The Hangover: Wildcats finally put it together

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(Graphic by Sarah Unruh | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State hadn’t done it yet this year. They’d looked great on defense but pedestrian on offense in games. They had also looked great on offense but couldn’t stop anyone on defense. On Saturday, for a little over two quarters, the Wildcats put it all together, and that was enough.

Sure, it was against one of the conference’s worst teams, and it was only for half the game, but K-State finally put all three phases of football together to outscore Texas Tech 15-0 in the second half and win 25-24.

After allowing the Red Raiders two quick touchdowns because of poor defense and a mistake in the return game, the K-State defense started to fly around as we saw early in the season. Their offense was clicking behind one of the most efficient games of quarterback Skylar Thompson’s career.

They finally did it.

The turning point of the game came on special teams early in the second half. K-State had shown a pulse but was still down 14 points. After a three-and-out to start the third quarter, it looked like another third-quarter collapse was in order for K-State.

Then, punter Ty Zentner gets into a punt to flip field position. It was downed by gunner Tyrone Howell at the four-yard line. The next snap, Felix Anudike-Uzomah made a play. He dragged an offensive lineman five yards into the backfield in time to tackle the running back before he had made any progress upfield. Safety.

With the lead cut to 12 points, K-State got the ball back on Texas Tech’s free-kick. Thompson went on to rip off passes of 32, 29 and nine yards, setting up a two-yard touchdown run for Deuce Vaughn on fourth down.

The Wildcat defense would need to hold on just a couple more times, and Vaughn found the end zone again on a scramble play from Skylar Thompson. Anudike-Uzomah and Nate Matlack made sure to stop the Red Raiders on third and fourth down on their final drive.

KEY MATCHUPS:

In the weekly Know Your Opponent preview, I pick three keys to the game. Let’s analyze them and see how K-State did.

‘It’s Thiiiiiiird Dooooooooown’:

Neither team was all that good on third down offense, but K-State held Texas Tech to just 2-11 and 3-5 on fourth down. In the second half, K-State got off the field on downs twice, forced one punt and had the all-important safety.

Sound Protection:

K-State needed to protect Thompson and allow him time to make plays. Ever since Thompson returned from injury this season, he’s been a much more patient quarterback. He’s found a way to buy time and make throws.

Now, as he continues to heal, he’s done a great job of choosing his spots to escape the pocket and run. He converted a critical third down with his legs and found Vaughn on the go-ahead touchdown on a bit of a scramble, run-pass option play.

Special teams:

It wasn’t a special teams score, but the safety was directly set up by Zentner’s 63-yard punt with great coverage to down it at the four. Zentner also crushed a pair of kick-offs in the fourth quarter to erase a pair of penalties that set the kick-off back.

Special teams was a critical part of the win in a way that they hadn’t been this season.

Prediction:

My prediction of a 38-35 Tech win was wrong. I predicted the Wildcat defense wouldn’t get off the field on third down, which was way wrong and — in my estimation — the difference between a close shootout loss and an even closer comeback win.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.