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Kansas State 31, Mississippi State 24: Almost beating yourself

Mistakes were made, and almost cost K-State what should have been a defining blowout win.

Ran the dang ball.
Ran the dang ball.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State, the team which used to beat you despite your team having the physical advantage because they were smarter and had better execution, showed up in Starkville this morning and completely outplayed Mississippi State. They should have won 41-14, in all fairness.

The problem was, K-State wasn’t smarter and made a lot of mistakes, turning what should have been an easy win into a nail-biter. But in the end the Wildcats somehow managed to come out on top, scoring on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Skylar Thompson to Dalton Schoen with 5:37 to play to help secure a 31-24 win at Davis Wade Stadium.

K-State set the tone early, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on the opening drive and marching downfield with crisp precision in response. That drive ended with no points because Chris Klieman chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Mississippi State 20, but James Gilbert got stuffed. Still, it was a bold call, and worth making.

A Denzel Goolsby interception keyed another Wildcat drive which ended with a Blake Lynch field goal, and just 1:17 later the Bulldogs were punting again. Five plays later, K-State had a 10-0 lead after a 7-yard run by Jordon Brown.

The physical domination by the Wildcats continued, forcing a 3-and-out. But Brown, who’d just been the hero, became the goat as he muffed the ensuing punt, giving Mississippi State the ball at midfield. Nine plays later, Tommy Stevens capitalized, running in from two yards out to get the hosts on the board.

After forcing K-State to punt, Stevens fumbled right into Daniel Green’s hands. Brown redeemed his fumble with a 17-yard run on the next play, and a few plays later Skylar Thompson snuck in from a yard out to give K-State a 17-7 lead with only 40 seconds to go in the first half, after which K-State would get the ball to start the second.

Then the second mistake happened. Wayne Jones, who’d been called for a late hit on the opening drive, did it again, plowing into Stevens after the Bulldog quarterback had already gone down in a slide. That took Mississippi State, who’d appeared ready to concede the clock, into K-State territory. A couple of plays later he hit Osirius Mitchell on a 35-yard bomb to make it a three-point game at halftime.

The third quarter was all Mississippi State, but they had help. AJ Parker intercepted Stevens at the Bulldog 40 on third down, but got blasted on the return and fumbled it right back for the third Wildcat miscue of the day. It took 12 plays, but the Bulldogs -- now led by redshirt freshman Garrett Shrader at quarterback -- marched downfield to take the lead. Neither team could move the ball on their next possessions, but when Mississippi State punted, the fourth mistake occurred. K-State got a hand on the punt, and the short returner Seth Porter attempted to field it... and muffed it. That led to a 47-yard Jace Christmann field goal, and the Cats trailed by seven.

However, K-State immediately tied the game back up. Malik Knowles ripped off a 100-yard kickoff return, extending K-State’s streak of years with a kickoff return for a touchdown to approximately a billion.

Then both teams had to punt, Mississippi State twice, before the winning score. Afterward, K-State held, with Elijah Sullivan almost picking Shrader off on third down, then stopping him just inches short on a 4th-and-16 to take possession with 2:35 to play, and didn’t quite manage to run out the clock, but didn’t have to punt until only 40 seconds were left; Missisippi State completely blew their last play and the clock expired on them. That 4th-down play was incredible, by the way:

Respect for Shrader. That was a genuinely impressive effort.

Thompson was 10-18 for 123 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 8 yards and a score. Schoen caught 3 balls for 50 yards; nobody else could claim to have caught more than one pass for more than ten. The ground game was not the behemoth it was in the first two games; James Gilbert led K-State with 59 yards on 17 carries, Brown had 41 on 5, Harry Trotter 25 on 5.

What did we learn?

1) The K-State defense is *chef kiss*.

Remember last year? Yeah, sure you do. Kylin Hill “only” had 111 yards and it took him 24 carries to get that. Shrader did gain 82 yards on only 10 carries, but that’s understandable as K-State was prepared for a quarterback who had an injured shoulder and clearly wasn’t going to be running much.

Mississippi State managed 352 yards, which is not an impressive defensive effort on its face. But remember that the offense and special teams did a pretty good job of throwing the defense under the bus today, and 352 looks pretty fantastic. The line was in the Bulldog backfield all day, despite spending way too much time on the field during that painful stretch after halftime.

And they did it without Wyatt Hubert and Walter Neil, both of whom sat with injuries.

2) Special teams need work. Badly.

Sure, Knowles had a 100-yard kickoff return which swung the momentum back in K-State’s favor. But two muffed punts -- which makes three on the season now -- indicates the returners need to be straightened out, and quick.

3) The offense looked bad, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

K-State averaged 5.1 yards per play on offense. The reason the box score looks bad at first glance is they only ran 53 plays; had they run 60 they’d have broken 300 yards. It’s alright. The problem was not Thompson; of his 8 incompletions at least three were outright drops. The running backs weren’t terribly effective, only picking up 4.2 yards a carry, but that’s an indication of Mississippi State’s primary strength -- their defensive line.

Besides, K-State committed three turnovers, and the offense was responsible for exactly zero of them. Also, Thompson hurt his throwing hand on his touchdown run in the first half, and still led the game-winning drive. Give ‘em credit.

4) Wayne Jones was a knucklehead today.

We hate to call out players. We really do. But you commit two personal fouls in one half, one of which directly leads to seven points, you’re getting shade. Jones also got badly beat in coverage on one play, leaving a wide open receiver who would have caught the ball had Stevens thrown it anywhere near him.

He’ll learn. After all, every time we do call someone out they suddenly turn into an all-Big 12 candidate overnight.

5) K-State is 3-0 with a road win over a ranked team.

Let those words roll over your eyeballs for awhile. Soak them in. Think about the ramifications.

It is almost certain now that K-State will go bowling in Klieman’s rookie season, because at this point there are still a couple of sure wins and at least three toss-ups in conference play. K-State showed it could physically outplay an SEC team on the road. K-State showed it could get up off the mat and respond.

This season is only 25% over, and it is already a success. The hire of Chris Klieman is already a success. The transition is a success. Everything we’ve worried about for years, exacerbated by the fateful Ron Prince experiment, is over and done. K-State football will continue to be relevant.

Enjoy it. And enjoy your week off as we prepare for Oklahoma State.