Kansas State held on against the Southern Illinois Salukis 31-23 this past weekend in a game that went from looking like a blow-out to way-too-close-for-comfort at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The event that caused the sudden shift? Sixth-year senior quarterback Skylar Thompson went down on an apparent non-contact leg injury. Without Thompson, the offense was anemic at best and disastrous at worst.
A rattled Wildcat defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown on the next Saluki possession, but the offense is what caused K-State fans to sweat, giving SIU the ball on the nine and another free touchdown on a pick-six.
K-State’s defense really only gave up nine of the 23 Saluki points. That’s the silver lining in all of this.
The bad news: with back-up quarterback Will Howard in the game, K-State’s only offense was handing the ball off to sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn and hoping for the best. When the Salukis figured that out, they were able to crush the Wildcat offense.
Some of the offensive woes were because of K-State’s game plan of running the ball heavily and looking for big plays on play-action passes. When Thompson was in the game that worked, but that’s not Howard’s strength. He looked lost at times on long-developing routes and threw some bad balls.
Going forward — if Thompson cannot play — the Wildcats should use more read-option, designed QB runs and short, quick-hitting passes to wide receivers Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks. Getting Howard going in the run game should open up some holes for Vaughn to run through as well.
The defense won the game for K-State by pitching a second-half shutout. The SIU second-half possessions ended like this: punt, downs, punt, missed field goal, fumble, punt, fumble. Their furthest drive in the second half only went 50 yards and ended in a 47-yard field goal attempt.
In the weekly Know Your Opponent preview, I identified three key match-ups for K-State. Let’s look back and see how well K-State did in those spots.
Spring football advantage:
I speculated that SIU and other FCS programs would fair well against FBS programs this year because they played a spring season. It’s hard to rate the impact this had on the game, but I think it was a non-factor.
The Salukis were experienced and are a good football team, but K-State was lucky that it wasn’t close enough for that to be the difference in the game.
This specifically referred to opening holes for running backs besides Deuce Vaughn. The little-engine-that-could still had the bulk of the carries (26 of 49 rushing attempts), but Joe Ervin and Jacardia Wright had impactful runs.
Overall, K-State’s run game was really good thanks to some strong blocking from the offensive line.
Can’t get fooled again:
SIU didn’t try anything fancy from a gadget-play perspective, and, in general, the K-State defense was really sound.
I predicted a 35-21 win and said SIU would “hang around longer than K-State fans would like to see” I also said K-State’s “depth” would be the key. I’m going to pat myself on the back for both of those predictions, even though that was NOT how I pictured the game going.
Position group of the game:
The position group of the game was the K-State secondary. Julius Brents, TJ Smith, Ross Elder and Russ Yeast all made big plays by breaking up long passes, and Jahron McPherson got into the backfield for a sack. Brents also led the team with six tackles.
They limited a SIU offense that threw for 406 yards in the first game of the season to just 176 yards.
Player of the game:
Defensive end Felix Anudike was the most impactful player on the field for either team. He sacked SIU quarterback Nic Baker three times and forced both fourth-quarter fumbles that helped seal the game.
The second of those fumbles ended one of the most promising SIU drives of the game that could have sent it to overtime.
K-State has a lot of work to do before a good Nevada team comes to Manhattan next Saturday. That game kicks off at 1 p.m. from Bill Snyder Family Stadium.