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More Sunday Reaction

First, a basketball update.  I apologize for not getting up an open game thread for the Pitt State game today.  K-State won, 76-66, and the KC Star has a recap here.

It sounds like the team showed some effects from only having one day off between games, trailing by 12 at one point in the first half.  The positive news is that we showed the ability to make a run when necessary, going on a 24-3 tear to take control.

Michael Beasley watch: 30 points, 14 rebounds
Bill Walker started, but left the game with a leg injury.  It just makes me sick how rough the going has been for Walker, he just can't stay healthy.  Let's hope it's not serious.

On to what passes for football around here these days, here is my breakdown from yesterday's game.

First, I want to clear this up.  Apparently, somebody asked Nebraska coach Bill Callahan if he ran it up on K-State yesterday.  For some reason, that's a big deal to some people.  Let me make you the following promise:

"I, TB, as proprietor of this blog, Bring On The Cats, do hereby promise that I will never complain that an opposing team has run up the score on my team, the Kansas State Wildcats."

Here is why I will never make that complaint: K-State is too good to make that complaint.  I don't mean that in an arrogant way, because we obviously weren't good enough yesterday.  But complaining about running up the score is a loser's mentality, to me.  It takes the focus away from the real problem, which is what you're own team is doing wrong, and focuses on the big mean guy on the other side who is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing: trying to beat you.  I laughed at Bo Pelini for confronting Bill Snyder about it in 2003, I laughed at Gary Barnett's failure to accept Bill Snyder's apology for a late touchdown, and I laugh at the reporter who asked Bill Callahan about it in 2007.

This is conference play, folks, and conference play is supposed to be among teams that are roughly equal ( except in revenue and revenue sharing).  As such, it is our job as K-State to stop the other team from scoring.  It is not their job to stop themselves, although that option is certainly open to them should they so choose.  When it comes to conference play, nobody should expect quarter from the opponent.  The beautiful thing about conference play is, you're almost guaranteed to get your shot at some point.  Nebraska ran up 60 and 70-point scores on teams for decades, so nobody feels sorry for them now when K-State puts up 49 or KU puts up 76.

Now when it comes to non-conference games against lesser teams, it really shows a serious small-man syndrome to leave the starters in late just to put up points.  And even in conference play, I prefer to see my coach take a knee and run the clock out, but especially against the teams who have humiliated K-State for so many years, I will always get a little satisfaction at giving some of it back.  But as promised, I will never complain about an opponent scoring a lot of points and continuing to run its offense late into the game.

What went right...

What went wrong...

I talked with readers JSchwarz and mystman last night, and both of them said essentially the same thing: there was no spark, no fire, no heart shown yesterday.  That's a pretty much spot-on observation, but the question is where it went?  There was no shortage of excitement in Auburn, Ala., on opening night.  There was no shortage of emotion in Austin, Texas, on September 29th.  There was plenty of heart displayed in Manhattan, Kan., against Colorado in October.  But the last few weeks, this team has gone flat, and I'm not really sure why.  

The good news about it, maybe, is that it has brought out a little vocal leadership from Jordy Nelson.  All season we've heard that Nelson leads by example and that's wonderful, but every once in a while a leader has to get in somebody's face when they're not getting things done.

"People aren't doing what they're supposed to do," Nelson said. "It's something you can't see as a whole right now. But if you turn on the film, everywhere there's a different person doing the wrong thing."

I can't help but wonder if there hasn't been some loss of faith in the coaches.  I'll start on defense: the original game plan, which appeared to focus on blitzing the piss out of Joe Ganz, wasn't a bad idea in theory.  Ganz was in his second start, and had thrown four picks the week before against KU.  If a blitz could put some pressure on him, it might have forced some bad decisions and led to some big plays.

The problem was, it didn't work.

Nebraska's line suddenly looked like an impenetrable wall, and yet we still brought pressure on nearly every play, sending linebackers on a mission of doom, putting no pressure on Ganz, and leaving our depleted secondary exposed to Maurice Purify, Frantz Hardy and Nate Swift.  After about the first quarter, it would have been a really good idea to say hey, this blitz thing isn't getting any pressure on Ganz, so maybe we should try to generate pressure with the front three and vary a single linebacker blitz while dropping back and blanketing the field.

On offense, the playcalling was atrocious, to put it mildly.  We have a running back by the name of James Johnson, who is averaging 6.0 yards per carry on the year.  Let me repeat that: Johnson is AVERAGING six yards every single time he carries the ball.  What is Johnson's reward for that solid per-carry average?  Less than 15 carries per game.  On the season...

