After Christian McCaffrey and Michael Rector helped the Stanford Cardinal to a 17-3 halftime lead, K-State stiffened up and gave it a solid go... but, as it always seems, came up short against a top-flight opponent.
Matt McCrane, who’d hit from 30 at the end of the first half, did so again in the third quarter — a quarter which saw K-State’s defense hold Stanford to an absurd 11 yards of offense.
In the fourth, the Cats had a ridiculous drive which lasted about a week, but ended with McCrane’s first missed field goal in 16 attempts. Stanford later added a safety, but the Cats got back within a score with 2:20 to play on a beautiful touchdown pass from Jesse Ertz to Isaiah Zuber.
Unfortunately, after a penalty erased a potential onside kick recovery, McCaffrey broke loose again for a 41-yard score, and that iced the game.
The Wildcats outgained Stanford 335-272. Ertz, who had to leave the game temporarily due to cramps, went 16 of 34 for 207 yards, with a touchdown and a pick. Joe Hubener was 3 of 7 for 36 yards and an interception.
K-State didn’t do much on the ground, as Charles Jones led the way with 43 yards on 8 carries. Four different receivers caught at least three passes (Dominique Heath, Charles Jones, and Deante Burton with four each, and Zuber with three). Heath lead the pack with 65 yards.
For Stanford, Ryan Burns was 14 of 18 for 156 yards and a score, while McCaffrey ended up with 126 yards on 22 carries, but subtract his two big touchdowns and he had 50 on 20. He also caught 7 balls for 40 yards.
So, what did we glean from our three and a half hours?
1) K-State will win the trenches more often than not.
The Wildcats were very, very solid on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That the defense was is readily apparent from the stats. The offense’s problems tonight were numerous, but the line wasn’t one of them. Bad passing was not caused by collapsed pockets, but simply by poor decisions -- indeed, both interceptions were basically drop-back-and-throw calls which went awry. The only real blip was the safety, when Reid Najvar (making his first start at center) got put to the ground. If there was a criticism to be made, in fact, it might well be the move of Dalton Risner to the outside to make room for Najvar, who also ate some ill-times penalties.
Run blocking could use some work, but holes were there to be hit. They just weren’t.
2) The defense is juuuuuuust fine.
Okay, so we got outraged in the first half when the defensive game plan started with “stop McCaffrey” and then stumbled into “wait, we have to try and stop the pass”. That resulted first in a lot of converted third downs for Stanford, followed by McCaffrey’s 35-yard touchdown run.
But the second half... oh, my. What a half.
3) We have a quarterback problem.
I don’t know whether it’s a coaching issue, or a talent issue. Jesse Ertz was not sparkling, and when he got cramps we were suddenly subjected to a revolving door with Ertz and Joe Hubener shuttling in and out.
This isn’t going to work.
4) Then again, it might not be that bad.
The concern going in was the receiving corps, but the guys wearing single digits were doing some work. There were open receivers all night, and the two most frustrating moments on offense were the non-call when Byron Pringle was mauled in the end zone and a second-half play when Hubener overthrew a wide-open Dominique Heath by almost ten feet. Isaiah Zuber was all over the place as well, and Deante Burton at least looked better than he did last year.
And then, as the game lurched to a close, Jesse Ertz put on a clinic, dropping absolutely beautiful balls into the hands of Heath and Zuber to get the Cats within a score.
Oh, and true freshman Corey Sutton hauled in a 28-yard catch in garbage time. Yay! And Dayton Valentine had a catch, which means you really CAN throw to the tight end.
5) This could have been a win, if only.
Bottom line, even with the offense’s horrific performance, the defense really only got beaten on three plays. Those three plays netted Stanford 116 yards and 21 points; erase them and Stanford is held to 156 yards of offense and K-State wins 13-5.
And let’s not get too overworked about the offense, as bad as it was tonight. This may very well be the best defense K-State faces all season, and offensive struggles early in the season are basically a Bill Snyder meme at this stage. Talent doesn’t really appear to be the issue, so if the offense can gel they could do some things in the Big 12. We’ll see.
Your thoughts? Let us have it.