A late Texas Tech touchdown with four minutes to play put Kansas State on notice, but the offense was able to kill off the clock and allow the Wildcats (7-4, 4-4) to escape Lubbock with a 30-27 win today at Jones AT&T Stadium.
The clock appeared to be a potential enemy for K-State after Tech (4-7, 2-6) scored on a 58-yard pass on 4th-and-8 from Jett Duffey to RJ Turner. Two running plays failed to gain any traction for the Cats, who faced the possibility of giving the ball back to the Red Raiders with more than two minutes in which to run the two-minute drill. But on 3rd-and-11 from the Wildcat 24, Skylar Thompson scrambled for 17 yards, and then James Gilbert ran for 18 (freed up by a great block by Thompson) to get into Texas Tech territory at the two-minute mark. Tech used their final timeout following that play, and all Skylar had to do from that point was kneel three times.
Tech’s final touchdown was a demoralizer. Tech took over at their own 40 after Adrian Frye intercepted an underthrown pass from Skylar, and K-State’s defense looked fired up and ready to end matters. Wyatt Hubert sacked Duffey, then DaQuan Patton dropped SaRodorick Thompson for a loss on a screen play. Duffey found McLane Mannix, but only picked up 10, setting up the fourth down conversion.
That was the second time fourth down had bitten the Wildcats. On the previous Tech drive, a fake punt -- Tech’s second of the night -- resulted in a 34-yard Austin McNamara pass to a wide-open Erik Ezukanma, who was inexplicably let free by Javion McGee. But on the next play Duffey tried to go straight for the end zone and instead found Denzel Goolsby.
That drive followed a three-play Wildcat touchdown drive which started with an incompletion and included a 22-yard run by Gilbert -- the longest run of the game by a Wildcat -- before ending with an absolute dime dropped by Skylar into the hands of a streaking Chabastin Taylor for 48 yards and six points. That put K-State up 30-20 with just under nine minutes to play.
The middle of the third quarter was also a wild affair. K-State had scored on the opening drive of the half when Skylar found Philip Brooks from 12 yards out to put the Cats up 13-3. With 7:06 to play, SaRodorick Thompson bulled in from five yards out on third down to bring Tech to within three. But the Josh Youngblood Show made another appearance, as the freshman made a brilliant return of the ensuing kickoff for a 102-yard touchdown in response. The defense, however, was gassed after the prior drive, and Tech scored five plays later on a 21-yard toss from Duffey to Ezukanma. Blake Lynch hit a 43-yard field goal late in the period to give K-State a 23-17 lead, while Trey Wolff hit from 27 for Tech early in the fourth quarter. That field goal followed a disputed touchdown catch by KeSean Carter, who was ruled on review to have not been in control of the ball when he hit the pylon; the ruling on the field was that he was out of bounds before the pylon, and there’s no way review could have overturned that, so it’s unclear why the officials chose to muddy the waters with the control ruling.
The first half is barely even worth discussing. Neither offense could get anything done, and the teams went into the locker room with K-State holding a 6-3 lead thanks to two 32-yard Blake Lynch field goals and a 44-yard Trey Wolff kick. Lynch had a chance to give the Cats a 9-3 lead as the clock expired, but missed from 44.
Skylar Thompson did not have a great night. He was only 14-28, albeit for 246 yards, and threw an interception. He was underthrowing receivers all night. Taylor was the star of the show receiving, with three catches for 74 yards. Wykeen Gill had 70 yards on two catches, while Dalton Schoen, Jordon Brown, Nick Lenners, and Brooks all had a pair of catches each. Jax Dineen also got onto the stat sheet with a catch. Every Wildcat who caught a pass averaged over ten yards per reception.
On the ground, until late in the fourth quarter when Gilbert busted off his 22- and 18-yard scampers, Malik Knowles had actually been K-State’s leading rusher. Knowles had three carries for 44 yards, but exited the game at the end of his third carry due to what appeared to be a dislocated or fractured wrist. At that time, he was not only K-State’s leading rusher, but had more yards rushing than the rest of his teammates combined. Gilbert, however, managed to get to 61 yards on 12 carries by the end of the evening. Thompson had 14 yards after accounting for sacks, while Brown and Youngblood were completely ineffective.
For Tech, Duffey was 28-49 for 334 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and was sacked twice by Hubert. (In addition to Goolsby, Patton had a pick early.) Turner caught 7 passes for 141 yards to lead the Red Raiders in both categories. SaRodorick Thompson had 21 carries for 84 yards, while Duffey added 57 on nine carries.
1) The defense was better, but still needs work.
