In a surprisingly entertaining game, K-State lost to Syracuse, 36-34, in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
The Wildcats struck first, leading 7-0 less than one minute into the game, before Syracuse ran off 14 straight points. Another Daniel Thomas touchdown tied the game at 14 going to halftime. In the second half, Syracuse realized that K-State was really bad at playing defense against the run and proceeded to run the ball a lot and scored touchdowns as a result. Nevertheless, K-State's offense kept pace and Syracuse could only manage a 27-21 lead going to the fourth quarter, thanks to a missed PAT.
A wild fourth quarter culminated in a terrible, not to mention hypocritical, penalty against K-State. But to focus on that would take away from the game itself. Thomas scored his third touchdown of the game to give K-State a 28-27 lead. Syracuse proceeded to run off nine straight points, thanks to a 44-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Sales, a wide receiver who had caught two touchdown passes already in the game, but somehow K-State decided to allow to run free down the middle of the field. Syracuse kicker Ross Krautman then proceeded to bang through a 40-yard field goal on a field that was the equivalent of the Rockefeller Center skating rink. Meanwhile, K-State decided to forgo a field-goal attempt of their own and ran the worst fake field goal in the history of fake field goals before Carson Coffman threw an impressive touchdown pass to Adrian Hilburn with only 1:13 remaining. Hilburn saluted the crowd, and of course the rest is history.
Hit the jump for reactions to some of the specific aspects of the game.
Let's get this out of the way first. Hilburn ran into the end zone with 1:13 remaining in the game, giving K-State a score that put it within a two-point conversion of Syracuse. Upon arriving at the back of the end zone, he turned to the crowd -- some have told me there were a lot of K-State fans sitting in that end zone, though I have no visual proof to confirm that -- and gave a salute that enlisted men at Fort Riley throw to their commanding officer. Upon doing so, one of the Big 10 officials apparently informed Hilburn that he had made the wrong move and that he was also the official's buddy.* The result was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which Syracuse of course chose to enforce on the PAT, requiring K-State to score from the 18 yard line. Carson Coffman's pass sailed wide.
Now, let's be clear that the call by itself did not in any way cost K-State the game. A multitude of other plays cost K-State a chance to win that game. If K-State kicks a field goal in the fourth quarter instead of running a terrible fake into the middle of the line on fourth and five, Hilburn's touchdown makes the score 37-36 in K-State's favor. If K-State's defense didn't suck on a level that passes all understanding -- as mentioned in the preview post, Syracuse sucked something royal on offense this year, and yet put up 498 total yards and 36 points -- then K-State probably wins the game without the need for late heroics. And finally, give Syracuse credit. They played well, and deserved to win the game.
That said, the call was unequivocally wrong. That's right, it was not just "technically right but practically wrong" under the rule, it was just flat out the wrong call. Referee Todd Geerlings justified the call by quoting the rulebook, which states that "[a]ny delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself (or themselves)." Hilburn's salute was not delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed, which in itself disqualifies the salute from a flag, because the rule is written to require that those standards be met before deciding whether the act was intended to focus attention on himself. Under the rule, what Hilburn did was not a foul.
But let's assume it was, just for a second. One of, if not the single most important facets of officiating is to apply the rules equally. You hear it every year in basketball, coaches and players want contact that is called a foul on their team also to be called a foul on the other team. But these refs didn't do that, as this picture clearly shows. Sales gets to throw the Roc when he scores a touchdown, but Hilburn can't salute. Somehow, that seems skewed to me.
One final point needs to be made. College football fans talk about the passion as a reason why they love the college game. They show up and scream at the top of their lungs, hoping to distract the other team. They wear silly outfits hoping to attract the TV cameras. They sing strange songs, high-five each other after first downs, and jump for joy when a 19 year old who they've never met crosses the goal line to put six on the board for a school they may or may not have attended. In other words, they celebrate every little success on the field. They also talk incessantly about how they want a team that plays with heart, plays with passion, plays with fire, gives it everything they have, and every other cliche in the book. But then, the rulemakers -- and some of the fans themselves -- want the players to muzzle themselves. They expect them not to celebrate when the hard work, the early-morning conditioning, the late-night study hall, the hours of film study, the barking of the coaches, and the criticism of fans results in a successful play and they score six points to send tens of thousands of grown men and women into a frenzy.