James Johnson, 10 games, 143 attempts (14.3 per game), 863 yards, 6.0 yards per carry

What's all the worse is, a strong running game and a commitment to the running game would have been huge in this game.  Nebraska defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove obviously decided he was going to blitz the piss out of Josh Freeman, much like he did in the NU-Texas game a few weeks ago.  And, much like the game against Texas, the blitz worked really well while K-State was trying to stick with the passing game.  Freeman was on the run constantly, and was sacked four times.

Question: So what did Texas do to solve the blitzing problem?  
Answer: Jamaal Charles RUSHING the football.  It only worked to the tune of about 248 rushing yards in the fourth quarter alone.

I'm not saying K-State needs to permanently adopt the zone read as its predominant offense, but using it as a change of pace wouldn't be a bad idea.  Hell, Freeman scored a touchdown off a zone read play in the third quarter.  Freeman isn't the most mobile QB ever, but neither is Colt McCoy, and the zone read has worked pretty well for UT the last couple weeks.

Anyway, apart from just the zone read, a little more running game in the first or second quarter against Nebraska would have been welcome.  When Nebraska played Texas, the Huskers did not react well to the Longhorns change of emphasis to the zone read.  A little more running might have seen us pull the same thing, with our running backs running right by the blitzing linebackers and on to freedom.

That's all I have for that.  Moving on now to the latest Jason Whitlock column...

Apparently Whitlock thinks K-State has a bunch of spoiled fans, and that is why the Wildcats didn't get to the national title game in 1998.  The essence of the column is that Mizzou and KU fans are taking the correct approach to this season by not complaining that they are getting a lack of respect from the national media, which wasn't the case with K-State back in 1998

First of all, neither team has any real gripe at this point, as Whitlock rightly points out.  Mizzou has played some good competition, but has lost to the only consensus top-10 team it has face--Oklahoma.  KU has done everything asked of it, destroyed weak opposition, won ugly, won pretty, you name it.  But the 'beaks haven't played a top-10 team yet.  They will, when they play Mizzou in Kansas City in two weeks.  But until then, they can't legitimately be called a national title contender because they haven't been tested against an elite team.  The teams they've beaten, such as K-State, Colorado, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, either are or were pretty good teams, but they're not top-10 teams this year, or even top 25.  So while KU certainly deserves its top-5 ranking, at this point they are going to have to show a little more for the national media to reocgnize them as a threat to get to New Orleans.

Whitlock recognizes all that.  Where he goes wrong is comparing this year's KU team to K-State in 1998:

The Jayhakws remind me of the 1998 Kansas State Wildcats; only so far Kansas fans have handled their success better than Wildcats fans. That Kansas State team was as good as any team in the country. Unfortunately, K-State fans spent all season whining about a lack of respect. The team wound up reflecting the arrogance of its fan base, gave away the Big 12 title game and thought it was too good to play in the Alamo Bowl.

There are at least three important differences between the 1998 Wildcats and the 2007 Jayhawks.

  1.  Previous performance: In 1998, K-State was coming off an 11-1 season in 1997.  This year's KU team was 6-6 last year, and failed to make a bowl.
  1.  Previous performance, part II: While one could write off that 11-1 season as typical K-State of that era, scheduling a bunch of patsies and then losing the only important game of the regular season--to Nebraska--that would be an inaccurate characterization.  True, the Wildcats did lose handily to Nebraska that year.  But they also managed to make what most would consider a pretty decent bowl: The Fiesta Bowl.  The opponent there was none other than Syracuse, quarterbacked by some guy named Donovan McNabb, who only threw for 2,488 yards, 20 TD/6 INTs, and also ran for 404 yards and six TDs.  The Orangemen were 9-3 and ranked 14th coming into that game.  K-State sent them packing, 35-18.
  1.  K-State WAS too good to play in the Alamo Bowl in 1998.  Ask any K-State fan, and they'll tell you the biggest disappointment of 1998, by far, was losing to Texas A&M in St. Louis.  The game in San Antonio meant nothing to the players, or the fans, and that's not arrogance.  That's disappointment.  The team had a national title game appearance right in its fingertips, so you tell me the Alama Bowl was an acceptable substitute.

Three teams came into the conference championship game weekend undefeated in 1998: K-State, UCLA and Tennessee.  Tennessee won, guaranteeing a berth in the title game.  Both K-State and UCLA lost, meaning one of them should have played Tennessee, right?  Wrong, that honor went to Florida State, who had two things going for it: it had lost early (to an NC State team who lost to...Baylor), and the name Florida State.

You're right, Jason.  K-State fans have no reason to be bitter over what happened that year.  Going undefeated, blowing out teams, Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback, and yet wasn't even guaranteed a national title berth even with a win in the conference championship game.  You're right.  The system worked to perfection that year.