Starting off, I can't help but think back to all the things I have said and written about this team in the past four years. No, I don't mean K-State. I mean North Dakota State. I have cracked jokes about how they should be invited to the Big 12. I have called for K-State to hire their head coach when Bill Snyder finally steps down. I have beaten the pulpit over and over and over about just how good this team really is, and how pretending they're "just" an FCS team is arrogant and ignorant nonsense.
In the aftermath, finally, my protestations have finally been taken seriously. My Twitter mentions are not full of people laughing at me. They're full of people talking about how good North Dakota State is at this football thing. Even Alabama fans are expressing the opinion that K-State's got nothing to be ashamed of in losing this football game.
Still, I expected K-State to win this game, and I still think they should have. Why?
Because I am an idiot and placed too much faith in the talent on the field and the men telling them what to do, that's why.
Let's get the good stuff out of the way first. Jake Waters can play football. His two long TD passes were things of beauty, stuff we haven't really seen since the days of Michael Bishop. He did an exceptional job the entire game of checking down and finding outlets. Yes, he made a couple of mistakes. One was a bad pass on the heels of a bad snap, and the other was the final offensive play of the game. That's gonna happen to a kid starting his first major college football game; the last one was barely even a mistake, what with the coaching staff handing him a bucket of dung and asking him to make a cake with it.
Receivers played very well, too. Tramaine Thompson made a bunch of clutch catches beyond the yellow line; Curry Sexton made a bunch of good possession catches and stretched them into first downs, doing a pretty good impression of Wes Welker. Tyler Lockett wasn't exactly stellar, but he had a good game as well.
Across the line of scrimmage, Blake Slaughter and Ryan Mueller had pretty good outings. They weren't perfect; Slaughter missed a gap here and there which helped give aid and comfort to the Bison running attack. Mueller didn't seem to make any critical errors, though.
Sadly, that's the end of the good stuff.
Simply put, the defense doesn't have the horses. The line was manhandled all night long (both lines were, actually, but more on this in a moment). Now, let's be fair: linemen are the primary strength of North Dakota State recruiting, something else I've pointed out before. If you expected K-State's defensive line to dominate, you were already eating peyote. But with the exception of a few plays -- most of which were supported by some form of blitz -- the defensive line got no penetration into the Bison backfield at all. It was an embarrassment.
Offensively, the running game was DOA except for one good John Hubert escape and the touchdown run by Daniel Sams which has people calling for him to take over at QB already, which I'm going to dispense with by simply saying "that's idiotic". It's not that Sams isn't any good, guys; it's that Waters is the best passing quarterback we've had since Michael Bishop and he proved that he can run a little if he gets some blocking.
Unfortunately the offensive line, which was supposed to be a strength of this team, completely wet the bed tonight. They were okay in pass protection, but on running plays they were completely overmatched throughout the entire contest; that's why we simply couldn't run the ball. The one time they managed to open any sort of hole in the middle, Hubert slipped through it and busted a big gainer.
Which brings us to the final criticism: the coaching staff. The conservative playcalling in game one is fine when you're playing a stiff. When you're playing a team who managed to finish ranked in the top 30-40 in every worthwhile computer ranking system last year despite being in FCS, it's a different story altogether. You could see it, too: on the rare occasions when Bill Snyder allowed the team to go off-script and try something nifty, it worked. There is no coach in the country who isn't aware of Snyder's opening game tendencies, and it showed tonight.
And then there were the tactical decisions both at the end of the first half and the final ten minutes of the game. Going conservative in a tied game where your defense has shown absolutely no intention of stopping the other team when you know you're getting the ball back to start the second half? Unconscionable. Basically giving up offensively and apparently deciding you're going to rely on that defense to salvage the game with a four-point lead and half a quarter to go? Ugh.
Bill Snyder is a great coach, a great man, and unless some festering skeleton is discovered in his closet he will always be a hero in Manhattan no matter what else transpires. I don't think he needs to quit. In truth, I don't even really think he needs to change, although maybe a little recognition of when potential rewards outweigh not the risk per se but the effect of not having taken the risk to begin with. (When you stop to consider that the exact same thing applies to Snyder's scheduling practices, you'll truly see the point here.)
But he is not a sorcerer. I've yelled and screamed about this for two years now; the idea that BILL SNYDER works miracles and is responsible for these scrappy teams with little talent managing to win 21 games in two years offends me. It's insulting to the players on those teams, who, you know, were actually pretty damned good players. This year, not so much, and we see the result.
There is no real shame in losing this game; my friends from other quarters are right about that. The Cats lost to a really, really good football team tonight. But it could have gone so, so differently. And for that, I can only blame decision-making.