Today was supposed to be simple. The Kansas Jayhawks had not scored a point since October 7, and that was against the notoriously inept Texas Tech defense. They had been absolutely obliterated in consecutive weeks by Iowa State and TCU.
Today was not simple, as K-State gave up 482 yards of offense to that same execrable Jayhawk unit, and only stellar special teams play allowed the Wildcats to escape Lawrence with a 30-20 victory.
Indeed, it was the Wildcat offense which was inept, only managing 335 yards against a defense which has been coughing up over 500 yards a game. There was an excuse of sorts, however. Jesse Ertz, who was “questionable”, didn’t even suit up, and Alex Delton was knocked out of the game on K-State’s final offensive play of the first half, which ended with the Cats leading 10-6.
But even then, K-State’s offense was only responsible for three first-half points, a 31-yard Matthew McCrane field goal with five minutes to go in the half; they had a chance for another, but with third and a foot at the Jayhawk 5 at the end of the first quarter, K-State failed twice to convert and turned the ball over on downs.
The first-half touchdown was on a 99-yard kickoff return by D.J. Reed which immediately followed Kansas opening the scoring with a Gabriel Rui field goal five minutes in, set up by a Byron Pringle fumble.
Reed wasn’t done with his heroics, but we’ll get to that later.
Kansas took the opening kickoff of the second half, but Jayd Kirby -- who we criticized last week, and maintain the criticism was valid in its context — sacked Carter Stanley at the Jayhawk 18 and recovered the ensuing fumble. With Skylar Thompson forced into action, K-State implemented the Wildcat with Alex Barnes to great effect; Barnes gained 10+ yards out of the formation on a couple of occasions, including the second play after the fumble recovery. Barnes scored on the next play with a 3-yard run to open a double-digit lead.
Reed struck again on the next Jayhawk drive, getting absolutely beaten by Steven Sims on a deep route but somehow, some way, recovering and getting back in to break up the pass at the goal line. It would have been a 59-yard touchdown. Instead, it meant a Kansas punt, which was followed by K-State methodically ramming the ball down KU’s throats before settling for McCrane’s second field goal, this one from 36 to put the Cats ahead 20-6. The teams then traded possessions, with K-State downing a punt at the Jayhawk 3-yard line with 17 minutes left to play and things seeming to be in control.
What followed was damning. Stanley hit Steven Sims for a 57-yard strike. On the following play, Kirby again forced a fumble, but Stanley recovered. That lost chance helped the Jayhawks march downfield and get back within a score on a 5-yard Martin Taylor run.
The 97-yard drive was the longest drive of the season for Kansas.
Special teams again reared their head as K-State pinned the Jayhawks on their own 6-yard line a few minutes later, and a Tanner Wood sack pushed them all the way back to the one. The offense, presented with the ball at the Kansas 26, pounced; three Barnes carries equaled six points and a 27-13 lead with half a quarter to play.
Two plays later, the Jayd Kirby problem reared its head again. For some inexplicable reason -- either a horrible assignment or a blown one -- Kirby was stuck covering Sims, the primary playmaker for Kansas and the fastest guy on the field. The result was predictable: Stanley hit Sims for a 60-yard touchdown pass, and the Jayhawks were within a score.
Both teams then traded three-and-outs, but a shanked punt by Kansas gave K-State the ball at the Jayhawk 45, and a 12-yard completion to Dalton Schoen by Thompson was enough to ensure McCrane could hit his third field goal of the game, a 41-yarder. With just 81 seconds left, the game was finally in the bag, barring disaster.
That didn’t stop Kansas from trying. The Jayhawks got down to the Wildcat 29 with four seconds left, before the game ended abruptly...
...on a D.J. Reed interception. Because of course it did.
Kansas outgained K-State 482-340, but the Wildcats were much more balanced. K-State ran for 202, threw for 138; Kansas only ran for 64 yards on the day, and half of that was Stanley scrambling away from coverage sacks. The 418 yards passing Kansas amassed could have been a lot worse. Stanley was 23-48, which you’ll note is under 50%; Jayhawk receivers flat out dropped at least seven passes.
Sims had 233 yards receiving for Kansas. For K-State, Barnes led the way with 128 yards; Delton and Thompson combined for 75. Pringle had three catches for 92 yards to lead the Cats, while Zuber also had three receptions.
What did we learn?
1. Skylar Thompson is not bad, and might — oh, boy — be the better option at QB2.
Thompson is not as electric as Delton when carrying the ball, but he is still pretty effective in more of a Michael Bishop mold than recent K-State quarterbacks. But he can throw, buddy. His first pass was a 20-yard laser to Pringle. His second was a perfectly-thrown pass to Isaiah Zuber, which sailed harmlessly through empty space because Zuber slipped and fell before getting to where it would have hit him in the numbers. Thompson was 4 of 6 on the day, including that mishap, and on actual running plays -- that is, ignoring sacks -- Thompson had eight carries for 52 yards.
2. The problem with Jayd Kirby is what he’s being asked to do.
As noted, we called Kirby out last week, and this week we have to give the guy credit. He forced and recovered what turned out to be a game-critical fumble, forced another which Kansas managed to recover, and had a few other good plays. He also made a few mistakes, but nobody’s perfect.
In all, we’d have to give Kirby a pretty good grade today.
But the Sims touchdown on which Kirby got torched is emblematic of the problem. If it was blown coverage on someone else’s part, and we’ll have to go back and review that later to see if we can see anything, then his teammates let him down by putting him in a position no coach in his right mind would put him in deliberately. Tyler Dreiling kindly informed us that Kirby came off the field after that play angrily gesturing to teammates, so this is entirely possible.
On the other hand, if those gestures were frustration at being assigned to cover Sims in the first place, then fire someone right now because having Kirby cover the other team’s fastest and most competent player is just stupid. It’s incompetent. It’s dereliction of coaching dury. That’s not even an arguable point.
(And that’s not even taking into account our mounting frustration over this team’s obsession with horrible tackling form; you can probably expect that to boil over next week.)
Either way, that touchdown wasn’t Kirby’s fault, so don’t think we’re assaulting him again for allowing it. This is Kansas State, where coaches need to understand the limitations of their personnel. We’re pretty sure Jayd knows his own limitations. When he’s allowed to play within them, he’s a pretty good football player.
We’ll also note, as we did in the halftime thread, that whether Tanking and/or Kirby are good or bad is irrelevant; the problem is having them both on the field when K-State’s defense is lined up in a 4-2-5. Combined, they’re too slow to handle that task, and it’s why everyone is throwing the ball all over the place against the Wildcats.
3. When we said Alex Barnes needed more touches, we didn’t mean this.
With about six minutes left in the game, we looked at the box score and choked. There were five players listed in the K-State offensive stats: Delton and Thompson, Pringle and Zuber, and Alex Barnes. Barnes, at the time, had 20 carries. Nobody else on the team other than the quarterbacks had touched the ball behind the line of scrimmage.
Barnes needs the rock, but some other guys need to spell him a little occasionally. And that shone no brighter than after his second touchdown, when he was very slow getting up and looked a bit wobbly.
4. We can probably declare that Byron Pringle is over his early-season yips.
Although Pringle did fumble on K-State’s first possession, in the Kansas red zone no less, at least he caught the ball first. He did drop a pass on the previous play, but other than that we don’t recall him being targeted and not making the catch.
The question before the court is whether this is just an indication that he’s more comfortable with Delton and Thompson than he is with Ertz, or whether he was having a mental block which he’s over now.
5. Man, D.J. Reed is awesome.