A crushing defense and an effective offense overcame a plague of penalties as Kansas State cruised to an easy 38-10 win over arch-rival Kansas today at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, in the process securing bowl eligibility for Chris Klieman in his first season at the helm.
Ultimately, it was the decision by Les Miles to go for it on fourth down twice deep in his own territory in the fourth quarter which decided the game once and for all. K-State was able to score 14 quick points as a result, turning a probable win into a certainty.
K-State jumped out to an early lead, forcing a three-and-out on KU’s opening drive before churning out a 10-play drive which ate just under six minutes. Skylar Thompson capped the drive on a one-yard bootleg for a touchdown. KU responded with a 34-yard field goal by Liam Jones before the Cats took another ten plays to score, finishing with a 9-yard run by Harry Trotter.
An interception by Jahron McPherson on the very first play after the ensuing kickoff made it seem like the rout would be on, but until the final tick of the first half the game remained scoreless. Another interception, this one by DaQuan Patton, enabled Blake Lynch to kick a 39-yard field goal to end the half with a 17-3 K-State lead.
After the half, K-State again marched downfield with ease, Thompson closing the deal with a 12-yard run to put the Cats up by three touchdowns. After the teams traded fruitless drives, the quarter ended with Kansas holding the ball on fourth down at their own 26. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Carter Stanley threw an incomplete pass to Kwamie Lassiter, and K-State actually managed to eat almost three minutes before scoring on a 4-yard Skylar Thompson tuck-and-run to take a 31-3 lead. Four plays later, Kansas again went for it on fourth down at their own 32 and came up empty; Tyler Burns, the Wildcats’ fifth-string tailback, ran for 32 yards on two carries to make it 38-3.
K-State went prevent and Kansas threatened, but a big sack Khalid Duke took Stanley out of the game, and KU finally decided to punt from the Wildcat 39. Nick Ast came on for K-State, and wound the clock down to 1:30 before giving KU one last chance. Manny Miles scored on a 1 yard run with 35 seconds to go, and after Landry Weber recovered an onside kick all that was left was Burns running for another 8 yards to kill the clock.
Thompson was only 9-16 through the air for 129 yards, but did not turn the ball over. On the ground, he had a career high with 127 yards on 18 carries, scoring three times. Thompson spread the ball around when he threw, with seven Wildcats catching a pass but only Dalton Schoen and Nick Lenners catching two. Schoen had 67 yards to lead the team.
On the ground, K-State mauled the Jayhawks. In addition to Thompson’s buck-27, Trotter had 92 yards and a score on 20 carries. Burns carried 7 times for 58 yards, and Joe Ervin added 46 on 10. The Cats finished with 342 yards rushing and 471 yards of total offense, while holding the ball for over 38 minutes. K-State was 11-17 on third down and 5-5 in the red zone. Efficient and brutal.
It was the Wildcat defense, though, that really sparkled. Kansas only found the end zone with the backups on the field, and were held to an anemic 241 yards of offense -- 96 of which were on the final two drives, with the game already decided. Stanley was held to 115 yards passing, and Pooka Williams only had 61 yards on the ground. The Jayhawks only converted twice on third down, and only even entered the red zone twice.
Indeed, the most effective part of the Kansas offense this afternoon was wearing black and white stripes. K-State was called for 11 penalties, racking up 113 yards in setbacks. For the vast majority of the game, K-State’s penalty yardage exceeded KU’s total offense.
1) The defense deserves the credit.
Don’t misunderstand. The offense was fine. But the defense kept Kansas out of the red zone nine times, twice via interception. In the first half, Kansas only managed 3.2 yards per play; through three quarters, that number only increased to 3.7 per, on a total of only 123 yards. Stanley was sacked four times, twice by Trey Dishon and once each by Duke and Kyle Ball.
The key? Kansas helped by showing up with a sketchy game plan, but K-State did something we’ve been yelling about here for years now: they tackled. Indeed, once a K-State defender actually got a hand on a Jayhawk with the football, they almost universally went down. Kansas had three carries for over 10 yards; that was two carries for 10 exactly and one for 13. Subtract those and Kansas had 28 yards on 22 carries.
There were a few long pass plays, but in contrast to the usual situation these were not long catch-and-runs in which the defense helplessly failed away at the ball carrier. They were deep heaves on which K-State defenders almost immediately tackled the receiver.
This is huge, and is not attributable to Kansas being a terrible football team. It’s a testament to Klieman following through on what he said a few weeks ago: the tackling was bad, and there was work to be done. He was right, and that work is showing.
2) K-State can survive without James Gilbert and Jordon Brown.
You’ll note that neither of K-State’s top two tailbacks has been mentioned until now. Brown did have a couple of carries for 8 yards, but Gilbert did not see the field after a practice injury. It didn’t matter, as Trotter decided to have his best game of the season in their absence. But perhaps more importantly, K-State’s fourth- and fifth-string backs, Ervin and Burns, combined for a ridiculous 104 yards on 17 carries.
Alex Barnes is missed, but I think K-State is just fine without him.
Speaking of Trotter, who was this guy today? For the first seven games, Trotter seemed to be a two-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust guy. He had some flashes early against weak competition, but has been nearly invisible for six weeks. So he gets the start today thanks to injuries, and he goes off. Unlike the Trotter we’ve seen so far, he was popping 5-yard runs like they were Tic Tacs.
You just never know sometimes, huh?
3) Skylar Thompson is really coming into his own.
What you don’t see in the numbers is the actions. Thompson had a huge game on the ground because he’s figured out something critical: if he has to pull the ball down, he’s running forward, not sideways. He’s spotting the gaps and hitting the hole and taking off. He’s running play-action beautifully, too.
He’s still only a junior.
4) That said, the offense needs more consistency.
The Wildcats piled up yards today. But for much of the game, K-State had trouble finishing the deal. It was feast or famine, with three straight punts in the second quarter placing the outcome of the game in doubt temporarily.
That’s not going to get it done next week, so some work needs done to shore up this weakness.
5) The penalties. Ugh.
There were a couple of penalties which made no sense, especially an unnecessary roughness call on Nick Kaltmeyer which was the result of him falling down. He just happened to fall down on top of Mike Lee, which would certainly have been worth a flag if he’d done it on purpose, but he fell down. But for the most part, the flags on K-State were justified, including a couple of unsportsmanlike conduct calls for being a little too hype early in the game.
Now, one can argue that Kansas also should have gotten flagged quite a bit; they only received 4 penalties for 55 yards. I won’t argue with that. But K-State has got to get more disciplined, because they earned about a hundred of those penalty yards all on their own.
For the second time in history, K-State has racked up an 11-game winning streak over the Flaw on the Kaw. That is longer than KU’s longest streak against the Wildcats, a 10-game stretch from 1956-65. The win secured bowl eligibility, and unlike the last time a coach replaced Bill Snyder and went bowling in his first year, this looks like upward motion rather than clinging to a legacy.
Next week, the Cats head to Austin with a chance to really do some damage against a team over which they still hold an all-time advantage. They’ll have to do better at finishing drives, but if the defense that showed up today sticks around for seven days, Texas is going to find themselves in trouble.