On paper, it looked like an improvement as Tech only managed 4.6 yards per carry, and K-State had been giving up over five a pop. But when it really mattered, K-State was unable to consistently stop SaRodorick Thompson, and tackling was still a tremendous problem on running plays (or on pass plays which were effectively running plays).
The secondary, meanwhile, held Tech to 7.8 yards per attempt, which is just a hair over K-State’s season average despite playing the bulk of the game without a single #1 cornerback on the field with AJ Parker out for the season and Walter Neil Jr. injured in the first half.
In fairness, though, most of the damage was done in the second half. With Neil out, Patton repeatedly leaving the field due to some discomfort or another, and the defense being simply out of air surrounding Youngblood’s kickoff return, it’s all explainable if still frustrating.
2) Speaking of injuries, they’re piling up.
Knowles is probably done for the year. Neil, we don’t know about yet. Patton is dinged up (although he played like a demon on fire late when it mattered). Brooks got hurt, although it didn’t appear serious. The entire running back corps is in some state of disrepair, and we haven’t even gotten to Parker and Justin Hughes.
That K-State, a team for whom depth was a major concern even back in August, is still competing in the face of all this, is astounding. But we need to question the team’s conditioning. It seemed like every other defensive play in the second half, a Wildcat was down on the field only to make it off under his own power after a couple of minutes. And obviously, this team has had major issues defensively in the second half most of the season.
3) Skylar Thompson has a pocket problem.
Texas Tech came into this game allowing an absurd 8.9 yards per attempt through the air. Their secondary is not good. And when Thompson found receivers, he was able to compile an 8.8 yards per attempt clip against that secondary.
It should have been much, much more. To the credit of Courtney Messingham, he identified the issues -- both Tech’s weakness at covering and Tech’s predilection for committing pass interference -- and had Thompson air the ball out quite a bit tonight. But as we noted, he underthrew his receivers repeatedly, and it cost the Wildcats at least three big yardage plays as well as a few short-yardage gains.
Thompson’s pocket presence was also very lacking tonight. Once, he even ran away from miles of beautiful, open, green grass right into the hands of the only Tech defender who could possibly have laid a hand on him. He appeared panicked at times, he hurried throws he didn’t need to, and on a few occasions he even destroyed what should have been decent play-action opportunities by faking a handoff to someone who wasn’t anywhere near him.
Maybe it was just a bad day, but it’s things like these which normally happen once or twice a game which give people pause. They happened repeatedly tonight.
Positive note, though: Thompson surpassed the 2,000 yard mark on the season and 4,000 yard mark for his career tonight, and his 14 rushing yards pushed him past the career 1,000 yard mark. As a result, he is now the fourth Wildcat quarterback ever to amass 4,000 yards through the air (or even 3,000) and 1,000 on the ground in his career, and you know who the other three were. (If not, shame on you.)
Thompson passed Darrell Dickey to move into ninth place on the K-State career passing list; he will probably pass Michael Bishop next week and it is plausible that in the bowl game he’ll move all the way up to sixth, passing Jonathan Beasley and Collin Klien. His two touchdown passes moved him past Brian Kavanagh into ninth place on that list, as well; three more and he’ll pass Klein and Lynn Dickey and move into seventh.
4) Nobody is going to let K-State run the ball.
We’ll say it again for emphasis: when Knowles went down late in the third quarter, K-State had 85 yards rushing, and 44 of it was via Knowles himself. Tech completely took the running game away from the Cats tonight, which wouldn’t be a big deal if K-State had spent 60 minutes attacking Tech’s secondary. But they didn’t. They tried to run. They tried really hard. Through the first three quarters, K-State managed 73 yards on 26 carries.
That’s less than three yards a touch.
That’s not going to work.
5) Josh Youngblood is a baller.
Youngblood’s second kickoff return for a touchdown this year was simply a thing of beauty. He took the kick two yards deep, blew through the first wave, and then did not rely solely on his speed to get downfield. Twice, he pulled up and waited for a blocker to clear a potential hazard out of the way, then hit the nitro button to get back to cruising speed. He juked and dodged and was basically just incredible.
The only complaint one can have about that return is that it put a gassed defense right back out on the field, but it all worked out okay.
K-State goes into the final week right in the middle of the conference standings, tied with Texas. They have a chance next week to creep into fourth place if Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State as expected and Texas stumbles against Tech. More importantly, they have a chance to secure a winning record in conference in Chris Klieman’s first season at the helm.
But it’s Farmageddon, and that’s no longer a sure thing. A win would be huge, because there’s a big difference in perception between 8-4 and 7-5; more importantly, there’s a big difference between 9-4 and 7-6. Nobody wants to take a chance at the latter happening, while going into bowl season with a chance to win a ninth game would be massive.