After gut-wrenching loss, football team believes it has something to prove on Saturday

Head coach Chris Klieman watches as a play is reviewed during the Wildcats 31-12 loss to Baylor last season. (File Photo by Angie Moss | Collegian Media Group)

Four long weeks have passed since the Wildcat football team won. Starting off Big 12 Conference play strong with a 4-0 record, the Wildcats have since lost three straight games, essentially taking them out of contention for the Big 12 Championship Game.

Injuries and COVID-19 protocols have hit teams hard this season, and Kansas State is no exception, afflicted by both issues during its losing streak. For example, the Wildcats were in serious danger of ineligibility against Iowa State last Saturday because of limited numbers.

That issue really showed on the field as the Wildcats got brutally stomped by the Cyclones, 45-0.

Two seniors that are healthy – tight end Briley Moore and defensive end Kiondre Thomas – spoke up at a team meeting following the embarrassing loss on Saturday.

“The biggest thing I think we took from [the meeting] was we have a lot to learn from [Iowa State],” Moore said. “But we are into Baylor prep right now. It’s time to move on, take what we learned and continue to just pound the stone one day at a time and get better and just flush it at this point.”

Defensively, the wounded Wildcats could not muster much of a fight against the Cyclone offense. They were missing key senior linebackers Elijah Sullivan and Justin Hughes. It remains uncertain if they will return for Baylor.

“[Hughes and Sullivan] are our energizer bunnies,” Thomas said. “They are talking a lot, pregame, during the game and postgame. You kind of feel when their presence is not there. It’s not an excuse, but you would love to have those guys out there.”

Other than injuries, execution in the red zone also hurt the Wildcats this season. This was prevalent in the Wildcat’s loss to the Cyclones last week as K-State’s first drive defined the entire game.

“We had a great drive going; we were moving,” Moore said. “We just simply didn’t execute once we got into the red zone. That is something we have to take pride in and scoring touchdowns, preferably. We just have to execute. We had the right plays called, but it’s just a couple missed assignments here, and a couple missed assignments there, and then all of a sudden you go four and out down there.”

After that drive, the Wildcats looked as if they were an offense without an identity. Freshman quarterback Will Howard was taken out of the game after the Wildcats went down 35-0 and junior quarterback Nick Ast took over for the rest of the game.

Now, it appears that the quarterback position could be in question for the remainder of the season.

With Moore back to full health after missing a game due to an injury, he is trying to provide leadership in the locker room while there are so many questions hovering over the team.

“I am one of the older guys on the team — I have a lot of experience,” Moore said. “I think it’s important whether I’m new or whether I’ve been here my entire career. [Bad losses happen] and it’s over with. We have to learn from it, and we can’t let it affect us this week. We just have to continue to push that message like we’ve talked about many times, hold each other accountable and just keep on going.”

Head coach Chris Klieman put it on the leaders like Moore to rally the team and try to find the urgency to defeat Baylor on Saturday — and he could not be more pleased.

“I told [our players] they need to step up and take some ownership,” Klieman said. “We as coaches need to take ownership and they need to take ownership as players and challenge each other to be better and challenge each other to reach the standard that we all expect, not only on the field but off the field as well as doing things right. I thought they adhered to that message well.”

With how hard it can be to get back onto the field after a blowout loss, the Wildcats want it to be known that they aren’t backing down. They are ready to get back out there and prove that their recent 45-point loss won’t define their season.

“We are pretty motivated because we know we can play better than we did last week [against Iowa State],” Thomas said. “What we put on film was not good, but we are motivated to change that. We are extremely ready to get back out there. We know we can’t perform like we did against [Iowa State]. We are itching to get back out there and prove that. That is not the type of team we are.”