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Kansas State 31, Iowa State 26: Defense, When it Matters

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They gave up a ton of yards, but when it counted, they didn’t.

One more win. At least.
One more win. At least.
Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

A brilliant goal-line stand and a timely Elijah Lee sack preserved a fourth-quarter lead for the Kansas State Wildcats, salvaging a 31-26 win over the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.

(Don’t miss our first-half recap)

The second half started with Iowa State audaciously pulling off a perfect onside kick, after which Jacob Park just picked apart the Wildcat secondary to bring the Cyclones back within a touchdown. Jesse Ertz and Deante Burton marched the Wildcats right back down, however, although some baffling decisions happened during the drive. Byron Pringle was injured on the kickoff, and twice the booth called screen passes to Dominique Heath which went nowhere without Pringle there to block. (Iowa State does deserve credit for reading them, but the play calls were still baffling without Pringle.) Once the Wildcats got inside the 10, Alex Delton came in again and almost scored from the Wildcat, but was stopped just short; two plays later, a fake sneak and an underneath handoff to Winston Dimel led to Dimel scooting in off-tackle and untouched to restore the 14-point lead.

Iowa State's first play after the kickoff was a very controversial 39-yard completion from Park to Jacob Epps in which Epps was originally ruled to have gone out of bounds without re-establishing himself. On replay, it even looked as though Epps wasn't in-bounds when he came down with the ball, but the call was overturned. Three plays later, however, the Cyclones failed to convert on fourth down.

Alex Barnes and Jesse Ertz combined to run the Cats into a three-score lead on the ensuing drive. Barnes had 29 yards on four carries, including the five-yard touchdown to cap the drive; in the middle, Ertz broke free for a 25-yard jaunt.

Iowa State struck back quickly. Park burnt Donnie Starks with a 48-yard strike to Allen Lazard, then Joel Lanning came back in the game and ran the ball down K-State's throat, ending with a 5-yard run to make it a 31-17 game. The drive barely took two minutes.

On the first play of the next drive, another screen to Heath without Pringle -- but it actually worked. They went right back to it on the next play, and Heath got exploded. Ertz got tripped trying a run, then almost got picked off on third down. Without ever handing the ball off, K-State punted after a mere two minutes of possession.

Iowa State drove down to the one, as the Wildcat defense couldn't stop Joel Lanning on the ground and a backward pass throwback to Park almost resorted in a touchdown. Park didn't get in, though, and Iowa State had first and goal at the one. Three times, the Cyclones ran -- nowhere. On fourth and goal, Park came back in and tried to score on a pass to David Montgomery. Montgomery couldn't hang on to it, and with just seven minutes to go the defense had performed a masterwork.

They had to get back to work immediately, though. On the first play of the drive, Charles Jones was ruled to have not gotten out of the end zone, although on replay the ball clearly crossed the goal line. Safety for the Cyclones, and they got the ball back. And it looked really grim for the Cats after a couple of big plays on offense. But a couple of incompletions and an Elijah Lee sack put Iowa State in 4th-and-19. Park tried for the end zone, Kendall Adams wisely dropped a certain interception.

The Cats couldn't burn much time, but defensively they basically kept Iowa State in front of them well enough to force the Cyclones to burn it themselves. Iowa State scored with 50 seconds left, but an illegal touching call on the ensuing onside kick basically ended the game. K-State kneeled twice to finish it.

Ertz was 18 of 28 for 151 yards and a touchdown, while adding 106 yards on the ground on nine carries. Justin Silmon had 54 yards, also on nine carries, and Barnes and Jones each added 37. Overall, the Cats had 250 yards rushing (minus the kneel-downs at the end). Heath had nine catches, but only 46 yards; he'd have had more, but got blown up behind the line of scrimmage for losses multiple times. Burton had five catches for 72 yards and a score.

The defense did allow 493 yards, but only 154 on the ground. 74 of those were courtesy of the seemingly unstoppable Lanning, who was also 4-7 for 28 yards in the air. The real damage was Park's 301 yards, going 19-35 with two touchdowns and the Duke Shelley interception. Lazard led all receivers with 8 catches and 134 yards.

What did we learn?

1) Byron Pringle is really important to the screen pass.

Yes, Iowa State read things well. But Pringle's presence in front of Heath on screen plays has been a massive reason why the play's been so successful. Take him out of the picture, and it's far less effective. Someone else will have to become adept at handling that role for those instances where Pringle isn't available.

2) Alex Barnes can run a little.

Barnes picked up 7.4 yards per touch tonight, which would have led the team if not for Ertz going crazy.

3) Donnie Starks hasn't had a good fortnight.

We've sung Donnie's praises here for the last 15 months. He stepped into a bad spot last year and did really well all season, and had played well the first half of 2016 as well. The last couple of weeks, though, he's gotten burned badly in key situations. This isn't a huge problem. Starks is a good back, and this is likely just an anomaly. But it stands out.

But credit where it's due, too: Starks had perfect pass coverage on the 3rd down play just before Iowa State's final touchdown.

4) This is a running team, period.

Ertz picked up 5.39 yards per pass attempt. That's horrible; three guys, Ertz himself included, did better on a per-carry basis on the ground. When he's throwing short, Ertz is actually a good passer. But the inability to throw downfield at all is becoming a crippling issue. The coaching staff even had specific down-and-distance cues, as well as the end of the first half when they opted to try to go for a kill shot, to give Ertz opportunities to go deep. They all failed.

Still, Deante Burton had himself a game, and Heath caught a ton of balls without getting much to show for it in yardage.

5) The defense, once again, is awesome.

'Nuff Said. The goal-line stand, the stop after the safety... just brilliant work. Everyone had their moment, it seemed. Yes, they gave up a ton of yards in the air. But do you think Bill Snyder cares after those stops? Not one bit.

Next: things get scary.