Last Saturday the Wildcats walked into the Bill for an 11 AM practice and a football game broke out. Obviously the Cats were sleeping a bit in the first half of this one but they picked it up in the second and laid it on the Hawks for the forth straight year. Even upon watching this game three times—once live, once the recorded television broadcast and once the KStateHD replay—I could never quite figure it out. It was a very strange game that was anything but pretty in the first half. But in the end the Cats were able to keep from beating themselves and came away with a solid win.
The Jayhawk Gameplan
I know we've heard this a lot since Saturday, but we really should give KU credit for the way they opened this game. They clearly saw some things they could exploit in the Cat defense and did that well through most of the first half. Both their first defensive and offensive series were incredibly solid, holding K-State to a quick three-and-out and then marching right down the field to score. K-State answered by getting into the end zone in only six plays on the ensuing drive but the pesky Hawks faked both a punt and a field goal to take what would turn out to be their final lead of the game early in the second frame. This is pretty much where the fun stopped for KU as that "improved defense" never quite showed up and the Wildcats slammed it down their throats for the rest of the contest. Whether it was KU's game plan or a bye week hangover from the Cats—or a combination of both—is up for debate but I personally didn't quite expect the start we got out of this game.
I think a lot of people were hoping that Optimus would really break out in this one and give us a huge game through the air, solidifying our faith in his arm as the Cats head into the meat of the Big 12 schedule. We didn't really get that but he did complete some big throws and had his biggest game on the ground so far this year. He continued to show his improved ability to read defenses by calling an audible that led to the 34 yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett to tie the game at 14. This was maybe the prettiest pass I've seen Klein throw all year so far and a great effort by Lockett to lay out for it and score. Other than that one pass though, the first half was not kind to CK through the air as he only completed four out of his eleven passes for 73 yards. He also missed a chance to get out of bounds on the run that ended the half down by the goal line. HCBS said in post game that they never taught Klein to run out of bounds but really, any football player should know to get out of bounds in that situation. From where I was sitting during the live game it was clear that the end zone was all he had on his mind and it looked for a split second like he just might make it. I couldn't tell what the receivers were doing on the play by watching either broadcast but judging it purely on Klein's body language it appeared to be a designed pass that he took for the run. Of course, in hindsight it really doesn't matter but what a strange way to end the half.
All in all it was a solid effort from Klein who finished with 245 total yards—116 of which were on the ground on just 10 carries. He completed all three of the passes he attempted in the second half to finish with a less than stellar 50% completion rate. He had two touchdown passes but should have had at least four, one he missed by overthrowing a wide open Tramaine Thompson on third and 15 and one he missed by leading Chris Harper too far toward the sideline and Harper made a great adjustment to just barely get a foot in bounds. If not for a huge game from Hubert—mentioned below—Klein may have had a few more chances at scores but four total touchdowns is still pretty decent. I think I can speak for a lot of fans when I say our expectations after the OU game were just a little higher than what Klein ended up with, but there's really not a lot to complain about when one looks at the big picture.
Hubert played the part of Colonel Sanders in this one and torched the Chickens by scoring once every two and a half touches. He also managed to just barely break the hundred yard mark making it four out of five games in which he's managed to do so. His first score of the day was a 20 yard scamper that had the entire KU defense fooled and his 32 yard touchdown in the third quarter was the straw that broke the Jayhawks back and officially started the rout. If his performance in Norman wasn't enough to convince some that he is an elite back, this one should. Hubert had many impressive long runs in this one but he also showed his toughness on a run shortly after Klein's long completion to Harper. Klein handed the ball to Hubert who appeared to be stopped for no gain but was able to push forward for two yards setting himself up for a one yard touchdown on the next play. Much like his nine yard score to all but seal the victory against the Sooners, Hubert's second effort ability is what makes him such a special player on this team. He finished the day with 101 yards on 10 carries and a career high four touchdowns. Add that to the 116 from Optimus, 67 from Daniel Sams and 62 from Angelo Pease and the Cats finish the day with 346 total rushing yards—their highest total yet this year.
Nigel Malone grabbed an interception late in the first half for the first turnover of the day then the Wildcats proceeded to create four more turnovers in the third quarter while not committing any for the second straight game. So far the Cats are plus seven for turnovers in Big 12 play. That's pretty huge. A lot of credit in this one needs to go to Randall Evans who was responsible for tipping two of Dayne Crist's passes, one into the hands of Malone for the first pick and another to Ty Zimmerman in the third. Ryan Mueller had yet another fumble recovery and seems to do it every game. A lot of credit also needs to go to Chris Harper whose recovery of a rare Collin Klein fumble prevented a potential costly turnover. As it stands the K-State defense is tied for fifth in the country in turnover margin, creating 13 turnovers while the offense has committed only three. On a side note, next Saturday's opponent Iowa State is 80th in the country with 13 committed turnovers and 12 gained.
The bit in the third quarter that saw an interception followed by a safety, a fumble and a 32 yard touchdown run in four consecutive plays might have been the craziest bit of football I've seen all year. It was a huge swing that finally shoveled the last bit of dirt on the Hawks and seemed very un-Snyder like. I'll take it though.
Andre McDonald and Boston Stiverson both made their first appearances of the year in a game that also marked a somewhat triumphant return for Angelo Pease who's been inexplicably missing since the Miami game. It's good to see these players get in the game and shore up the teams depth at such a critical point in the year.
By my count the Cats had 10 offensive plays go for 20 or more yards in this one. That's pretty impressive for this ball control offense. In fact, the longest Wildcat drive of the day was only six plays. The Cats scored on drives of six plays, four plays, three plays, four plays, one play, three plays, two plays and six plays. Pretty incredible.
Klein's TD pass to Travis Tannahill in the third quarter showed a pretty good ability to throw on the run. That could be useful later on.
Despite seeing his most snaps in a game all year, Daniel Sams still has yet to throw a pass and probably won't have a chance to for the rest of the season. One has to believe this is by design from HCBS who is never one to show what he doesn't have to. It's a bit frustrating though as there was at least one big opportunity to show Sams arm in the game.
Next up for the Cats is a very scary two game road trip where they will meet Iowa State and West Virginia. Both games appear to be winnable for K-State if they can keep up what they do best. It should be interesting, especially what might turn into the de facto Big 12 title game in two weeks in Morgantown. That write up just might top the novel I wrote for the OU game. We shall see.