Mental errors, bizarre decisions, and an inability to defend the forward pass all conspired to overcome a punishing ground game, and an interception of Jesse Ertz by Jordan Sterns with no time left on the clock allowed Oklahoma State to escape with a 43-37 victory over Kansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The final drive really started with Oklahoma State's go-ahead touchdown. With 1:42 remaining, Oklahoma State scored their first rushing touchdown of the afternoon as Chris Carson scored from 17 yards out, not long after a targeting call on Elijah Lee was overturned. But he scored because Kendall Adams simply refused to make the tackle, and it seemed to be deliberate as Adams appeared to release his grip on Carson twice inside the ten-yard line.
Why would you do that? To leave time on the clock, of course. And it almost worked, despite K-State not having shown a propensity to run a two-minute offense since the Fillmore administration.
Ertz had to run on first down, but got out of bounds after a gain of seven. A 9-yard completion to Charles Jones moved the chains and stopped the clock, and then Ertz himself rambled for 25. After an incompletion, Ertz hit Isaiah Zuber... for nine yards. After a timeout, Jones was stuffed for a loss of three; after another timeout, Ertz hit Zuber again for a first down. Ertz tried to run it in on the next play, but was hauled down at the three, after which both teams called successive timeouts.
Forced to throw short, Ertz connected with Dominique Heath... at the one-yard line. That would have ended the game, as there was no way for K-State to get to the line and snap the ball in time. But Byron Pringle was called for offensive pass interference, which officially stopped the clock without the ten-second runoff. Yes, for the second time this season, a penalty flag kept an Oklahoma State game going when it should have been over. From the 18-yard line, Ertz heaved a desperation throw into the end zone, but Sterns came down with it.
K-State got the game off to a great start, grinding the ball on the ground to open the scoring. Jesse Ertz did not attempt a single pass on the opening drive, which went 75 yards on 11 plays, Ertz scoring on a 9-yard run. The point-after dinked off the upright, but ultimately that wouldn't matter. The Wildcat defense forced a turnover on downs at their own 37, and marched downfield again, with Winston Dimel scoring from 10 yards out from the Dimelcat to take a 13-0 lead.
The Cowboys came right back, scoring in only two minutes courtesy of a 12-yard strike from Mason Rudolph to Jalen McCluskey. K-State couldn't get going on the next drive, and paid; Oklahoma State took the lead after a 54-yard bomb from Rudolph to Blake Jarwin.
K-State managed a field goal next time down, a 43-yarder by Ian Patterson. It's the longest field goal of the year for the Wildcats, as the injured Matt McCrane's longest so far has been 42. OSU marched again, scoring with three minutes left on a three-yard dump from Rudolph to James Washington which followed a badly-timed facemask penalty on D.J. Reed, which gave OSU a first down after the Cats had stopped them on third-and-long. Three plays after the kickoff, facing fourth-and-1, K-State chose to punt despite averaging over six yards a carry. This was an exceptionally strange decision, as K-State was slated to kick to start the second half.
Unlike pretty much every other game this season, the second half also started out gangbusters for the Wildcats. OSU was forced to punt after only five plays. The Cowboys then forced a three-and-out, but Barry Sanders, Jr. fumbled the punt and Lee recovered. This time, K-State did go for it on fourth down, utilizing a fake field goal, but Mitch Lochbiler was stopped for no gain.
Then lightning struck. Two plays later, the Wildcats regained the lead when Duke Shelley picked off Mason Rudolph and dashed into the end zone. The K-State defense then went insane, forcing another punt. Alex Barnes got his first touch of the game, gashing the Cowboys for 14; aided by two OSU personal fouls, Ertz carried for 11, 5, 6, and finally 2 to put K-State up by nine.
Rudolph finished the next drive with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, hitting Austin Hays from 34. Barnes came right back, racking up 42 yards alongside 16 from Ertz, who capped the drive with a one-yard run. And then Reed picked off Rudolph, and K-State had a nine-point lead with half a quarter to go.
Five plays, and the Wildcats again punted facing fourth-and-one at the Cowboy 48. Two plays later, Rudolph connected with Washington for an 82-yard touchdown. The Cowboys then forced a three-and-out, which led to Oklahoma State's go-ahead scoring drive.
Rudolph threw for an absurd 457 yards on 29 of 38 passing, with five touchdowns (along with two interceptions). Chris Carson led Oklahoma State with 69 yards on the ground, but four Cowboys had at least 25. In all, OSU racked up 637 yards of offense, 180 on the ground.
For the Wildcats, Ertz had a decent day throwing the ball; he was 12-18 for 87 yards, and his only interception was on the game's final play. He also carried the ball an absolutely absurd, insane, and possibly criminal 30 times for 153 yards and three scores. Barnes had 72 yards on 8 carries; Jones had 70 on 7. Justin Silmon also got in the act, gaining 29 on 5 touches.
Heath and Zuber each had four catches, with Heath's 48 yards leading the way. Overall, the Cats had 432 yards of offense, 345 on the ground. Oh, and Jordan Willis had a sack.
The post-game press conference has been... bizarre, and we'll let Derek update you on that later.
1) Apparently, stepping out of bounds gets you benched even if you're the hot hand.
On the drive which resulted in Patterson's field goal, Charles Jones dodged a tackle and accidentally stepped out of bounds 35 yards into what would have been a 67-yard touchdown run, he never touched the ball again until the game's final drive. Sure, other guys came in and did just fine, but to that point every other hand that was tried other than Ertz folded. Jones averaged over 12 yards a carry on the day, and almost spent the last 40 minutes of it on the sideline.
2) Good things happen when the defense and special teams make big plays. Who knew?
Two interceptions. One for a pick-six. A fumble recovery on a punt. A blocked punt. Two big kickoff returns by Pringle. Add all that up, and it really would have been the difference in this football game... if it weren’t all irrelevant in the end.
3) The defensive line is good. The defense overall... let's talk.
There were some great plays today. Don't let's lose sight of this. But there were also some howlers, and they weren't just a case of guys getting beat. Oklahoma State scored a touchdown on a play where not one but two defensive backs bit on a pump-fake, and both abandoned the eventual receiver to go after two different targets. They still play too far off the receivers, which of course is a coaching matter. And while Reed's fourth-quarter interception was massive, so was the stupid face-mask penalty he drew on a play where the Cowboys were stopped on third-and-a-mile; Oklahoma State scored a touchdown when they would have had to settle for a relatively long field goal attempt.
Focus is an issue. It needs to be addressed.
4) The coaching staff needs to have more faith in the offense in short-yardage situations.
K-State punted on fourth-and-1 at the end of the first half in a situation where going for it was actually sort of necessary. Later in the game, they punted on fourth-and-one again; they downed the punt at the six, but two plays later the Cowboys were in the end zone, and more than anything that decision may have lost the game.
Here's the thing: K-State was running for over six yards a carry. Oklahoma State hadn't really gotten many no-gain stops in the midst of that. When something is working, punting is just giving up.
5) Alex Barnes can football (™ Derek Smith).
He didn't end up running for 12 yards a carry, but his first two went for 14 and 27. He's a freshman. He's going to be a big part of this team for the next three seasons, and it's going to be beautiful.
Of course, people will scream about someone else not getting carries, because #EMAW.