Two huge runs by Skylar Thompson and a bold defensive stand when it mattered led Kansas State to a vitally-important 24-17 win over the Texas Christian this afternoon at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.
Pinned deep after a TCU punt with the game tied at 17 and eight minutes to play, Thompson took off on 2nd-and-5 from the Wildcat 10 and picked up 61 yards — the longest run from scrimmage in his career. Three plays later on 3rd-and-11, Thompson found Chabastin Taylor for 10 yards, then on the following play escaped pressure and scrambled for the first down. A few plays later, Thompson scooted in after a beautiful fake to Harry Trotter to give the Cats (4-2, 1-2 Big 12) the lead with 2:45 left.
The defense, which had been terribly problematic at times during the game, showed up on TCU’s final drive — but even then, it was cringeworthy in some respects. Max Duggan led TCU downfield quickly after the kickoff, getting the Frogs (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) to the Wildcat 36 in just three plays. But after a Wyatt Hubert sack left TCU facing 2nd-and-19, Duggan got eight of those yards back with his legs before throwing two near-interceptions. AJ Parker had one, but had the ball torn loose by Taye Barber; Daniel Green had one right in his chest, and dropped it. Hubert put an end to the threat by hurrying Duggan into a tipped pass, and K-State tried to run the clock out to finish the affair.
Devin Anctil had to punt with nine seconds to play, and managed an absurd amount of hang time, leaving TCU only two seconds. Duggan completed a pass to Jalen Reager, who then tried to lateral but missed his target. K-State recovered, and the game was over.
The final two full drives were quite the opposite of how most of the game had proceeded, the score notwithstanding. TCU had tied the game midway through the third quarter following a 46-yard touchdown run by Duggan during which Wayne Jones decided that hitting Duggan without even trying to tackle him was a brilliant idea, and AJ Parker got utterly beclowned by Duggan a few yards later. It was arguably the most embarrassing defensive play perpetrated by the Wildcats since 1987. It was not the only time the defense failed to corral Duggan despite having every opportunity, but it was the only time which did any real damage.
That game-tying touchdown was particularly disheartening as it happened immediately after the Wildcats extended their lead to 17-10 on a 21-yard Blake Lynch field goal following a fairly decent drive which saw both Thompson throwing dimes and the surprise return of Malik Knowles.
TCU had basically ended the first half on a 36-yard field goal by Jonathan Song, which capped a drive which saw K-State penalized twice for 15 yards each — a pass interference call on Parker, and a face mask call on Elijah Sullivan which was his second personal foul of the day. That followed the second Wildcat touchdown of the afternoon, a 13-yard pass to Wykeen Gill which broke a 7-7 tie.
Sewo Olonilua scored from 8 yards out to give TCU their first points early in the second quarter on a drive which was extended by the first personal foul call on Sullivan — an absurd late hit call on a sliding Duggan in which Sullivan was already in the tackling motion when Duggan slid, and which resulted in Sullivan merely giving Duggan a hug as they hit the turf. That drive answered a Nick Lenners touchdown reception in the first quarter — K-State’s first receiving touchdown by a tight end since the Pleistocene Era. That scoring drive began with a blocked punt by Jonathan Alexander.
The Cats won this game despite only gaining 266 yards on offense (although -18 of that was on their final drive as they took a knee every play). Only 94 of that was on the ground (112 without the knees), while Thompson had 172 yards through the air. Thompson was not that effective, despite the two passing touchdowns; he was only 11-23 on the day.
TCU was likewise ineffective passing the ball, as the combination of Duggan and Alex Delton went 18-31 for only 138 yards, but they ran for 228 yards against a Wildcat defense which again proved allergic to tackling. Duggan, who came into the game with less than 50 career rushing yards, accounted for 115 of that as he led the Frogs in rushing. Reagor, TCU’s greatest threat at receiver, was held to 8 catches for 85 yards.