If you've ever played sports, think about the state of mind you get into before the game. Maybe you listen to music, maybe you punch a locker, or maybe you read something inspirational to get ready. Whatever it is, you do something to get into a different state of mind for the game. We expect football players to get keyed up and play at a high level, in front of thousands of screaming fans, and then we expect them not to be exuberant when they have success? I never played basketball after my freshman year in high school, and I pumped my fist when I made three pointers. When I played in golf tournaments, I've occasionally done the same when I made big putts. I can certainly agree that taunting or showing up an opponent has no place in athletics, but I don't always expect players to just flip the ball to the referee and act like they've been there before. Sometimes, the player hasn't been there before. Sometimes it's not just a normal touchdown. You know, like when you score to give your team a chance to tie the game with one minute to play in the school's first bowl game in four years.
The bottom line is that this call didn't cost K-State the game. There's no guarantee that we convert the PAT from the three yard line. There's no guarantee that Syracuse doesn't drive down the field and score with 1:13 to go. There's no guarantee that we win in overtime if the game gets that far. But just as Syracuse played well enough to deserve to win the game, K-State played well enough to deserve a chance to tie the score from the three yard line.
A Thanks to Carson Coffman
I look back at the game threads from this season, and I'm a little embarrassed by the comments I've made concerning Coffman. No, he's not the fastest quarterback in the Big 12, by a long shot. No, he doesn't have the strongest arm in the Big 12, again by a long shot. But he directed the offense of a team that averaged 33.6 points and almost 380 yards per game. True, the offense wasn't explosive, but it was efficient. K-State averaged more points per game than did Texas A&M, Baylor, Nebraska and Missouri this year. If not for an abominable defense, this team very well could have won 10 games and been in the mix for the North.
As for the Pinstripe Bowl, Coffman was 17-23 for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. I'll take that stat line from our quarterback every single game.
Thanks, Carson. You took a lot of criticism that should have been aimed at the defense, and you took it all gracefully.
A Decided Lack of Thanks to Chris Cosh
Bill Snyder has to make a change at defensive coordinator this offeseason. I don't care if it's Jim Leavitt or some promising young DC at a smaller school. Snyder came to Manhattan to calm the waters. Bill, the waters ain't never gonna be calmed if the defense keeps turning 10-win seasons by the offense into seven-win seasons by giving up 500 yards per game. The Big 12 schools listed above parlayed fewer points per game into nine- or 10-win seasons. It can be done, but Cosh isn't going to be the one to get it done.
This can't continue. It must change.
Daniel Thomas, Beast
His total yards and per-carry average in the Pinstripe Bowl weren't great, but when a guy puts up three touchdowns while the quarterback throws for 228 yards and two touchdowns, who are we to complain? Thomas had another excellent season for K-State and I wish him nothing but the best in the NFL.
Lost in the hubbub over The Salute was the fact that Hilburn had a really good overall game, catching five passes for 84 yards. In fact, the entire group of wide receivers played well, with Chris Harper catching five passes for 56 yards and one touchdown, while Aubrey Quarles caught four for 75.
I liked seeing a little creativity from the offensive coaches. Daniel Thomas should have had a touchdown pass to Travis Tannehill off a fake run out of the Wildcat formation, and he did complete a pass to Coffman later in the game. I'm not particularly a fan of the flea flicker, but it worked, despite an underthrown pass by Coffman.
With that, I'm done. In a few years we'll either look at this as the season that got K-State back on track, or we'll look at it as the beginning of a series of seasons that could have been something special, but for one reason or other, just weren't.