Well, that sucked. Almost nine months of waiting for perhaps the most over-hyped home opener in Kansas State history and it culminates in a touchdown drive that gave Bill Snyder a taste of his own medicine. With nine minutes and 80 yards to go, the North Dakota State Bison slowly and methodically tore the hearts out of the Kansas State players and every purple clad fan in the stands. It was Chinese water torture. Drip, drip, drip, they moved the ball down the field. Almost everyone knew it was coming. It seemed even the defense knew. Slowly but surely they churned their way down the field, scoring with just 28 seconds to go. The game was over. The last interception was just the exclamation point at the end of the headline on every front page in North Dakota and many other places around the country Saturday.
Much like Morse said in his wrap-up, Bill Snyder is not a Wizard. Just like any other coach, he's an architect. He draws the blueprint and expects it to be executed. He's not extravagant. He doesn't want the Taj Mahal. He's utilitarian. He's practical. He does what is needed and nothing more. If there were a Maslow's hierarchy of needs for football, it would be printed on every page of Bill Snyder's playbook.
Over the last two seasons, a combination of underrated players and excellent schemes that maximize those players strengths have resulted in huge success on the field. Especially when it mattered most. Friday night, the strength of the offense was the passing game. If given time in the pocket, Jake Waters could be the best pure passer K-State has seen in a long time. He went through his progressions and found his target more often than not.
On drives when the protection held and the coaches didn't try to force the running game, Waters was 10 for 10 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Every other drive was killed by either a penalty (Cornelius Lucas false start), miscommunication (the bad snap after John Hubert's one good run) or breakdowns in the protection.
The offense played well only when Waters was allowed to establish rhythm. At the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats got the ball and Waters went three for three for 35 yards in 56 seconds. Then they came out in the second half with two short run plays and the incomplete pass to Tyler Lockett in the end zone. The decision to go for it on fourth down following the incompletion turned out to be the difference in the game on the scoreboard. If Snyder can't trust Jack Cantele to make a 43 yard field goal that's one thing, but he needs to trust Jake Waters to get the first down with his arm instead of trying to force him to be Collin Klein.
The true difference in the game was in the trenches. The Bison offensive lineman won battle after battle and repeatedly opened gaping holes for Sam Ojuri and John Crockett. The North Dakota State defensive line also had a lot of success. The pressure that flushed Waters out of the pocket for his first interception was brought by rushing three lineman and dropping Mike Hardie back to spy. When the protection broke down (which was fast) Hardie came up and applied the pressure that forced the throw. Both Bison lines performed extremely well.
Brock Jensen passed very well when he had time, the notable exception being the Dante Barnett interception which he telegraphed the whole way. He was excellent with fakes in play action and on read option, making the Wildcat defense look foolish several times.
Ryan Smith was perhaps the biggest weapon for the Bison outside of their run game, finishing with eight catches for 72 yards and a score and repeatedly delivering in the clutch.
When it came down to it, Craig Bohl, his coaching staff and especially his players beat Snyder and the Wildcats at their own game. Time of possession, special teams and rushing were all check marks in the win column for the Bison, as was play calling. Several of North Dakota State's biggest plays on the night were set up by plays they had run earlier.
Snyder II has been defined by scary week one performances against teams the Cats should easily defeat. It was just a matter of time before a team came along that had the right combination of strategy, talent and desire to make them pay.
As fans, we have no reason to hang our heads. Tramaine Thompson and Curry Sexton were great. Tyler Lockett also played pretty well and has a good chance at some big games later in the year. Zach Trujillo only had one catch and Andre McDonald barely made it into the game but don't sleep on those two when Snyder graduates the offense from the Cliff's Notes version of the playbook. Hubert will bounce back (if the offensive line let's him) and Glenn Gronkowski could also be a weapon, maybe in the flats as a check down. Not to mention that Snyder admitted in post-game that he under-utilized Daniel Sams. Sams' touchdown run was electrifying but he showed in the spring game that he's no slouch as a passer either. He should get his shot to show it in a real game.
The defense was atrocious against the run and on third down but Ryan Mueller, Blake Slaughter and Dorrian Roberts all showed promise. At times they showed flashes of Prince-era arm tackling but that seems to be a yearly occurrence in these early games.
Snyder preaches getting better every day. That goes for him and the other coaches just as well as the players. We've seen the old man get a fire under him after losses in the past (last year against the Horns comes to mind). North Dakota State is a very good football team and although Louisiana-Lafayette is no slouch, I look for K-State to come out strong next week.