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Kansas State Football: Things Fall Apart, Time to Start Rebuilding

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Growing pains, while necessary, are never without pain. And after being relatively lucky, we’re finally hitting the pain part.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 31 Kansas State at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Things Fall Apart

The Center Cannot Hold

I’ve now successfully incorporated William Butler Yeats into a K-State football article and will be promoted to English Major Gold status (it comes with a five dollar Starbucks gift card and a beard grooming kit).

I was concerned that this was going to happen sooner rather than later. While I didn’t see this particular outcome coming (otherwise I would have bet the house), I knew a game like West Virginia was a possibility. The Wildcats have relied on smoke, mirrors, an opportunistic defense and a precocious freshman running back to grind out wins this year. As many of you have noticed, despite their record, K-State isn’t popular in Vegas, and Vegas is right more often than they’re wrong.

The truth is this particular vintage of Kansas State football is a year or two away from maturity, and that’s great. This is a team, especially on offense, that should grow together over the next few seasons and produce an exciting final product, but they’re not there yet.

West Virginia came into the game with an impressive defense and a solid game plan. They contained the edges, kept Deuce Vaughn running sideline to sideline, followed him like a hawk in the passing game, and forced Will Howard and the Wildcat receivers to beat them.

That didn’t happen.

I like Will Howard. He has a big arm, good mobility, and moxie. Those are impressive building blocks for a quarterback. But don’t get it twisted, he’s still incredibly raw. His accuracy is sporadic, he has a tendency to stare down his receivers, and he’s still trying to figure out when to hang in the pocket and when to run. None of that is surprising or troubling, long term, for Howard. Short term, however, it does pose some significant issues, and those were laid bare by the Mountaineers.

Things fell apart in Morgantown, and it sucked, but it’s a blip on the radar. This team isn’t built to win now, but have managed to win now. For Howard and the rest of the offense, the falling apart isn’t important, the coming back together is where the growth occurs.

I know this coaching staff will work tirelessly to get this fixed.

Coach Riley is one of the best in the business (in my humble opinion) but he’s playing a few guys that are a year (or two) away from hitting their potential. That’s a good thing. This line is going to be exponentially better as seniors because of their trials and tribulations as freshmen and sophomores, but we’re going to have to suffer through the bad to get to the great.

Coach Ray is taking heat because the wide receiver position is a bit of a mess but most of that is centered around the enigma that is Malik Knowles. I’m not sure I can recall a wide receiver losing all his mojo, but Malik went from a guy who I was hyping as a potential pro, to...whatever it is he’s doing this year. Looking past Malik, Chabastin Taylor has emerged as a solid receiver with big play ability. His growth as a receiver gives me hope because the Wildcats have a couple big bodied receivers coming in the 2021 class. This position group is disappointing, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

It’s weird to say with the emergence of future Heisman winner Deuce Vaughn, but the running back position, in my opinion, has been disappointing thus far. The Wildcats brought in four running backs in the 2019 class, and haven’t seen much production from any of them. In fact, the highest rated player out of the group, Thomas Grayson, was sucked into the transfer portal this week. At the same time, this is obviously a weird year. Joe Ervin should be back next season, Jacardia Wright has a chance to bounce back from a disappointing season, and Clyde Price, who was raw coming in and probably needed a season or two of seasoning, has nice physical tools. Coach Anderson needs to find a “thunder” to pair with the lightening that is Deuce Vaughn. If that guy isn’t on the roster now, the coaches need to go out and find someone that can fill that role through the transfer portal or JuCo channel. That evaluation needs to take place in the back half of this season.

Coach Klein needs to keep tearing it up on the recruiting trail, but I want to see if he can develop a quarterback. Will Howard should be an interesting barometer for the former K-State legend. Can Klein help Howard clean up all the little things that separate a quarterback with solid potential from a solid quarterback? Howard has the physical tools, but he needs serious refinement. His success in Manhattan hinges on attention to detail.

Heavy is the head that wears the play calling headset, and Coach Messingham is a source of much consternation in the Wildcat fanbase. I get it. The offense was pathetic on Saturday, but I’m not sure the offensive game plan had much to do with the struggles. You force the run against a stacked box, and you lose. He had to try an loosen up the Mountaineer defense with the passing game to get some people out of the box, and Howard and company couldn’t get the job done. I think Messingham has done a good job considering the loss of Skylar. It might be rough road coming down the stretch, but as a mentioned at the start of this season, this is more about 2021 than 2020.

The bad news is that Oklahoma State is the game I had circled as a problem, and that was before West Virginia’s defense provided the rest of the Big 12 with the perfect template to stop the K-State offense. The Wildcats have out-performed my expectations before, but knocking off the Cowboys is a tall order. It might get worse before it gets better, but keep the faith my friends, this is a young team, and the lessons learned this season will pay dividends in the future.

Y’all stay safe.