As time ticked away in the second half, and I amused (or annoyed, or offended, take your pick) the people around me at the game by celebrating to an excessive degree every single play that was even the slightest success, I actually had somewhat of a flashback to a similar game I'd seen played in this stadium, between K-State and Nebraska, eight years earlier.
In fact, the 2002 game had resulted in a nearly identical score, but with the totals reversed for both teams. A quarterback broke off several long runs. One team looked utterly inept most of the day.
Unfortunately, this year there was no Ell Roberson for K-State, and the quarterback breaking the long runs was Nebraska's Taylor Martinez.
There are no two ways around it. Thursday's game against Nebraska was an unmitigated disaster for K-State. While I had expected a loss all week, I was not expecting a blowout. Perhaps I should have been. Nobody in college football runs the zone read better than Martinez, and no quarterback is faster. K-State's defense has struggled with mobile quarterbacks, and the zone read in particular, has an undersized defensive front, painfully slow linebackers, undisciplined safeties, and Chris Cosh as its defensive coordinator.
We're going to forego the usual format of these posts after the jump, because there is just about nothing to like and everything to dislike about that performance.
As usual, I talked to Panjandrum on the way back from the game. We both agree that there isn't much we learned from this game that we didn't know before. Some of it we had perhaps been able to minimize or brush aside, but no more. One of this team's greatest strengths is that its coaches know their personnel and know how to maximize their chance at winning. That means grinding it out with a big offensive line and big running back, avoiding giving up big plays on defense, and thereby shortening the game and not beating ourselves.
Against teams with an inferior or approximately equal talent level, that's a recipe for success. Against those teams, the goal is to make sure you don't beat yourself. But when you're up against a top-10 outfit like Nebraska, with superior speed and skill at almost every position, it's not going to work. Nebraska is good enough to take away the one strength of the K-State offense and fast enough to exploit the manifold weaknesses of K-State's defense. Going forward, that doesn't bode well, because there are few teams left on the schedule with whom K-State is approximately equal (or superior) in talent level. Off the top of my head, I can only name KU, Colorado and North Texas. All three of those are road games.
Oh, and did I mention we have lost our best wide receiver, Brodrick Smith, for the season with a broken leg?
For four weeks, we had been able to look at an undefeated record and consider the reasons for optimism. Now it's time to look at 4-1 and consider the reasons for realism. Next week's game against KU, always a huge game for establishing intrastate superiority, looms larger now. As mentioned, we only have three games left against teams with relatively equal talent levels, and we need to win those games. It starts next Thursday in Lawrence.
Now, that's not to say that it's time to throw in the towel against teams like Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas. As an aside, you'll notice I'm not listing Baylor. I'm not doing so because while their overall talent level is probably not much higher than our own, they have the only quarterback we'll see the rest of the year who can even come close to Martinez. Robert Griffin now officially scares the hell out of me. Anyway, back to OSU, MU and Texas. Those three teams will likely beat K-State this year, but there's a good reason that Nebraska is a top-10 team and those teams are not. If K-State can execute effectively against those teams and get a few good breaks, then it could take those games to the fourth quarter with a chance to win. Of course, blowouts are possible, too. That's just the nature of this team right now.
As much as it stings to lose a game like that to Nebraska, the season is not lost. Our hopes of a 9-3 or 8-4 season are gone, but 7-5 is still in play and bowl eligibility is still a fairly realistic goal. Once again, it all starts next week in Lawrence. I officially declare it to be hate week.