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Kansas State 30, TCU 6: Wildcats decimate the Horned Frogs in regular season finale

Jesse Ertz ran for 170 yards and passed for 159 more, and the Wildcats laid waste to TCU

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Texas Christian Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn’t an overwhelming amount for K-State fans to complain about following the Wildcats’ 34-19 win over rival Kansas a week ago, namely because of the festivities that accompanied handing head coach Bill Snyder career win No. 200. Snyder had his concerns, but that was a given.

But this week, in K-State’s 30-6 win over TCU Saturday afternoon, these Wildcats obliterated, annihilated, erased and expunged any reasonable grievances critics could have brought against them. And they did it big.

Quarterback Jesse Ertz was the catalyst for the K-State offense. The junior totaled two touchdowns on top of 170 yards on the ground and 159 through the air, complete with a magnificent 32-yard touchdown rush:

The touchdown handed his team a 10-3 lead in the second frame, but Ertz wasn’t done. He connected with sophomore Byron Pringle for an 83-yard touchdown in the third quarter, K-State’s longest touchdown play since 2014:

It all happened in soggy, wet conditions, too — which only favored K-State’s hard-nosed run game. Tallying a gaudy 336 rushing yards Saturday made it six straight games for K-State finishing with 200-plus rushing yards. The last time that happened? 2003.

In the way of records, this K-State defense gave one to TCU to chew on: the last time the Horned Frogs were held without a touchdown was in 2006, when they beat Texas Tech 12-3. The difference Saturday was that TCU found itself on the losing side of the box score.

In terms of the defense, it’s nigh impossible to speak too highly of its work. The only TCU turnover came on a Trent Tanking interception in the final seconds of the game, but K-State forced the Frogs into a 7-for-20 mark on third down, and TCU managed just 138 passing yards. And if not for the slippery weather, linebacker Elijah Lee would have secured an interception for a pick-six, and if not for the Big 12 refs’ intermittent ineptitude, defensive back Kendall Adams would have returned a fumble for a touchdown.

The game remained in doubt for longer than the final score may suggest, though. K-State carried a 10-6 lead into halftime, so it wasn’t until the third quarter that the Wildcats kicked things into gear. The Ertz-Pringle connection stretched K-State’s lead to 17-6, and it was 23-6 after Justin Silmon, on his way to 133 yards rushing, punched it in from five yards out. Silmon’s three-yard touchdown rush in the fourth frame sealed it for the visitors.

All in all, K-State topped TCU in nearly every category. Even if Snyder will invariably disagree.

So what did we learn?

1) Jesse Ertz is the man — at least, he can be.

The win over TCU was easily Ertz’s best collective game this season. The stats are formidable enough, but it went deeper — the guy just wouldn’t quit. His white jersey looked anything but white as the game wound down.

He pulled off another impressive run Saturday, one that won’t stand out in the box score, but one that only exposes the toughness his teammates speak so fondly of.

Ertz leaned heavily on the run game, as he should have given the weather conditions. His passing numbers — 9-for-21 — weren’t fantastic for the same reason, but the 83-yard touchdown connection was a hell of a throw. We’ll give him a pass for the incompletions on account of the wet field.

He hasn’t always been at his best this season, especially when he tossed a game-losing interception against Oklahoma State in the final seconds last month. And occasional injuries have stunted his playing time, but when he’s locked in, Ertz can carry K-State further than it could have expected in August.

2) Run, run, run the ball.

Keep in mind that freshman running back Alex Barnes, sidelined with an injury, played zero role in the 336 rushing yards K-State put up Saturday. The freshman was coming off back-to-back 100-yard outings against Baylor and Kansas, and he totaled five combined touchdowns in those games. Barnes is serious, and when he stands in the backfield alongside Ertz, the already-menacing K-State rushing attack grows even scarier. The Wildcats would be wise to stick to the run in the bowl game (more on that later).

3) This defense is capable.

It’s had its slip-ups, of course. Against Oklahoma State, when it collapsed and allowed an 82-yard touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. When senior Dante Barnett got burned for a 95-yard score against KU last week. The numerous times opposing wide receivers have slipped behind the secondary for touchdowns.

But as with Ertz, when the defense is on, it’s on. Today was evidence. It held Missouri State scoreless (in a weather-shortened affair), it gave the offense a chance to beat both Stanford and West Virginia on the road, and sophomore D.J. Reed has surfaced as an incredible cornerback. Senior Jordan Willis remains unreal, and Lee continues to make tackles and pick off the occasional pass.

The thing about the defense’s lackluster play, though, is that it’s all in the past, and the players have learned from it. If this win over TCU was, say, K-State’s fifth game of the season, there would be tons to worry about and improve upon. But because the bowl game is the last unchecked box on K-State’s to-do list, and the Wildcats will being coming off this showing against the Frogs, there’s reason for optimism.

4) Limit turnovers, and we’re golden.

K-State already ranks fifth nationally with a +11 turnover margin, so it isn’t as if this is a nagging issue. But fullback Winston Dimel coughed up a really bad fumble late in the first half Saturday, and K-State was lucky to limit the Frogs to a field goal on the ensuing possession. It could have been a tie game if TCU scored a touchdown, and a 10-10 game at halftime could have ended differently.

So as long as the Wildcats keep it clean moving forward, they’ll give themselves chances to win the game, a phrase Snyder repeats like a broken record — if the offense does its thing.

5) K-State is almost certainly headed to the Texas Bowl.

It won’t become official until Sunday afternoon, but all signs point toward the Wildcats facing an SEC foe in the Texas Bowl. Book your hotels in Houston, folks.