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Post-Game Self-Destruction: K-State vs. Oklahoma State

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I hate games where you go from an incredible emotional high--i.e. the two-point conversion to take the lead--to the worst emotional low--i.e. the entire sequence of a crappy kickoff and the Oklahoma State offense driving right through our apparently gassed defense for a 26-yard field goal to win--in the span of just a few minutes.

What was actually good...

The maturation of Josh Freeman continues with his best game to-date.  Interceptions and an inability to throw touchdown passes have been Freeman's biggest problems thus far, but in this game he threw none of the former and three of the latter.  In addition, Freeman completed 70.5 percent of his 51 attempts for 404 yards, by far the best yardage output of his career.  No complaints at all about Freeman's performance last night.

Jordy Nelson needs to be on everybody's All-America watch list, and he really should be getting some Heisman talk.  He is behind only Texas Tech super-freshman Michael Crabtree in receptions, and Tech tosses the ball 13 times per game more than K-State does.  He's fourth in receiving yards.  Nelson won't get the recognition he deserves because he's not a self-promoter and he plays for a team that is not getting a lot of national publicity, and that's a real shame.

The final positive is really more of a positive that turned into a negative.  Bearing in mind that I could only listen to this game on the radio because it wasn't televised, it sounded like the K-State offense moved at will against Oklahoma State.  What's more, we had every chance to put this game away, as we were up 28-24 and had driven into the Pokes' red zone before fumbling the ball.  Then we forced an Okie State punt and the punt hit one of our blockers in the leg and was recovered by the Cowboys, leading to the go-ahead score and keeping our defense on the field.

Moving on to the plentiful bad...

That's enough sunshine pumping.  There are no moral victories, especially in a game in which we pissed down our leg about 300 chances to win.

You may be surprised that my first negative was not the terrible defensive effort, but I think there was a bigger mistake that at least partially contributed to the defensive meltdown.  As noticed by PB over at Burnt Orange Nation, the Cats averaged 5.4 yards per rushing attempt.  That's really good, and from what I heard on the radio it sounded like James Johnson and Leon Patton were gaining yards at will in the second half.  And yet, we only ran the ball 23 times, and threw it 51.  Why?  We were never behind until the third quater, and even at that we were never so far behind that we had to chuck the ball all over the place to catch up.

You might ask, what's the big deal TB?  Here's the big deal.  By failing to take advantage of a potent rushing attack, we failed to control the pace of the game.  Okie State held the ball more than seven minutes longer than the Cats did (33:50 to 26:10).  Let me repeat that...they had the ball seven minutes longer than we did.  Another stat to marinate in: Oklahoma State averaged 5.6 yards per rush, only 0.2 yards per carry more than the Cats.  And yet, the Pokes picked up 329 yards rushing because they were willing to hand off or pitch out 59 times last night.

Other than getting consistent week-to-week effort out of his players, my biggest area of dissatisfaction with Ron Prince has been his stubborn refuasal to run the ball.  In the past, he had the legitimate excuse that the offensive line wasn't strong enough to establish the ground game.  In the past few games, we've seen that while it may not be a consistent threat, it's there.  Johnson and Patton can be gamebreakers for us, but we have to give them more than 23 chances per game.

Last night I was convinced that the poor defensive effort lost this game for us, but after looking at the stats I'm going to cut them a little slack.  A little.  Wyatt Thompson and the other radio announcers talked repeatedly last night about how gassed the K-State defense looked, starting toward the end of the third quarter.  That's probably not surprising, considering Okie State ran 85 total offensive plays, including 27 in the third quarter, and controlled the ball SEVEN MINUTES LONGER THAN K-STATE DID (I just can't get over that, in case you can't tell).  But fatigue really shouldn't be an excuse.  The Okie State running game gashed us all night and, unlike last week against Colorado, we didn't make the adjustments to slow Dantrelle Savage and Zac Robinson down.

The amazing thing is that, despite Prince's ridiculous to run the ball, melt the clock, and keep Okie State's awesome running game off the field, we still were only a couple bone-headed plays from winning this game.  Somehow, we managed to lose three fumbles last night, which is one more than we had lost in the six previous games.  As mentioned, I didn't see the game so I don't know what caused the fumbles.  Sometimes fumbles can be attributed to great defensive effort and well-placed hits (see Nebraska's Terrence Nunn last year against Texas), and sometimes they can be attributed to a team that is unfocused.  It's a tired cliche, but red-zone turnovers will come back to haunt you, and there are a lot of ghosts in K-State's house after last night.  Does anyone think the game might have turned out differently if Jeron Mastrud would have protected the ball on his reception inside the Okie State ten with the Cats ahead 28-24 and driving for another score?  Ok, you can all sit down now, because it doesn't make a damn bit of difference.

Looking ahead...

So what does this loss mean?  Our hopes of winning the Big 12 North are gone now (or at least in a persistent vegetative state), especially with KU's win in Boulder yesterday.  Right now, the North standings look like this...

KU 3-0
Mizzou 2-1
K-State 2-2
Colorado 2-2
Nebraska 1-3
Iowa State 0-4

So KU is 1.5 games ahead of us and owns the tiebreaker.  Our only hope now is to win out and hope KU collapses against...well, I don't know who they could collapse against, considering their remaining games are: (Home: Nebraska, Iowa State.  Road: Texas A&M, Oklahoma State.  Neutral: Mizzou).

At this point, we need to focus on taking care of Baylor.  After that, we need to go to Ames and take care of Iowa State.  There is no reason at this point to think we should lose at Nebraska, but a wounded team playing for nothing but pride can be dangerous.  And though the conference finale is at home, on senior day, and Mizzou hasn't won in Manhattan since that other Bush was president, the Tigers are playing like a team on a mission right now.  I can still see a seven or eight win season ahead of us, which would make for a pretty good bowl trip.

Is that progress?  Yes.  Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.