Likewise, it was Thompson who led the Cats in rushing with 68 yards on 10 carries. Nobody else was effective at all; James Gilbert only had 38 yards on 14 carries, 2.7 yards a touch; subtracting a lone 11-yard run from his stat line would leave him with 27 on 13, and that’s even worse than Harry Trotter’s final line of 7 yards on 3 carries.
The receivers shared the load well. Thompson fed Knowles 3 balls for 48 yards, Gill 3 for 45 and a score, Dalton Schoen 2 for 35, and Lenners caught 2 balls for 34 and a touchdown.
The Wildcats recorded four tackles for loss and two sacks (Green and Hubert); the offensive line surrendered the exact same totals.
Special teams were a strength. Joshua Youngblood had a key 38-yard kickoff return which started the drive which ended with the Lynch field goal, Alexander had the blocked punt, Ty Zentner put four of his five kickoffs into the end zone to stay, and Devin Anctil averaged an absurd 49 yards per punt, three of which were over 50 yards, two of which were inside the 20, and zero of which were actually returned — four were fair-caught, two were downed, and one went out of bounds. Even that last one went for 60 yards. It was an amazing performance by Anctil, whose competition with TCU punter Jordy Sandy resulted in seven punts for each, but a whopping 127-yard advantage for the Wildcat.
Indeed, post-game Chris Klieman singled Anctil out as the best player on defense for the Cats today, which... is something.
K-State was the more penalized team, surrendering 79 yards on eight flags while TCU was called for 5-38. Time of possession was nearly equal, with TCU having a slight advantage at 31:41. Both teams were middling on third down, TCU converting five of 14 attempts, K-State 4 of 13. There were no turnovers.
In all, it was an equal game on paper, and once you factor in Anctil’s dominance in the punting game it went the way it should have.
1) Tackling is still a problem.
There were multiple plays which resulted in decent gains for TCU because the defense has suddenly forgotten why they were born with four limbs instead of two. But the touchdown run by Duggan was particularly egregious, and we cannot be honest observers without pointing a spotlight at the culprits. So:
2) Wayne Jones.
The first offender was Jones, who ran full speed into Duggan with his arms practically pinned to his own ribs. There was zero effort to make a tackle; Jones simply wanted to put a hurt on Duggan, and that made it look as though he did not care about the result of the play. Don’t misunderstand. Putting a lick on the opposing quarterback if he’s going to run upright downfield is not a bad thing. But you have to use your arms and make the tackle. Failure to do so is simple negligence, and while all Klieman had to say post-game was that they’ve “got to get better”, he also noted that “process is more important than results”.
3) AJ Parker.
Parker’s been getting picked on by quarterbacks, but that’s always meant through the air before today. On the touchdown run, Parker was in Duggan’s face, both figuratively and literally. He seemed to flail helplessly at the TCU quarterback despite having position, and then simply got shoved to the ground by Duggan as he cleared his final real obstacle. (Hat tip to DaQuan Patton, though, who managed to get to Duggan at the four-yard line but couldn’t push him out of bounds before he hit the pylon.)
4) The running game is DOA.
Look. 94 (or 112, if you prefer) yards is bad enough. Take away Thompson’s 61-yard scamper and K-State had 33 yards on 32 carries.
No, that is not a misprint.
Needs work, guys. This cannot continue, especially with Boomer Sooner looming next weekend.
5) Malik Knowles is so, so important.
The offense, again, was sputtering for the most part. Once Knowles came into the game, everything suddenly got better. It wasn’t just a result of Knowles himself, despite his team-leading yardage. His presence opened up other targets. It caused TCU concern.
Yes, his availability will still be limited for a couple of weeks at least. He can’t be on the field full-time. But if they can spot his presence carefully and judiciously, he can make a big difference.
It was an important win for the Wildcats, getting on the board in the conference and making a bowl game seem likely. It even, technically, moved the Cats to sixth place in the current standings. But there are still problems to address, and there’s little margin for error going forward. Next week will not be of help.