On a soggy, sloppy day in Austin, we finally discovered what ails Kansas State above all other illnesses as the Wildcats dropped a 23-9 decision to the Longhorns.
It's the quarterback.
Texas kept the Wildcats' ineffectual offense off the board until there were only 32 seconds remaining in the first half, building a 16-0 lead in the process on a pair of Tyrone Swoopes rushing touchdowns and a Nick Rose field goal before K-State finally broke their miserable scoreless streak on a 7-yard toss from Joe Hubener to Dominique Heath. Both teams tried two-point conversions in the half; both missed.
The second half was even less offensive -- or more, depending on your perspective. K-State closed to within a touchdown midway through the third quarter on a 36-yard Jack Cantele field goal. But the Wildcat offense simply could not sustain a drive the remainder of the contest, and Texas ultimately capitalized when Hubener threw an interception to Dylan Haines late in the fourth. The Wildcat defense, which had been pretty much lights out in the second half, completely collapsed. Swoopes added his third touchdown, and that sealed the victory.
The Wildcats only managed 242 yards, 122 of that on the legs of Charles Jones. Hubener was 10-22 for 97 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Deante Burton led the receiving corps with five catches for 39 yards. As for Texas, they didn't light the sky on fire either; Jerrod Heard was 10-15 for only 99 yards. Johnathan Gray had 102 yards on 18 carries, Heard added 60, Swoopes 50, and D'onta Foreman 43. In all, Texas racked up 274 rushing yards on K-State's defense, which is just depressing.
So, what did we learn?
1. This team just has no quarterback
There's no sugar-coating it anymore. We're not trying to be mean to anyone, and Joe Hubener is a great kid who works hard and is doing his best. His best, however, is not Big 12-caliber play at quarterback. It's that simple.
The damnable thing is we don't even know if Jesse Ertz was a Big 12-caliber quarterback. We don't know if Alex Delton is. We don't know if there's even one on the roster. What we do know is that at least there will be a strong competition in the spring between Delton and incoming freshman Skylar Thompson, with Jonathan Banks perhaps playing a role. Or at last there had better be.
2. The team found its heart today, anyway
Let's be completely fair here: there was effort and fire on that field today, at least until Hubener's interception jabbed a shiv into the balloon. The rushing yardage, as a figure, is troubling. But the strange thing is that Texas earned that yardage by alternating big gains with blown plays which K-State actually defended beautifully. Indeed, your benevolent despot was stunned to see the final yardage numbers, because so many good plays were made that it seemed like the defense had held Texas in check relatively well.
3. Duke Shelley is going to be great
Maybe even an All-American before he's done. Shelley wasn't tested in coverage; really, nobody was except for sophomore Sean Newlan, playing in lieu of the injured Kaleb Prewett. But he stepped up well in run defense, and made a couple of plays that made it seem like he was wearing a Danzel McDaniel costume.
4. The playcalling wasn't really a concern
Yes, K-State came out throwing on their first possession of the second half. But other than that, there didn't seem to the sense of "what are these people thinking?" that has pervaded every other game this month. There was a relatively decent mix of plays, some decent calls on pass plays, a little misdirection on runs... in short, the team did not look like the gameplan was devised by a toddler. That's progress.
5. We have to acknowledge the skeleton in the closet
This season is a disaster. There's no getting around that. But we can reasonably ask what might have been. The injury luck this team has suffered is far beyond sensible expectations. In at least one of the previous three games, the following players have been unavailable due to injury or illness at least once, or have been knocked out of a game due to injury: Jesse Ertz, Alex Delton, Jonathan Banks, Elijah Lee, Kaleb Prewett, Dante Barnett, Morgan Burns, Danzel McDaniel, and Matthew McCrane.
That's basically half a team, people.
So while things are bad, perhaps it's time to just sigh in resignation and accept it, and hope that maybe a 10-day break before facing the Baylor buzzsaw will at least result in a game effort. And then we can concentrate on the final stretch, four games that K-State might conceivably win. That should result in at least two wins, hopefully three. The bowl hopes are not extinguished.
But they're definitely only smoldering.
In closing, we'd like to offer our heartfelt condolences to the Oklahoma State community and our friends over at Cowboys Ride for Free in the wake of this morning's disastrous events at the end of the homecoming parade in Stillwater. Our hearts are heavy, and the Pokes have suffered far too many sports-related tragedies recently. Our thoughts and prayers to all.