Somehow, someway, Kansas State parlayed their refusal to play sixty minutes of football into a last gasp 38-35 victory over Iowa State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. A 42-yard Jack Cantele field goal with just seconds remaining capped an improbable and miraculous comeback from a 35-14 halftime deficit, mere minutes after Paul Rhoads gleefully celebrated a defensive stop that appeared to have iced the game for the Cyclones.
With just 1:31 to play and trailing 35-28, K-State turned the ball over on downs at their own 44 yard line. On the very next play, Mike Warren fumbled for the second time in three drives and Elijah Lee pounced on the loose ball. The play after that, Joe Hubener hit Andre Davis for 42 yards, and after a pair of Hubener runs took the Wildcats the five, Charles Jones scored the tying touchdown.
And then, two plays later, Marquel Bryant sacked Joel Lanning. Charmeachalle Moore recovered at the Cyclone 22 with 10 seconds left in the game, setting up the game-winner.
The second half was all Kansas State, but the first half was all Cyclones. Iowa State blasted the Wildcats for 304 yards in the first two quarters, taking a 35-14 lead into the locker room. The first half had some fun bits, though. We were treated to the spectacle of a fullback (Glenn Gronkowski) throwing a touchdown pass... to another fullback (Winston Dimel). We got to see the Wildcat defense -- placed in the one situation in which they actually excel -- basically stop Iowa State on Nth-and-goal on seven straight defensive plays thanks to a fourth-down stop at the one which was followed two plays later by a Charles Jones fumble which gave Iowa State the ball again at the Wildcat five... after which Iowa State still had to score on fourth down.
Oh, and Morgan Burns had yet another 100-yard kickoff return. It was the third return touchdown of the year for the senior.
The maligned Wildcat defense pitched a shutout in the second half, however, only giving up 144 yards without even having the benefit of the end zone behind them. That allowed the offense to get back into the game. Four Cyclone turnovers, three in the final seven minutes of the game, helped a great deal as well.
Joe Hubener was 18-31 -- 58%! -- for 216 yards and a score, and ran for 90 yards. Jones added another 65 on the ground, and caught four passes for 28 yards. Kody Cook caught five balls for 65 yards and a score, while Dominique Heath also had five catches.
Iowa State, for those of you who didn't do the math up above, ended up with 448 yards of offense. 210 of that was courtesy of the arm of Joel Lanning, who threw three touchdown passes. Two of those were to Allen Lazard, who caught five balls for 87 yards. Warren had 195 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, most of it in the first half. But his two fumbles in the final seven minutes ultimately doomed the Cyclones.
It was a crazy, crazy game, and a win feels pretty good after two months of agony. But there are still issues. And there's still a great deal to be angry about.
1. This team hasn't played a full game in two months
Oklahoma State and TCU, K-State was great for two quarters, then quit. Baylor, Texas Tech, and Iowa State? Didn't show up for the first half, then won the second half. Football games last 60 minutes. In the former cases, the team just wasn't prepared after halftime, whether due to poor adjustments upstairs or complacency. In the latter, the team just wasn't prepared, period, but bounced back.
Either way, it's not K-State football. It runs counter to everything this program stands for. You tell us: who's to blame?
2. The obsession with "balance" is killing this team
Look, balance is a good thing. It forces the defense to respect all possibilities, and it allows the offense to utilize misdirection to much greater effect. But it requires the ability to execute a balanced offense. The passing game was not ineffective today. Credit where credit is due and all that. But generally speaking, this team has had far too many drives this season where the decision to pass has been predicated on the principle of balance rather than on what's working.
3. The defense is still a dumpster fire
Yes, the defense saved K-State in the second half today. They performed well, stopped Iowa State over and over again. It was one hell of a half, and again, credit where it's due. And the final ten minutes... well, that was as wonderful as any K-State defensive effort ever, honestly.
But you know, giving up over 300 yards and 35 points in the first half wasn't really brilliant football. A respectable effort in the first half, and K-State doesn't need three Iowa State fumbles, a circus catch by Andre Davis, and a last-second field goal by Jack Cantele to finally win a Big 12 game.
But make no mistake: that second half was all down to sheer physical effort on the part of the defense. Go back and rewatch it. Look at how the players were flying. The defense took the game into their own hands, as players.
4. People keep blaming talent, and it's not that
Yes, the defense has been hurt with the loss of Dante Barnett and Danzel McDaniel. Yes, that means some untested players have had to step in. But you look at the names Jordan Willis, Travis Britz, Marquel Bryant, Will Geary, Will Davis, Elijah Lee, Charmeachalle Moore, Duke Shelley, Kaleb Prewett, Donnie Starks, and Morgan Burns... and you tell me there's no talent. Absurdity. In fact, K-State's comeback was a result of nearly every single one of those guys making at least one brilliant individual play in the second half, as well as a couple of guys we didn't even mention.
Most of those guys do have flaws. A couple of them could stand to be a step quicker; a few need more experience. But watch this season again and watch it closely. A large part of this team's problem on defense isn't talent. It's technique. And horrible technique is only partially the fault of the players, and is absolutely 100% not a talent issue.
5. The referees in this conference are just horrible
K-State had one drive end largely because an Iowa State defensive back was essentially trying to shoulder-tackle Heath right in front of an official who didn't see it. It's ultimately irrelevant, but for crying out loud this nonsense has to stop. Even Iowa State fans facepalmed over that one.
We've said it before, we'll say it again: every team in this conference is repeatedly screwed by this incompetence. It needs to stop.
Note: We're not really that angry, so please set aside any complaints. The "five things we're angry about" was written midway through the fourth quarter, before the comeback became real... but let's be honest, Wildcat fans. That K-State came back to win is great, but it doesn't invalidate anything that happened in the first half, and as a result we've opted to go ahead and run with it. This team still has issues, and unless they show up to play 60 minutes the next two weeks we're all going to be making holiday plans that don't involve Wildcat football.