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Kansas State abandoned its identity against West Virginia and it cost them

The Kansas State Wildcats have had success this season by running the ball and playing great defense. They did play great defense early against West Virginia, but they forgot to run the ball.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

It took 13 plays for the Kansas State Wildcats to put the ball in the hands of its most electrifying player.

Deuce Vaughn was held to just 23 yards Saturday against a very disciplined West Virginia Mountaineer defense, but K-State didn’t seem too interested in giving him opportunities early on. I understand a desire surprise a defense with something early. I also understand the expectation that West Virginia may have had a plan to stop the run, but when a team almost completely abandons what has made it successful, it’s hard to expect success.

We can’t put all the blame for the 37-10 loss on the play calling, obviously. But coming out throwing with a true freshman quarterback against one of the best defenses in the nation probably wasn’t the best idea in hindsight. Especially when that’s not the team’s offensive identity.

K-State passed the ball 11 times in its first 17 plays of the game. Breaking tendency like that would be expected when the Wildcats were trailing, but that was before West Virginia took the lead. Of those 11 passes, only three were complete. Two were intercepted.

This is not meant to degrade Will Howard. He’s a 19-year-old true freshman. Today was just his third start. It’s understandable that he would struggle against a defense like this. Throw in a receiving corps that’s yet to have a solid game, a difficult road trip and an emotional week off the field, and you’ve got a recipe for a tough game.

But none of that excuses complete abandonment of what the team has done well all season. Vaughn carried the ball nine times today and was targeted just two times with passes. Yes, the Mountaineers obviously had a solid plan to stop him, but a majority of his opportunities came when K-State was already trailing.

Why not force the defense to stop him early?

It’s possible — perhaps even likely — that West Virginia would’ve been successful in shutting down a game plan predicated on the run, but good teams are good because they force teams to prove they can stop them before they rewrite their script. The Wildcats didn’t do that today, and it cost them.

Side Notes

  • Like Will Howard, Deuce Vaughn is also a true freshman. With all the success he’s had so far this year, it’s easy to forget that he was playing high school football last year and has a lot of development ahead of him.
  • This coaching staff has proven itself capable of rebounding. The Wildcats have a tough road ahead of them, but they’re still firmly in the Big 12 Championship race as we enter November. They were picked in the preseason to finish ninth in the conference.