The beleaguered Kansas State defense, which coughed up over 300 yards in the second half, came up big when it mattered. Nic Shimonek’s final pass sailed harmlessly out of the end zone in the first overtime, and the Wildcats hung on for a 42-35 win over Texas Tech at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock.
The opportunity for that hold came in a flurry. With 3:40 to play, Clayton Hatfield lined up for a 31-yard field goal which would have given the Red Raiders (4-5, 1-5) a virtually insurmountable 38-27 lead. But the kick sailed wide left, possibly deflected at the line, and on the very next play Skylar Thompson hit Dalton Schoen for a 54-yard gain. Six plays later, Thompson surged into the end zone in the cro-magnon formation to bring the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3) within two, and he then found Schoen again for the tying two-point conversion.
Despite K-State’s defensive woes, Kliff Kingsbury — to the vociferous displeasure of the home crowd -- opted to kneel out the clock and play for overtime. It may have been the wrong decision. Alex Barnes carried the ball three times to start overtime, getting to the Tech 8-yard line, and then Thompson connected with Byron Pringle for the go-ahead score.
K-State actually scored the final 18 points of the game, as the opportunity to even get within eight points came off the foot of Matthew McCrane, who booted a 30-yarder with 9:10 to play. The field goal was the 53rd of McCrane’s K-State career, one shy of the school record held by the legendary Martin Gramatica.
So how did K-State end up down 11 points after a fun and exciting first half which saw K-State take a 17-14 lead into the locker room?
Something utterly foreseeable occurred: they played the third quarter. The part of the game which has been the team’s bete noire all season was once again the problem. The Wildcat defense was blistered, giving up a 75-yard touchdown drive which lasted 6:32 — the longest Tech scoring drive of the season by time -- and most of an 80-yard touchdown drive, which ended 50 seconds into the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Wildcat offense managed exactly zero yards, although part of that can be attributed to Thompson’s forced entry into the game due to Alex Delton getting his bell rung once again. Only Duke Shelley’s beautiful pick-six saved the quarter from being an abject disaster.
It was a miserable hour of real time for the Wildcats and their fans, especially after the fun times everyone experienced in the first half. Delton was sharp, weird throwing motion notwithstanding. He made some mistakes, which we’ll get to shortly, but he was 13-20 for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception in just one half of play. Thompson was only 5-8, but for 96 yards and a touchdown, and had a passer rating of 204.6 in that limited sample. That’s 263 passing yards for K-State despite doing nothing for an entire quarter. Schoen had 5 catches for 103 yards, while Pringle had 6 for 95 and 2 scores. Isaiah Zuber added 4 for 65.
On the ground, nobody broke the 50-yard mark for the Wildcats. Justin Silmon (2 carries) and Barnes (10) each had 45 yards, Dalvin Warmack had 26 and a touchdown on seven carries and the team only managed 145 yards on the ground, well below their norm.
For Texas Tech, Nic Shimonek was 34-53 for 405 yards and four touchdowns, with Keke Coutee snagging 12 balls for 189 and two scores and Devin Cantrell catching 8 for 99 and a score. Tre King led all rushers with 71 yards, but it took him 16 carries to get there.
Some other things happened, too. D.J. Reed had a punt return for a touchdown called back due to a personal foul on Colby Moore, which also included an upheld targeting call. Delton’s exit from the game was precipitated by a roughing the passer penalty on Tech’s Kolin Moore, who was also ejected for targeting. In the second half, Tech’s Brandon Washington was also flagged for targeting on a roughing the passer call; the targeting was overturned, and the Tech fans booed loudly when the roughing penalty was still enforced.
What did we learn?
1) The defense is objectively terrible, but...
In the first half, taking away one blown play resulting in a 75-yard touchdown pass (Tech’s shortest drive of the year by time, at 10 seconds), the Cats only allowed 145 yards of offense (approximately, as we don’t have firm numbers by half as this is being written). Of course, Tech also only had the ball for about eight minutes in the half, but two consecutive three-and-outs forced by the K-State defense in the second quarter were just as responsible for that as Tech’s quick strike touchdown.
And while the second half was atrocious, you can’t say enough about their performance in overtime. With absolutely huge plays by Jayd Kirby, D.J. Reed, and Duke Shelley, and a perfectly schemed plan for the final fourth-down play which left Shimonek no choice but to make a horrible pass out of the end zone, you have to give the unit props for closing the deal.
2) ...today, unbelievably, that was mostly D.J. Reed’s fault.
Look, Reed has been nails all season. He had a bad game, and he may not again. But today, matched up with Dylan Cantrell, he was lost, abused, and helpless for the most part. We can only speculate on the problem; a size disadvantage, a scheme flaw, or just a bad day on Reed’s part. But one fact is inescapable:
On each of Tech’s five touchdown drives, Tech faced a third-down situation in long yardage. And on each drive, Shimonek was able to find Cantrell for a first down on the sideline with Reed covering.
That said, Reed still deserves a nod for two plays: he kept Cantrell from scoring a touchdown a play before Cantrell actually did, and absolutely did not commit pass interference in the process (Cantrell had contacted Reed in a way that forces the defender to assume a run play, so the official did not call the penalty when Reed returned contact), and on the overtime drive Reed also kept Cantrell from catching an important pass.
The important part here, however, is that with the exception of Elijah Walker getting torched on the 75-yard one-play drive, the rest of the defense was largely coherent. There was no screaming OMG moment involving the linebackers. There were a couple of bad plays involving the defensive line, but they didn’t result in a lot of damage, and there was one play in which Cre Moore completely whiffed a tackle which did. But our usual complaints about the physical performance of the defense?
Non-existent today other than wondering what happened to Reed.
3) Faced with a defense which can actually defend the run, Dana Dimel decided to air it out.
As angry as we get with Dimel, he had the right game plan today assuming it was actually him calling the plays. It’s almost hard to believe, given the creativity being displayed, but Delton was sent out there with the go sign. The result? Bullets to Wildcat receivers all over the place.
The Wildcats ran sparingly, although Delton did get 10 carries in his lone half of action. The decision to shy away from the run was smart; taking away Silmon’s 42-yard breakaway, K-State had 103 yards on 35 carries. You all have calculators.
So we have to give the coaching staff a winning grade today on offense. The third quarter was bad, but there was also an excuse; Thompson was cold, and K-State only had the ball for 2:47.
4) Delton can throw! And Thompson can lead a drive!
Of course, Delton may be hurt now. But if K-State has to enter the back quarter of the schedule with Thompson as QB1, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Wildcat fan who’s terribly upset about it. With the game on the line, Thompson led a scoring drive within the context of a two-minute drill, although he had about twice that much time today.
No complaints. Play the guy that’s healthy.
5) A bowl is now within reach, but it won’t be easy.
The best bet would appear to be next week against West Virginia, because Oklahoma State sure seems like a non-starter and Iowa State is playing lights-out this season. But if the team which played today, and to be honest for much of 60 minutes against Oklahoma, shows up either next Saturday or in three weeks, the Wildcats should be good for an 8th-straight bowl game.