Heading into the game against UCLA, K-State's mantra sounded like that of another California icon: "Just win, baby." For all the Chiefs fans, I apologize for quoting Al Davis, but it really was as simple as that. Any ending that had K-State with a higher point total than the Bruins was perfectly acceptable.
And we got what we asked for, I suppose. It wasn't the prettiest game, and it left some questions, but the home team picked up the win. By doing so, this team has set itself up to achieve some of the goals the fans have been talking about this offseason, such as qualify for a bowl game. It also opens the door to a record that's better than merely bowl eligible, such as 7-5 or 8-4. But we'll take those goals one at a time.
Hit the jump for more reaction...
What I liked...
...Daniel Thomas running wild. If ever you could say a player had a "quiet" 234-yard-rushing day, this was probably it. Going into the fourth quarter, I remember thinking to myself that DT had run well, though not necessarily spectacularly. I knew he had carried the ball quite a bit, but it didn't seem like he had made many particularly big runs other than the 44-yarder on the first drive of the second half. When he tacked on the 35-yarder for the game-icing touchdown, it was suddenly obvious to me that he had a monster day. What can I say, I'm a slow learner sometimes.
...a backup emerging for Thomas. William Powell was more than adequate in the time he spelled DT. On just six carries, he racked up 72 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown run to start the second half. We've talked a lot this offseason about needing someone to step up and take the pressure off of DT, but we tended to talk in terms of wide receivers or the quarterback. Turns out Powell should be able to take some carries away from DT.
...a solid defensive effort. The overall numbers were not spectacular, as UCLA picked up 313 yards, including 193 rushing. But with the exception of one horrible collapse in the second half when the Bruins scored on a two-play drive, the defense made UCLA earn every inch it got. Throw in a couple interceptions, and it wasn't a bad showing.
...solid kicking game. Anthony Cantele looks like a nice addition.
What I didn't like...
...more uneven quarterback play. I'm still going to give Carson Coffman the benefit of the doubt, given his apparent health issues on Saturday, but at some point you wonder if he's ever going to break out, or if he is what he is. To his credit, he protected the ball in this game, never throwing an interception or fumbling the ball away. But he still was too indecisive, which helped lead to six sacks on the day.
...very little pass rush. On 26 passing attempts, we sacked Kevin Prince twice. Oftentimes, he had all day to lounge around in the pocket and pick out a target. Credit to the coverage that we didn't get lit up, but that's not going to be the case all year.
What it means and where we're going...
As mentioned above, this game was a must if we wanted to feel good early about being able to get bowl eligible this year. It sets up the very real possibility that we can win all four non-conference games, which in turn puts a 7-5 or 8-4 record in play. Along with that, it also was probably a useful shot of confidence for a program that could use one.
In the immediate future, it means we're going to welcome Missouri State to Manhattan next weekend. I'd like to see us come out and take care of business early in that one, the better to get some playing time for the backups. It wouldn't be surprising to see a bit of a flat effort after the big crowd and emotion of playing a program like UCLA this week, but here's hoping they come out sharp.
Around the Big 12
Unfortunately, I didn't see a lot from the other games in the Big 12, so I'll give a quick take on them and direct you to SB Nation's excellent sites that cover each team.
Iowa State 27, Northern Illinois 10
Through the first half, Iowa State looked like a thoroughly disciplined and efficient, if not particularly explosive, team. They led 17-0 and were on the verge of running NIU out of Ames. But Austen Arnaud is still prone to throwing the ball to the other team a few times, and NIU got back in the game, cutting the lead to a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Credit the Cyclones for responding and putting the game away. Iowa State will not be a team to be taken lightly this year by anyone in the Big 12.
Missouri 23, Illinois 13
Caught the first half of this one at So Long before heading to Bill's House for our game, which means I saw Missouri at its worst. The Tiger defense looked lost against Nathan Scheelhaase and Illinois' offense. But Mizzou came out ready to play in the second half and put the game away. I'm not ready to say this calls into question Mizzou's ability to compete for the North, but they did look considerably less impressive than I'd expected, Blaine Gabbert in particular.
Colorado 24, Colorado State 3
Didn't see a second of this game and don't have a clue what is expected of the Rams this year. But you have to give the Buffaloes credit, even in past years when CSU was demonstrably mediocre, they figured out ways to lose, and lose embarrassingly, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. I won't say "Colorado is back!" just yet, but a game like that makes you wonder.
Texas 34, Rice 17
Another game I completely missed. Peter over at Burnt Orange Nation noted that it wasn't as close as it looked, and easily could have been a 49-10 laugher but for a play here or there. Probably not surprising with a young group of thoroughbreds who haven't quite put it all together yet. Because Texas is Texas, they'll get a pass on a game like this.
Nebraska 49, Western Kentucky 10
The result of this game was considerably less interesting than who played in obtaining it. After Bo Pelini went all Bill Snyder (x100) with his depth chart and quarterback situation, Taylor Martinez started at QB for the Huskers. Just going off the stats, he was pretty impressive, picking up 127 yards on only 7 carries and passing for 136 yards on only 16 attempts (9/16). Consider the competition, of course, but that's a pretty impressive first outing. Interestingly, WKU ran for 179 yards on Nebraska and came within three feet of 300 yards on the day.
Oklahoma State 65, Washington State 17
I have no idea what to make of this game. Either OSU is going to be surprisingly good despite all they lost last year -- Kendall Hunter being the obvious exception -- or Washington State is just shockingly, unbelievably terrible.
Oklahoma 31, Utah State 24
This was supposed to be one of OU's early-season laughers, where they put up Texas Tech Playstation-like numbers on some hapless outfit. Alas, that was not the case. Again, I have no idea what it means, but no matter the explanation, it can't be all that comforting for OU, especially with No. 20 Florida State next on the docket.
Baylor 34, Sam Houston State 3
Robert Griffin's back and leading the Bears in every statistical category. As long as Griffin is healthy and effective, the Bears are going to be a pain in the rear for everyone they face.
Texas A&M 48, Stephen F. Austin 7
It was a bad night for Texas universities named after famous men in Texas history. We kind of figured the Aggies would be able to fun over bad teams like this. I'm more interested to see how their defense holds up against better competition.
North Dakota State 6, KU 3
I'm not even going to try to quantify how bad it is to lose to an average FCS team. That's bad. But KU didn't even get in the end zone against an average FCS team. Georgia Tech should be a real treat for KU in Lawrence next week.
Texas Tech 35, SMU 17
It wasn't quite the Mike Leach massacre that we've been used to seeing out of Tech in recent years, and they "only" racked up 431 yards on offense. But hey, a win's a win in a new coach's debut. Right, KU?