OPINION: Football’s future hanging in the balance of administration, coaching staff

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K-State fans across Twitter call for Wildcat offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham's job after a loss against Texas this past Friday. (Graphic by Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)

The script could’ve been written before the drive. With 7:28 remaining in the game on Friday, Kansas State had a defining moment at its hands: work the clock, drive down the field and make some magic happen against a sub-par Texas team.

A possible final exclamation against an old foe before the Longhorns dip out and join the SEC.

In all seriousness, the script really was written before the drive started. After a good start to the drive that included a good 14-yard pass and catch from backup quarterback Will Howard to transfer receiver Tyrone Howell and a 20-yard run from standout running back Deuce Vaughn, all hell broke loose.

After two more decent plays, the Wildcats were staring at third-and-one at the Texas 17-yard-line — the most defining moment of the game (and probably the season).

Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham has had his fair share of mishaps throughout the season. But the two fourth down play calls in back-to-back possessions on Friday proved that he’s simply not cut out for the job.

After Vaughn failed to gain yards on third down, Messingham called a speed option on fourth down — a play where he put the game in the hands of an unseasoned quarterback who has had his fair share of mishaps instead of giving it to your best offensive player in years: the running back who was averaging 6.6 yards per carry for the game.

The fourth-down play call from the previous drive was also perplexing, to say the least, calling a wildcat formation for Vaughn where the whole defense could tell what was coming.

After the game, fans called for Messingham’s job to be reconsidered — to put it politely. Maybe it’s time to be real instead of polite.

It’s time to fire Messingham.

It should be done before the bowl game. It’s already long overdue. He couldn’t manage to call the right plays to score a single point in the second half against a Texas defense who had surrendered at least 30 points in its previous five games — one in which was against a Kansas team that scored 57 points against the Longhorns with a third-string quarterback.

In all honesty, this offense looks like an offense stuck in 1980 — heavy ground and pound — but it shouldn’t be with the talent that was at hand this season. Instead, the talent was wasted by a coordinator who looked like he was coaching a game of Madden 08, running the ball with LaDainian Tomlinson 80 percent of the time, rather than a Division I football program.

This is evident with the play-calling.

When looking at K-State’s first drives out of halftime this season, important drives that dictate the most pivotal portions of the game, Messingham was flat-out atrocious. The Wildcats averaged just 3.45 plays per drive in those moments for 15 yards per drive — a number which is skewed since the KU game offered a one-play 75-yard touchdown run.

K-State had just four games in which the opening drive of the second half resulted in more than 10 yards. In all 11 games, the drives resulted in a punt every time but two.

Now, knocking on run-heavy offenses isn’t what is happening here. If I were in charge of an offense with Vaughn, I’d give him the ball too. However, with the players on the offense, although not all-around great, expecting more isn’t too much to ask.

Oklahoma State, a team with a middle-of-the-pack passing attack in the Big 12 Conference, is fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Cowboys rely heavily on their defense — much like the Wildcats have this season — and have a mediocre quarterback and a running back who isn’t Vaughn.

The Cowboys are hitting high expectations, so why can’t the ‘Cats? Well, that’s mainly because K-State’s passing attack is non-existent and is only better than one other team — Kansas.

The Wildcats also sit toward the bottom of the conference in offensive efficiency, ranking seventh.

This is a team that has and has had the young pieces to be special since head coach Chris Klieman’s arrival, which also saw the Messingham era begin. The 2019 inaugural season was promising, going 8-5 with the future looking bright. Since then, however, mediocracy has prevailed, and talent is being wasted.

Instead, fans have been treated with a 4-6 year and a possible 7-6 season that’s highlighted by an offensive eyesore.

Now, all eyes must shift towards administration and the coaching staff. The future of the program is at stake.

Letting a close friend go is always hard to do, and it will be for Klieman with Messingham, but it’s something that has to be done.

If the coaching staff and administration don’t make changes — starting with Messingham — prepare for the worst. The transfers will come, as they already have with four before the end of this season — most notably running back Joe Ervin who has shown tons of promise during his time as a Wildcat.

Messingham’s clock should strike midnight, but heck, if something doesn’t turn around soon, maybe it’s time to start the countdown on Klieman. An overreaction? Maybe. Only time will tell. Recruiting could sure use an uptick.

At the end of the day, the balance of the program is in the hands of the higher-ups.

So, what’s next Gene?

Marshall Sunner is the Collegian’s Visual Managing Editor and a senior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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