It all came down to zeroes.
After a first quarter which made it look like Kansas State was going to roll, followed by two quarters of Texas dominating the game to take the lead, the Wildcats rallied back. But in the end, Dicker the Kicker‘s 26-yard field goal with no time left on the clock allowed the Longhorns (6-3, 4-2) to escape with a 27-24 victory at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
The key moment, perhaps, was a 3rd-and-14 at midfield on the final Texas drive. K-State (6-3, 3-3) gave an aggressive look at the line, but instead of backing off as they’d done most of the game, Scottie Hazleton pulled the trigger and sent the house. Texas was prepared, and kept the pressure off Sam Ehlinger long enough to complete an 18-yard pass to Devin Duvernay.
The affair began with K-State putting seven on the board on the third play of the game. Skylar Thompson hit Malik Knowles in the flat, and Knowles juked a defender before racing 70 yards to start the scoring. After Dicker missed a 55-yard field goal, the Cats struck again. Thompson hit pass after pass for first downs before finding Wykeen Gill on a 19-yard score to put K-State up 14-0.
That would be the last time the Wildcat offense saw the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, Ehlinger connected with Collin Johnson on a flea-flicker to cut the lead to 14-7, but otherwise the Wildcat defense held strong before the half. A promising Wildcat drive late in the second quarter ended on a Mason Barta catch-and-fumble, but the defense got the ball back in short order.
After halftime, however, Texas came out and dominated the Cats. It took four plays for the Horns to tie the game on a 34-yard touchdown run by Keaontay Ingram, and after forcing K-State three-and-out Dicker capped another drive with a 36-yard field goal to give Texas the lead.
Texas was driving again late in the quarter, threatening to score, but Walter Neil Jr. stepped in with a big play. Neil jumped a route and snagged an interception at the goal line, but the offense stalled after the fourth quarter began. A big punt by Devin Anctil wasn’t covered well, resulting in a 53-yard punt return by Brandon Jones; three plays later, Ingram scored again from the 12 and Texas had a 10-point lead.
The Cats were not done, however. After being unable to attempt a return on Dicker’s previous four kickoffs — and being visibly agitated about this fact — Josh Youngblood struck like lightning. The freshman returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score, and the defense forced another three-and-out to give K-State a chance. The drive was extended by an egregious and deliberate targeting foul on Longhorn defensive back Jalen Green, but Dalton Schoen had what appeared to be a sure touchdown pass ripped away from him on a great play by D’Shawn Jamison. K-State had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Blake Lynch which tied the game up with 6:45 to go.
But that incompletion changed the game entirely. Instead of scoring a touchdown to take the lead, which would have forced Texas to answer with six instead of a field goal, K-State never got the ball back and Dicker sent them home with heartbreak.
Thompson had a great first half, but the Texas defense presented problems in the second. He finished 17-27 for a career high 253 yards and two touchdowns, but he had a net zero rushing yards. Knowles had 3 catches for 94 yards, while Schoen caught 5 balls for 68. Gill had 3 catches for 40, and five other Wildcats hauled in passes as well.
The running game was MIA. Tyler Burns led the Wildcats with 26 yards on 8 carries. Harry Trotter, who got the start, had 21 yards on 4. Jordon Brown got seven carries and only managed 4 yards. In all, K-State had their worst output of the season on the ground, with only 51 yards.
The defense, meanwhile, gave up 477 because they forgot how to tackle again.
1) Texas forced K-State to pass.
In the first quarter, Texas was succeeding beyond their wildest dreams at what appeared to be their only goal of the game: keeping K-State from running the ball. That had to be their only goal early, as they were doing absolutely nothing to stop Thompson from throwing to whomever he wished, wherever he wanted.
Unfortunately, K-State decided that they absolutely had to establish the run in the second quarter. It did not work, not one bit. As a result, the Wildcats possibly squandered an opportunity to rack up a huge first-half lead. It came back to bite them.
2) The defense was feast or famine.
When K-State had a chance to force a three-and-out, they largely did. When they did not, they caved. Numerous times, a Texas ball carrier just ran right through a half-dozen Wildcats. It was unpleasant to watch.
That K-State was still in position to win this football game was as much a result of the Longhorns’ own mistakes and penalties as it was the effort of the defense. Texas averaged 7.34 yards per play, which is even more damning when you consider that when K-State did get them in third down, they only converted 4 of 11 opportunities.
Much of this, on this day, can simply be attributed to the physical advantage Texas had over the Cats. But not all of it. There’s simply no excuse for a running back to bull his way through a literal mass of white jerseys.
3) The loss of AJ Parker didn’t hurt that badly.
This was a matter of grave concern, but in the end Kevion McGee did a fine job. He was in on nine tackles, and did a decent job in coverage; Texas seemed to pick on Neil more, and the tackling issues certainly weren’t the fault of the secondary.
4) Thompson still gets frustrated when the offense stalls.
As things started going south in the second quarter, it was obvious that Thompson was uncomfortable. Twice, Thompson threw hooks to the right side near the sticks, and both times the receiver was not where he expected them to be. (The first time was Knowles, who got tied up in a non-interference situation; the second was Gill, who slipped and didn’t get back to the ball.)
After that, for the next 15 minutes or so of game time, Thompson simply lost the zip on his passes. He didn’t appear to be hurried any more than he was in the first quarter, when he’d resolutely stood in the pocket and fired bullets with orange jerseys closing in. Instead, he threw several passes which were wobbly and not very much on target.
He corrected himself for the final 20 minutes, but it was concerning to watch.
5) Jalen Green should be suspended -- by Texas.
All it takes is one look at the hit Green delivered on Gill. Gill had barely taken a few steps after the snap, and wasn’t even looking downfield when Green hit him. It was a direct helmet to helmet blow, and hit Gill so hard that it knocked his helmet off before he went down like a rock. The ball was not in the air. Gill was just running his route, and Green tried to decapitate him.
Green, obviously, will be ineligible for the first half of next week’s trip to Iowa State. That’s not enough. The Big 12 probably can’t levy any further punishment, but if Texas has any integrity at all they’ll take action themselves. This was not an example of a player trying to make a play and getting out of control. It was not a questionable call. It was an absurd, dangerous, brutal hit that served no purpose other than to possibly hurt another player, and Tom Herman needs to send a message. He should bench Green.
Today was a heartbreaking loss, to be sure, and it dashes any hopes K-State had of sneaking into the Big 12 Championship Game. But there are some positives to take out of the effort. Against a bigger and more athletic team, the Wildcats were able to force the outcome to literally the final tick of the clock. They looked very, very sharp for the first fifteen minutes, and just one play swinging the other way would have meant a win instead of a loss.
Next week the Cats will stay at home and most likely pick up their seventh win, as tied-for-last-place West Virginia will come to town. Whether this team can finish with nine wins or will have to settle for seven or eight is going to depend on the defense, because Texas Tech looms.