Last night's final, 38-29, might seem to indicate that this game was a two-score game. To the uninitiated, it might indicate that K-State and UL played a neck-and-neck game, with Louisville pulling away late for the win. If you thought that, you would be very, very wrong.
Ron Prince hit the nail on the head today. There is no silver lining. There is nothing good to take away from this game. Our offense, outside of a few nice throws by Josh Freeman and runs-after-catch by his receivers, was awful. Our defense looked like the defense from the last four games of last year, out of position and missing tackles.
We've had a few discussions recently concerning midweek games, and the exposure they provide. I never thought I'd turn down a chance to watch my Cats on TV, but last night we saw the other side of the double-edged sword that is a "spotlight" game. They're great if you win or play well against a really good team. But when you go on the road and get your ass handed to you by a mediocre Big East team, they're disastrous. Everybody outside Wildcat Nation now has all the proof they need to say, "See, same old Wildcats."
I wish I could argue with them.
What I liked...
A couple nice runs-after-catch by Brandon Banks and Jeron Mastrud. Freeman will be credited with three TDs on the night, and while he inarguably put the ball on target on all three throws, two of the TDs were due to very nice moves by the receivers after making the catch and the other was due to the fact that there wasn't a single UL defender between Banks and the end zone when he caught the ball.
What I didn't like...
Josh Freeman after the first quarter. In the first quarter, Freeman was 7/10 for 125 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. Keep that pace up and we're looking at a big night. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Louisville realized in the second quarter that there was no way in hell we were going to successfully run the ball against them, so they went balls-to-the-wall to put pressure on Freeman, and it succeeded. PB posted, sometime early in the second quarter, that Freeman looked amazing when he stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball with confidence. In the second quarter, he got rushed, started throwing off his back foot (see first INT, off Murphy's hands), and making bad decisions (see second INT, throwing into double coverage). Interestingly, Jason Whitlock managed to get it wrong while simultaneously getting it right this morning. Freeman was a big part of the problem, but it's ridiculous to say that Freeman hurt the team by throwing long completions for TDs. I don't care how short our possessions are, as long as we put points on the board. The problem is, we don't consistently put points on the board. If your short possessions are three-and-outs, then you're in trouble. You think Mizzou fans are complaining that Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin score too quickly? Yeah, didn't think so.
Absolute inability to run the ball. While UL has a good rushing defense, there is no way in hell a K-State team should only rush for 30 yards on 12 carries. There is no single problem with the running game right now for K-State. The offensive line gets no consistent push, leaving our running backs to make moves in the backfield to avoid losses and maybe pick up a couple yards. When our line does execute its blocking well, our running backs aren't good enough to consistently take advantage. God bless Keithen Valentine, he looks like a hard worker, but he is not a playmaker. On our second offensive play of the second half, the line actually opened up a nice hole. Valentine picked up six yards. I remarked to my roommate that a great running back might have broken that one for a long gain, and even a merely good running back would probably have picked up 15 yards. Don't get me wrong, I'd kill for six yards per carry, but our offensive line isn't going to open holes like that consistently, so we need to take advantage of them when they do. God, I miss Leon Patton.
Terrible defensive schemes and worse tackling fundamentals. There isn't much more to be said about this aspect right now, but if I can muster the courage I'm going to fire up the DVR this afternoon and rewatch UL's offensive possessions and keep track of how many times our players missed what should have been easy tackles. Suffice it to say, I HATE the 3-4 and am seriously concerned that Tim Tibesar should have been left as the special team's coach.
Finally, where has bold and daring gone? There was nothing resembling imagination in the play calling last night. It seemed like all we wanted to do was let Freeman drop back and sling the ball all over the field. Which is fine, he's a good quarterback, but the best quarterback won't win a game like that unless he has great players around him (see Daniel, Chase). We didn't even try to run the ball. Not that we were successful anyway. We didn't throw bubble screens to Brandon Banks. We didn't try a halfback pass. We didn't run a reverse to Deon Murphy (he probably would have dropped the ball anyway).
What it means and where we're going...
I'm desperately trying to convince myself that what we saw last night doesn't mean a reversion to the end-of-year slide last season. But I'm having serious issues doing so. In the immediate future, it means we come home to play Louisiana-Lafayette in nine days. The Ragin Cajuns are 0-2 on the season with a blowout loss to Southern Mississippi and a close loss to Illinois. They play their first home game this weekend when Kent State comes to town.
More to come soon.