Wildcat offense, defense smothered in 31-10 loss to No. 18 Mississippi State

Kansas State junior linebacker Elijah Sullivan misses the tackle against Mississippi State senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Kansas State played Mississippi State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

The first time the Kansas State defense took the field, it forced a three-and-out on Mississippi State on Saturday. The Wildcat offense did not do any better though, as they also punted after three plays.

Mississippi State’s offense marched down the field, but the K-State defense held strong and forced a field goal. The Bulldogs went up 3-0, and a little over five minutes later, the Wildcats tied the game at 3-3 with a field goal of their own.

On the ensuing kickoff, Mississippi State’s Brian Cole returned the kick 37 yards, giving the Bulldogs good field possession. They used that momentum to march down the field to score the game’s first touchdown. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald found running back Kylin Hill wide open for a 16-yard touchdown pass, just 40 seconds into the second quarter.

From that point forward, it was nearly all Mississippi State. K-State missed numerous tackles, and the Bulldog offensive line was asserting its dominance, while Fitzgerald and Hill ran through tackle after tackle.

With 3:30 to go before halftime, Hill scored his second touchdown, this time scoring on the ground from 28 yards out.

That score put Mississippi State up 17-3, which was the lead it held at halftime.

On the opening drive of the second half, K-State was forced to punt, but pinned Mississippi State deep by downing the ball at the five-yard line.

The Bulldogs had no problem with that bad field possession. On the first play, Fitzgerald fired a 23-yard pass to receiver Nick Guidry. Two plays later, Hill busted open a 52-yard run. Not long after, Fitzgerald stood in the face of pressure and threw a pass over the middle to Austin Williams for another touchdown.

With a little over 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Mississippi State held a 24-3 lead. Bill Snyder Family Stadium was dead, and as the Wildcats failed to score on their next drive, it grew more silent.

As the third quarter was coming to an end, a series of plays occurred that—for a moment—gave K-State a glimmer of hope.

On a third-and-five from, Fitzgerald dropped back to pass. K-State junior linebacker Elijah Sullivan came around the edge and hit Fitzgerald as he threw. Freshman defensive lineman Wyatt Hubert tipped the pass and then brought it down for an interception. He made it to the Bulldog 23-yard line before being tackled.

The very next play, K-State sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson dropped back with good protection from the offensive line. He stood in the pocket, and launched a pass to the far corner of the end zone, where it found junior receiver Dalton Schoen for a touchdown. The score was now 24-10, and would remain that way as the final 2:20 of the third quarter expired.

After the game, Thompson showed signs of maturity and poise at quarterback in discussing his touchdown pass.

“I read man coverage, so I checked the play to an inside fade with Dalton Schoen. Had a good matchup and looked off the safety to get myself a little bit more time and stepped into it and threw it into the corner of the end zone and he made a great play.”

Whatever momentum the Wildcats gained from that touchdown faded quickly.

The defense was again torched by Hill, who ran through K-State defenders to score his second rushing touchdown of the game.

Hill was a force for the Bulldogs, and ran all over the Wildcat defense. His dominating performance consisted of 17 carries for 215 yards and two scores. The sophomore averaged 12.4 yards per carry and caught one pass for a touchdown.

After the game, Hill spoke about his career day.

“It’s crazy. It’s a dream come true. I don’t even know how many yards I had, but the team just kept telling me to keep running. My offensive line did a terrific job. They played unbelievable.”

Fitzgerald had a successful day running as well, amounting 159 yards on 19 carries.

For the Wildcats, Thompson finished seven-for-17 with 86 yards and a touchdown through the air. He netted just 18 yards rushing.

Running back Alex Barnes led the Wildcats’ rushing attack with 75 yards on 17 carries.

Through two games of the season, K-State has scored just two touchdowns on offense.

How would Barnes describe the offense so far this season?

“Just disappointing. We’re not where we need to be, we’re not where we should be right now with the talent we have.”

Barnes said before the season, “you wouldn’t have been able to convince me that” the offense would only have two touchdowns through the first two games.

Head coach Bill Snyder echoed that thought.

“Obviously, you just look at the numbers. I mean, in the first three quarters of each ball game, in those six quarters we’ve gotten six points on the board. And that was in the last two and a half minutes of the third quarter today.”

Mississippi State totaled 538 yards of offense—384 rushing and 154 passing; K-State was only able to put up 213 yards of offense—113 on the ground and 100 through the air.

The Bulldogs averaged 8.2 yards per play, compared to just 3.8 for the Wildcats.

Mississippi State’s defense was stifling as well. It sacked K-State four times, hurried the quarterback seven times and had eight tackles for loss. Thompson faced pressure for most of the game, and the K-State running game was for the most part shut down.

“It was tough today. I was getting some pressure a little bit, getting hit,” Thompson said after the game in regards to the pressure of Mississippi State’s defense. “That kind of threw me off a little bit at times, kind of got off some progressions quick here or there just because of that.”

Delton felt the pressure of the Mississippi State as well.

“They had a really good pass rush,” Delton said after the game. “Those d-lineman and the linebackers, they got after us pretty quick and put our offensive lineman in a tough spot.”

Per K-State Athletics, Saturday marks the first time that K-State allowed more than 250 rushing yards in a game since the 2015 Liberty Bowl, and the most rushing yards allowed by the Wildcats since they gave up 451 to Nebraska in October 2010.

Junior linebacker Da’Quan Patton commended Fitzgerald and Hill’s performance, but also feels that the defense can improve.

“They’re a great quarterback and running back, they’re very shifty guys, very fast. But we can get better in our technique, we can get better in every area.”

Hubert feels that as good as Fitzgerald and Hill were, the defense just over did not play well.

“We lost that game not because they were better, but because we were just really undisciplined. The four up front and the linebackers were having trouble and we couldn’t all get on the same page.”

K-State will have a lot to work on this week as it prepares to host the University of Texas at San Antonio next Saturday.

I’m Jarrett Whitson, the sports editor this semester. I’m from Blue Rapids, KS, a town of just over 1,000 people about 40 miles north of Manhattan. I’m a junior in Public Relations, and a member of FarmHouse Fraternity. I love playing and talking about sports— especially college football