Five takeaways from tough but glorifying win over Kansas

Cornerback Keenan Garber blows past a Jayhawk special teams to convert a KU extra point to a defensive two-point conversion. The Wildcats beat the Jayhawks 31-27 Nov. 18 for the annual Sunflower Showdown. (Julia Smith | Collegian Media Group)

From Luke Lazarczyk in LAWRENCE

Takeaway #1: No matter what happens for Big 12 title game, Wildcats are near the top of the conference

The one thing the Kansas State vs. Kansas game showed? K-State is a tough team to beat. The Jayhawks outpaced the Wildcats with more yards and ran a tough offense of wildcat and big plays. Nevertheless, K-State pulled through. The win highlighted how resilient and capable the Wildcats are, despite whatever next week’s results may be.

The Big 12 Championship tiebreaker rules and changes have confused many. No matter the result, it says nothing more or less about the 2023 Wildcats. They are a strong team that has gone through a lot and is still playing near its best.

Takeaway #2: Kansas is also legit

The Jayhawks battled through so much in this game and the season. On their third quarterback of the year, Kansas battled with Cole Ballard, who proved himself worthy. It took about everything from K-State and some Jayhawk errors to pull through in Lawrence. As questions swirl around, two things are known. Quarterback Jalon Daniels is returning to a strong quarterback room, and assuming head coach Lance Leipold stays, the Sunflower Showdown rivalry may have been reborn Saturday night.

Takeaway #3: Special teams comes out clutch oddly

A look into the stats and the special teams of K-State was not strong Saturday night. The return team came away with -6 yards on one punt return while the Jayhawk kick return team took a 34-yard return down the field. Also, punter Jack Blummer averaged only 32.8 yards per punt. Still, they won the game.

Defensive end Nate Matlack’s PAT block set up cornerback Keenan Garber’s two-point return. The three-point swing was instrumental in a game that went to the very end. On top of that, wide receiver Ty Bowman’s punt fumble recovery allowed K-State to take the lead and win the game. All units have struggled this season, but in the moments that mattered most Saturday night, special teams weirdly shined.

Takeaway #4: Tackling was an issue

A huge reason K-State fell far behind was because of tackling. Led by running back Devin Neal, the Jayhawks consistently maneuvered around Wildcat defenders, resulting in many big plays. Slowly, the problem became less and less magnified. Still, Neal and company, Neal especially, were huge problems for the Wildcats. As the year continues on against Iowa State and whoever K-State faces in playoff play, the tackling must improve from Saturday night. While Neal may be the best runner the defense faces for the rest of the year, other teams with different strengths could capitalize on the moment.

Takeaway #5: K-State wins first one-score game of the season

The three losses K-State suffered all could have been victories. The one issue? The Wildcats close games poorly. All three were one-score games, and the only one-score games they had played this year. Saturday night became the moment all that close losing ended.

Not only did K-State win close, they did so dominantly. K-State’s late stop gave the offense a chance to end the game in 5:33. The offense completed the task, but not by some big play. They grinded out every play, converting when needed and when it was tough. Howard’s throw to wide receiver Phillip Brooks was the main part of that. Third down, game at hand and they delivered. If K-State can play at this level late in the short amount of games left, they may not lose again.

Editor’s note: Added the dateline to the article. Sports editor Luke Lazarczyk reported on and wrote this story and the game recap from Lawrence.