It was cold and bitter, and down 21-7 at the half a not-insignificant portion of the crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium decamped to other locales.
They missed the best second-half Wildcat performance of the season as K-State stormed back to take the #2 team in the nation to the wire. K-State's rally ended when a double-pass attempt by Kody Cook was intercepted, and Baylor escaped with a 31-24 victory. But there was a great deal to be pleased about, even though we don't accept moral victories.
1. By and large, K-State leaned on the run
Joe Hubener was 12-21 for 151 through the air, and hit Deante Burton for the late touchdown which made it a one-possession game, and found Kody Cook 6 times for 71 yards. But for the most part, the coaching staff relied on the team's strength. The Wildcats ran the ball an insane 48 times, Hubener picking up 153 yards on 29 carries with two scores. Charles Jones added 76 on 16 carries, and Justin Silmon picked up 28 on just a pair of carries. The Wildcats were able to run right at Baylor's beast Shawn Oakman, who seemed to either wear down under the pressure of K-State's long, grueling drives... or just sort of quit.
2. Donnie Starks is a man
Starks had played fairly well against TCU, and was one of the few bright lights against Oklahoma. Tonight, he was off the hook. He was good in coverage, although he wasn't assigned to Baylor's main weapons; more importantly, though, he batted down a pass in a key situation and recorded a sack on Jarrett Stidham which forced a change of possession. Starks suffered a bad game against Texas, so he's still hit or miss, but his emergence is a boon to a depleted and ailing secondary.
3. The defense rose to the occasion
Let's not ignore the elephant in the room; in the first half, the defense was Not Good. The Wildcats gave up 260 passing yards in the first half. But when they returned from the locker room... hey, hands in the air. Baylor only amassed 159 yards in the air in the second half, and only ran for 103 the entire game. Call this cherry-picking all you like, but the bottom line is that in the final thirty minutes K-State was up to the challenge of stopping Baylor's insane offense.
4. The second half disaster didn't happen
On top of the defense's heroic second-half effort, the offense didn't come out of the locker room doing Exactly The Wrong Thing again. And the Wildcats actually won the second half, 17-10. Of course, when you're in a 14-point hole at the half that's not enough. But it's progress, and in a year where K-State was expected to be rebuilding and have suffered catastrophic injuries, we'll take it.
5. The team is fired up
No punches pulled here: the Wildcats quit against Oklahoma, and seemed listless against Texas. Tonight, they came ready to play. They answered Baylor's first lightning strike with a brutally efficient 17-play drive which ate over nine minutes of clock. Baylor responded immediately; K-State came right back out and marched downfield again, only stopped when Hubener lost a fumble after being basically blind-sided. And then, after giving up a third relatively quick score, they still didn't give up. They fought, they clawed, and in the end they had a chance to win.
Midway through the second quarter, a 4-8 season seemed entirely plausible. By the final gun, there's renewed hope that the Cats will indeed achieve bowl eligibility. It's a step in the right direction, and a welcome one for a program which has been known of late as a late-season team anyway.
We'll find out next week, and an extra two days to prepare won't hurt.