A few mistakes in the second half cost Kansas State Wildcats the chance to seize the lead late, and the Texas Longhorns escaped Manhattan with a win — for the first time since 2002 — in a 19-14 contest.
But it’s pointless to dwell on the Wildcats’ failures in the second half, because the truth is that if not for a critical error in judgement the first half could have been drastically different. In short, K-State should never have been in the position of trying to stage a 19-point second-half comeback.
Alex Delton was 3-7 passing for only 14 yards, and he ate two sacks including a safety. Ignoring those sacks, Delton did run for 43 yards, but he only accounted for 41 yards of offense in the first half. What he probably can’t be blamed for, in fairness, is the dropped ball in the end zone to fullback Adam Harter on the final play of the second half — a pass which, if caught, would have made all the difference.
Skylar Thompson was finally put back in the game for the second half, and all he did was go 8-18 for 96 yards. 67 of those were to his favorite target, Dalton Schoen, who did drop what appeared to be a key long pass but made up for it with three catches for 46 yards afterward on a drive which ended with a one-yard Alex Barnes touchdown run to bring K-State within five.
For his part, Barnes had 80 yards on 19 carries. Not much of it was in the first half; the Wildcats went into the locker room with 50 yards on the ground, and Delton actually had most of it.
Even with a functioning offense in the second half, K-State only gained 217 yards on the day. Given that, one would have expected an utter blowout. But the K-State defense was on point this afternoon, pitching a second half shutout and holding Texas to only 339 yards themselves. If you include penalty yardage, the teams were actually almost even; Texas committed 11 penalties for 104 yards, while K-State’s only penalty on the day was offset by one of those 11.
And it’s important to remember that the defense itself only allowed Texas to put ten points on the board; K-State’s offense and special teams were directly responsible for the other nine. One half of Skylar Thompson beat sixty minutes of Texas.
What’s Bill Snyder have to say about all this? “In all reality, who starts probably doesn’t impact the ballgame.” He was later specifically asked if he regretted not starting Thompson, and responded in the negative.
There’s probably nothing left to say about that issue, is there?
So what did we learn?
1) Skylar Thompson has to start, and he has to know he’s the guy.
Look, Alex Delton is a hell of an athlete. But it’s obvious to anyone watching that he’s just not a P5 quarterback. He practically panics in the pocket, and his decision-making is questionable at best. This is fine if he’s running for 100 a game.
He’s not, and he won’t. He’s unable to find the holes consistently.
But there’s more to it that just Alex Delton. Once Thompson came into the game, the entire team played better. There were holes for Alex Barnes to run through. The receivers were more open. Hell, even the defense stepped up their already-solid game a notch.
It’s time to quit screwing around and give Thompson the keys.
2) This defense isn’t perfect, but it’s really good.
What did the secondary do? They did give up 228 yards in the air to Texas, 207 of them to Sam Ehlinger. It took him 36 attempts to get those 207 yards, an average of 5.75 yards per attempt. (That’s actually 5.18 yards per attempt if you include sacks as pass attempts.) It took him 29 completions to get there, which is only 7.14 yards per completion.
And the defense also held Texas to only 3.8 yards per carry on the ground, which is pretty decent.
More importantly, the defense was actually putting pressure on Ehlinger most of the day, and some guys — looking at you, Eli Walker, and you, AJ Parker, and you, Jordan Mittie — were absolute beasts today.
3) The special teams may have had their worst performance in the Sean Snyder era.
Can’t fault Nick McLellan — forced into place-kicking action due to an injury to Blake Lynch — for any of this, as he only had two PATs on the stat sheet.
But the specialists allowed Texas to score on a 90-yard D’Shawn Jamison punt return to open the scoring, and only had 75 yards of return yardage on five tries (four kickoffs and a punt). Ugh.
4) At least discipline isn’t an issue.
We noted there was only one penalty on K-State all afternoon, an offsetting pass interference penalty on Isaiah Zuber which happened on the same play as a holding penalty on Longhorn defensive back Caden Sterns.
Here’s the thing: Sterns was covering Zuber. If you can explain to me how a defensive back can hold (and nearly tackle) a receiver immediately before the ball arrives and the receiver still get called for pass interference, I’m all ears.
5) The problem isn’t between the lines.
This team wants to play. They didn’t give up, and when presented with some evidence that the coaching staff actually gave a damn, they showed it.
There is a rot, and it’s at the top. It’s not that Bill Snyder needs to go. It’s that he needs to let go. Listen to his assistants. Stop being stubborn. Accept he may be wrong.
His performance in today’s post-game press conference indicates none of this is in the cards.
Next week, maybe getting back to .500 is doable, as the Cats visit a Baylor team that has yet to do anything against a team with a pulse. But a lot of that is going to depend on what happens during the week. What Skylar Thompson needs more than anything is reps.
And what K-State needs more than anything is to give them to him instead of splitting the load.