Football can’t overcome sluggish start, drops Big 12 opener 31-20

Head football coach Chris Klieman questions a call made by an official in K-State's 26-13 loss to Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium on Sept. 29, 2019. (Archive photo by Sabrina Cline | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State football team entered Saturday night’s Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State as -5.5 points underdogs, even though the Wildcats held the No. 25 ranking in the nation. After a sluggish start and an unimpressive performance by the quarterback rotation of Will Howard and Jaren Lewis, K-State (3-1, 0-1) ended up proving the Vegas odds right, falling to the Cowboys (4-0, 1-0) 31-20.

Starting things off, it looked like the Wildcats might actually have a solid game offensively, getting into scoring range and going up 3-0 after the first drive of the game. However, K-State was unable to hold off the Cowboy offensive attack in the first drive and throughout the game. Oklahoma State managed to out-gain K-State 486 to 260 in total yards.

“Today they got us,” head coach Chris Klieman said in an interview with K-State Athletics. “We’ve got to go back to work. It’s a long season, and we have an awful lot of opportunities in front of us. If we learn from this and continue to improve, we have a chance to be OK. Adversity has struck us for the first time this year and that’s reality. Now how do we respond when adversity strikes? I’m confident the leadership of our guys will respond to adversity.”

Although struggling, K-State kept some momentum in the first half thanks to a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown by Malik Knowles to put the Wildcats up 10-7 with 6:18 left in the first. Spencer Sanders and the Oklahoma State offense really took control of the first half after that, not looking back once.

Sanders threw for two touchdowns and 344 yards, finishing 22-of-34 passing along with two rushing touchdowns.

“In the beginning, they got [Sanders] going and that’s what we couldn’t have, is Sanders getting some life and getting some confidence,” Klieman said. “When he did, he was really tough.”

K-State’s quarterback situation was still up in the air to start the game, with sophomores Will Howard and Jaren Lewis planning to get snaps and playing time throughout the game. Howard, however, would leave the game with an injury, leaving Lewis in control of the offense for the majority of the second half.

“[Howard] got hurt in the first half and couldn’t go anymore in the first half and then at halftime they did some things to work on him and he tried to go in the second half,” Klieman said, “but he couldn’t run the way he needed to run.”

Howard finished 4-of-12 for 50 yards and three carries for 28 yards before leaving the game — but also added a costly fumble into his own endzone that led to an Oklahoma State score in the first quarter. Lewis finished the game 10-of-19 with 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

The Cowboy defense bottled up All-American running back Deuce Vaughn, who only carried the ball 13 times for 22 yards in the game.

“We couldn’t capitalize and couldn’t get anything going offensively other than the big play to Deuce,” Klieman said. “It was a frustrating night offensively.”

The K-State offense finished with a season-low 62 yards on the ground and 198 through the air while the — at the time — sixth-ranked defense in the nation gave up 132 rushing yards in Saturday’s game.

Klieman brought up multiple reasons why the defense struggled in the loss during his post-game press conference.

“That’s a good question,” Klieman said. “We couldn’t tackle, and we couldn’t get off blocks. [Jaylen Warren] is a good player, there’s no doubt about that, but we were a step slow, we couldn’t get our footing, and we couldn’t slow the game down enough, whatever you want to say, and we just couldn’t get a stop.”

The defense managed to take a stand in the second half, forcing four straight three-and-outs to end the third quarter. However, the offense wasn’t able to capitalize and left the team running out of steam.

K-State returns to Manhattan next week to take on the No. 6 ranked Oklahoma Sooners, hoping to take down a top-10 ranked OU team for the third straight year.

The matchup is scheduled to kickoff at 2:30 p.m. and can be seen on FOX and audio streamed through the K-State Sports Network. A radio broadcast will also be provided by K-State’s student radio station, Wildcat 91.9.