Five years ago today, the Bring On The Cats staff took part in a roundtable discussion comparing the then 2-3 2013 K-State football team to the 2004 squad that finished 4-7 and missed a bowl for the first time since 1992.
On its face, the comparison was an easy one to make. Both the 2004 and 2013 teams were mired in quarterback controversies with questionable talent in other key spots. Both were 2-3 through five games, and both faced a steep uphill battle to bowl eligibility.
In hindsight, the comparison almost seems silly now. After losing to Baylor the next week, the 2013 team went 5-1 on its way to an easy 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. K-State worked out its quarterback issues and went on to post a 9-4 season in 2014, scaring away any speculation that Bill Snyder’s time in Manhattan was short.
Prior to last week, some purple-lensed optimists (myself included at times) compared this year’s squad to 2013. It seemed to have all the ingredients: the quarterback controversy, questionable talent at other key spots, and a steep uphill battle to bowl eligibility. But the 2013 team was also coming off a Big 12 Championship. Tyler Lockett was there. One could argue that both Jake Waters and Daniel Sams were better options than anything K-State has to offer at quarterback this season. The 2013 offense had constant potential for explosiveness, and proved it through the rest of the season.
Credit where its due, Saturday’s game showed that explosiveness is possible with this offense too. Alex Barnes had three runs of 34 yards or more, all resulting in touchdowns, and Skylar Thompson provided a 52 yard rushing touchdown of his own to give the Wildcats a lead with just over 10 minutes left.
One would think that 34 offensive points would be enough to generate some hope for the future. With context applied though, the performance loses some luster. Baylor’s defense is 107th out of 130 teams in defensive S&P+ according to Bill Connelly. K-State had at least one drive stall on a Thompson pass that sailed over the outstretched and wide open fingers of Barnes, and several other Thompson passes were ill-advised or off the mark. And let’s not forget the botched fourth down play on K-State’s second possession, and the fumble of the second half kickoff (it wasn’t a fumble, but if Isaiah Zuber doesn’t bobble that ball, we might not be talking about a loss this week).
Positives can certainly be reached for, and negatives can be nitpicked, but coming into Saturday, K-State’s 92 points scored were the lowest total through five games since Bill Snyder’s first season in 1989. The 34 points against Baylor means this team has now outscored only two K-State teams since that time — 1989 and 1992.
Points scored, of course, is a poor metric on which to judge teams. Through six games, the 2007 and 2008 teams both had more than 200 points (the 2008 team scored 260, which hasn’t been topped since) and both missed a bowl. But when you take into account the special teams struggles this season (almost unprecedented since 1989), the 21 missed tackles on defense Saturday, the mounting injuries and depth concerns, it certainly looks as though K-State will need to have profound luck if they hope to win more than three games.
The offense proved Saturday that it can score points, if against poor competition, but maybe it’ll spark again this week against a team that just gave up 48 points and 465 yards to Iowa State. Jon Morse has repeatedly noted on these pages that K-State’s defense is solid. Despite the missed tackles, Bill Snyder said Tuesday that he believes the defense played well through three quarters Saturday, then fell off in the final 15 minutes.
“Being good enough isn’t an issue,” he said.
Maybe that’s true. We’ve been surprised by late surges before. But this K-State team has only once put together a solid four quarters of football, has yet to log a win against a Power 5 opponent, and Saturday they lost to what might be the second worst team left on their schedule.
Whether this team is the worst we’ve seen since 1989 is certainly up for debate. Football is a game full of metrics on which success can be measured. But this team has come up short on enough of them to this point to keep the claim from being anything close to hyperbolic.