After a first half which was disjointed on defense and upside-down on offense, Kansas State fixed the former and continued the latter as they marched relentlessly to a 55-19 victory over the Central Arkansas Bears at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.
In the second half, K-State only found the end zone twice: once on a 69-yard bomb from Jesse Ertz to Isaiah Harris, and later on an 18-yard run by Dalvin Warmack after the starting skill position players had already begun lounging on the sidelines. Matt McCrane added a 28-yard field goal in between, which was answered by UCA’s only score on the starting defense in the second half, a 39-yard Matt Cummins field goal. Their final real threat ended on a fumble which Kyle Ball turned into his very own Piesman Trophy nomination video.
The game was already as good as put away at halftime, when Jesse Ertz sank a dagger in the back of the Bears with a 70-yard bomb to Dalton Schoen near the end of the first half. That capped a 21-point run which included a 55-yard catch-and-run to Byron Pringle and a 62-yard punt return by D.J. Reed, a run which turned a 17-16 lead into a 38-16 blowout.
Central Arkansas had nearly tied the game at 17 when Hayden Hildebrand found Roman Gordon on an 8-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, but Cummins hit the upright on the point-after attempt. That followed Ertz’s first touchdown pass of the day, an 8-yard lob of his own to Isaiah Zuber, which broke a 10-10 tie.
Brandon Cox scored UCA’s first touchdown just as the first quarter expired on a 37-yard run, and Cummins answered K-State’s opening touchdown with a 47-yard field goal. In between, McCrane missed a 50-yard field goal, but then hit from 53 on the next drive.
The game started with a 96-yard kickoff return by Reed. No, it wasn’t a touchdown; Reed was brought down at the four. Alex Barnes put the rock in two plays later for the opening score.
K-State outgained the Bears 419-399, 186-201 on the ground and 333-198 through the air. Believe it or not, UCA won the possession battle 37:13 to 22:47.
Ertz finished the game 10-16 for 333 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. His QB rating for the game was 319.8, which is a new K-State single-game record. He also ran for 40 yards (35 after his one sack). K-State’s leading rusher on the day was Skylar Thompson, who busted a pair of decent runs including a 30-yarder to end the game with 49 yards on the ground; he did not attempt a pass. Barnes only had 29; Warmack, who entered the game with Thompson midway through the fourth quarter, had 33.
Both Pringle and Harris each caught three balls and both eclipsed the 100 yard mark, Pringle with 121 and Harris with 118. Schoen’s 70-yard score was his lone catch of the night, while Zuber caught two balls for 19 yards. Winston Dimel only had one touch all evening, a five-yard gain on an out pass.
What did we learn?
1) Yeah, Jesse Ertz can throw the ball.
I mean, what else is there to say? Ertz averaged 33.3 yards per completion, and well over 20 per attempt. Of his six incompletions, the first three were admittedly poor throws; the last three were drops. The paradigm has shifted.
2) Something’s off with the run game.
K-State did gain 186 yards on the ground, which at first blush is fine, but: Thompson and Warmack did 82 yards of the damage on only 7 carries. The other 102 yards took the starters 24 tries to manage.
Despite all this, it should be noted that K-State committed no turnovers, and Mitch Lochbihler only stepped on the field to hold the ball on placekicks and to kick the ball on kickoffs. No punts.
3) The linebackers are still a work in progress...
UCA was able to get work done in the middle of the field, largely owing to slow pursuit from the linebackers. Some scheme adjustments in the second half alleviated this somewhat, and the defense basically shut the Bears down over the last 38 minutes. But it was noticeable, and could be a problem once conference play commences. Of major concern: five of K-State’s top six tacklers on the night were defensive backs. (Trent Tanking had 7 tackles, tied for second with Reed and Goolsby and one behind Kendall Adams.) Perhaps worse, K-State recorded four sacks, and three of them came from the defensive backfield.
4) ...but they’re really good up front.
Jayd Kirby, specifically, was all over the place on running plays and in the backfield a ton, recording the fourth sack. They’re a great support group for a good defensive line, which managed four tackles for loss despite not recording any sacks. In the post-game, Will Geary noted that there are corrections which need to be made, but that they are, in his words, “minor”.
5) Every team that plays K-State this year is already terrified of the return game.
D.J. Reed had a total of 181 yards on returns, 2 kickoff and 1 punt. That’s a lot. The team as a whole notched 218 return yards. They’ll be the difference in close games, probably.
So. First win in the books. What did y’all think?