K-State picked up its first loss of the season this weekend against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys frankly could not be stopped in the first half en route to a 31-20 win.
Oklahoma State’s first-half drives ended in the following way: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, punt. They also scooped up a dropped snap in the endzone to add one more first-half touchdown.
What went wrong? How did a defense that was so good the first three weeks of the season just get torched for 30 minutes of football?
First, the three-man front was an issue. I like it as a concept and could even see it as the base defense in coming years. It’s hard for offensive lines to run fit, and you can easily still rush four with the added advantage of the offense not knowing where that rusher is coming from. It gets an extra athlete on the field in exchange for some beef.
That said, you cannot expect to stop an obvious run set with five men in the box. Oklahoma State did a good job creating lateral space at K-State’s second level and forcing them to leave only two linebackers behind the three linemen.
The Wildcat secondary also struggled to tackle and to cover crossing routes over the middle. The loss of linebacker — and field general — Daniel Green to a questionable targeting call did not help.
On offense, the issue starts and ends with the wide receivers. K-State’s two quarterbacks — we’ll get into that later — delivered some really nice balls, especially early. The receivers couldn’t get the separation to allow an imperfect throw to be good enough.
Will Howard had three shots to the end zone and another deep shot that was knocked away in the first half. When K-State has its second and third-string quarterbacks in the game, they need to have open targets. You can’t expect them to make the necessary throws to put the ball in those tight windows.
Once Oklahoma State decided K-State would not beat them deep, they were able to key in on the running backs. Deuce Vaughn and Joe Ervin combined for just 27 yards on 14 carries.
Down 18 points in the middle of the second quarter, K-State couldn’t afford to rely on its powerful run game — or best athletes — anymore. Vaughn did have a broken-play 55-yard catch and run for a touchdown when Lewis just tossed the ball to him as he was being sacked.
In the second half, K-State’s defense stiffened. They did their part in the would-be comeback by pitching a shutout for the final 30 minutes. The offense was even more anemic in the second half, but shout out to defensive coordinator Joe Klandeman and his staff for making the right adjustments.
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.
Party like it’s 1989:
This was about running the ball, and frankly, I was wrong. Spencer Sanders threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He torched the K-State secondary.
Part of their success was the return of receiver Tay Martin, but they also did a good job of supplementing their injured receivers with targets to running backs out of the backfield.
Good Will Hunting:
Howard was — um — not good Saturday night. He did a fine job of managing the game when he was in and did suffer from the aforementioned receiving woes. He was still only 4/12 for 50 yards, though. He also dropped a snap and couldn’t manage to fall on it to deal an early decisive blow.
If Skylar Thompson is not back next week, K-State will need more from Howard (and Lewis) next week if they want any shot against Oklahoma.
Don’t flinch first:
“This will likely be the type of game where an explosive play or key turnover could turn the game.”
I was envisioning a late interception or fumble, giving the ultimate winner a short field. A key turnover DID turn this game — the bad snap into the end zone that put Oklahoma State up 21-10 early.
This game did not play out in any way like I predicted. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this wrong. I predicted a back-and-forth run-first battle with a 17-14 final score. K-State tried to make that a reality with its play style, but Spencer Sanders had other plans.