We just have to be better than that against pass."
The ‘Pokes played pitch and catch all game long. The front four rarely forced Weeden out of the pocket but then again its tough to pressure a quarterback who gets the ball out of his hands in less than three seconds. The few times defensive coordinator Chris Cosh got aggressive with his play calling, the blitzes led to pass deflections/incompletions. That has to beg the question, why not try it more often? (A topic for debate on this week’s podcast).
Allen Chapman’s 60-yard pick-six was an aberration in an otherwise terrible game for the defense. For the second straight week, the ‘Cats were picked apart by a spread quarterback. The ‘Pokes scored on seven of their final eight possessions. What might be the most deflating statistic of all is the time of possession. Oklahoma State held the ball for LESS than 20 minutes of game time and still managed to manufacture 52 points. That number is surprisingly only the third highest point total by the ‘Pokes in a Big 12 game. But at the end of the day the ‘Cats still surrendered 575 yards, giving up an average of 9.1 yards per play.
|Tyler Lockett earned Big 12 Special Teams honors|
again this week after racking up 193 return yards.
Special Teams: D-
It’s easy enough to blame the defense but Saturday’s loss can be attributed to the special teams more than any other unit. The ‘Cats had the wind in the fourth quarter yet refused to kick deep on kickoffs. The strategy didn’t pay off. Oklahoma State’s offense had an average starting field position of its own 35-yard line in the final quarter of play (its own 40-yard line for the entire game). Even with the way the Oklahoma State was moving the ball, putting the ‘Pokes offense on their own 20 as opposed to their own 35-yard line would have given the K-State defense two or three more opportunities to make plays.
The punting game was another rough spot for the ‘Cats as Ryan Doerr averaged less than 34 yards a boot on five kicks. Tyler Lockett’s 80-yard kick-off return was obviously critical in setting up the K-State offense on the drive that would lead to tie the score at 45-45. But one exceptional play can’t detract from what was largely a poor effort on the part of K-State’s special teams.
Parting Thought: Continue to Build
As ironic as it may be, the most validating moment of the season for this K-State team came in a loss. After the debacle against Oklahoma, most of the Wildcat Nation went into the Oklahoma State game hoping for no major injuries and moderately competitive contest. But Bill Snyder and company went punch-for-punch with the then third-ranked team in the country and showed that it belongs in the conversation with the upper-tier teams in the Big 12.
The Oklahoma State game is another building block. It sounds strange saying that for as poorly as two of the three units played on Saturday, but this is a chance to grow. Collin Klein showed that when given time he can deliver in the passing game. The instincts he displayed in the pocket against Oklahoma State were remarkable. Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett, and Tramaine Thompson stepped up in a big way against Oklahoma State.
The good news K-State is that the Wildcats defense will not see another spread, no-huddle team for the rest of the year. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been bad the past two weeks, but this group has a short-term memory. The ‘Cats have been hit up for big numbers in yards and points (see Baylor and Texas Tech) and managed to respond the next week. I don’t expect this week to be any different.
The end of the regular season is in sight, and the chance for a 10-win year is absolutely there for this team. By no means will the next three games be cakewalks for K-State. Texas A&M presents another dangerous offense with plenty of weapons even without running back Christine Michael, who will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL tear. You know K-State, and particularly the defense, will want to atone for its last outing at home.