This evening really could have been worse, but it also could have been a lot better. After a fairly dominant first thirty-five minutes, after which the Cats were sitting on a 30-point lead, the situation slowly deteriorated. Questionable tactics and play-calling through the final twenty-five minutes nearly doomed what was looking like a rout.
Most things we had to complain about last week were corrected this week. The offensive line play was drastically improved from last week. A lot better. The defense was completely on the ball in the first half; the Cajuns did not convert a third down in the first two periods, and did not see the end zone until the second half. Special teams were on point up to the turning point as well, with Tramaine Thompson busting a 94-yard kickoff return followed by an 80-yard punt return in which he was hauled down at the 2; Waters scored a couple of plays later to put the Cats up 33-3.
Then the things which didn't get fixed struck. First, ULL ripped off a touchdown return of their own, turning our sarcastic calls for Sean Snyder's head into real one. Then Daniel Sams remained lodged on the sideline despite it being precisely the perfect time to put him in the game and let him run the offense. The defense began to wilt as the half wore on -- admittedly as a result of having to stay on the field due to the big kick returns, but that's only a partial excuse since the first return came on the half's opening kickoff, and the second was followed by an immediate response by the Cajuns. In reality, the defense couldn't point at extended time on the field until Jake Waters tossed an interception on a very poor decision three plays after the Cajun kickoff return. The sole respite was that the Cats did have one defensive series which lasted only one play, when Ty Zimmerman picked off Terrance Broadway and took it to the house.
The game turned on a Cajun third-and-goal at the Cats' two-yard line with 11 minutes to go. K-State got a present, as ULL got hit with a false start right after calling a timeout -- a bad sequence no matter how you slice it. The Cats were able to pressure Broadway into an incompletion, forcing the Cajuns to settle for a field goal.
Then, finally, Sams was allowed to get his head of steam. He completed one pass to Zach Trujillo, and then used his legs to lead K-State to a touchdown drive capped by a pair of John Hubert scampers. A 21-point lead with under eight minutes to go was too much even for the tired defense to cough up; in fact, although they gave up yards on ULL's next drive, the defense held on a critical fourth down with five minutes to go, and that effectively sealed the win.
Ultimately, the issues with this team are still a defense which needs a lot more conditioning, confusing and nonsensical playcalling (especially surrounding what ended up being the field goal to end the first half), and an unpleasant controversy at quarterback where the problem isn't that you're trying to choose the lesser of two evils -- as most quarterback controversies almost always are -- but where we've got two really good quarterbacks who are good at two completely different things and who both, if we're being completely honest, deserve significant playing time. They actually complement one another very well, as long as the uses to which they're applied aren't overly obvious; the coaching staff is going to have to devise a system in which both quarterbacks are capable of entering the game in any situation and do whatever the situation calls for, rather than thinking "Waters pass, Sams run".
Two of those problems are resolvable in the press box. The third is going to take some hard work. However, the performance of the defense in the first half is encouraging. We'll just have to see if the defense can toughen up before we hit the Big 12 buzzsaw.
We'll leave more detailed analysis to the estimable Mister Smith tomorrow. For now, let's all just kick back, exhale, and enjoy the relief of a jittery win. We earned it.