With Kansas posting its most surprising effort against Oklahoma since beating the Sooners in 1997, many K-State fans — on Twitter, at least — seemed to be paying more attention to events in Lawrence than their own team after the Wildcats dug themselves a 14-0 hole less than three minutes into the game.
They ended up disappointed on the one hand, as Oklahoma roared back from a 17-7 third quarter deficit to win 35-23. They also may have missed some of a great comeback, which culminated with a pair of game-saving sacks by Felix Anudike-Uzomah and Nate Matlack in a 25-24 Kansas State win over Texas Tech at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock.
But at first, it looked like K-State’s winning streak against the Red Raiders was in jeopardy.
Tech won the opening kickoff and went against conventional wisdom by choosing to receive. A 30-yard Kaylon Geiger run and a 45-yard run by Erik Ezukanma put the Red Raiders on the board only 30 seconds into the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Malik Knowles fumbled, giving Tech a 23-yard field on which to operate. Six plays later, SaRodorick Thompson scored with only 2:49 elapsed, and K-State was in a 14-0 hole.
Both teams punted on their next possessions, and then K-State embarked on a 19-play drive which consumed ten minutes and culminated in a one-yard Deuce Vaughn touchdown run. But Tech responded with an 11-play drive, SaRoderick Thompson scoring again to give Tech a 21-7 lead.
K-State made it to midfield before having to punt, but two plays later Henri Colombi tried to hit Ezukanma only to get picked off by Russ Yeast. A 22-yard end-around by Knowles put K-State inside the ten, but the drive stalled and the Cats were forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Taiten Winkel. Tech drove back downfield, aided by a completely bogus roughing the passer call on Robert Hentz II, but the Red Raiders also had to settle for three as Jonathan Garibay hit a 27-yarder as time expired.
K-State went three-and-out to open the third quarter, but a Ty Zentner punt pinned Tech at their own four. SaRoderick Thompson took the handoff in the end zone on the first play, and Anudike-Uzomah nailed him in the end zone for a safety. Skylar Thompson picked apart the Red Raider defense in response, completing passes of 32 yards to Daniel Imatorbhebhe and 26 yards to Vaughn before finding Jax Dineen for a nine-yard completion to take the Cats to the two. A play later, K-State faced fourth down with one foot to go for a first down and four for a touchdown. Vaughn took the handoff and found the end zone, and the Cats had pulled closer at 24-19.
Tech could only get to the 15 before punting. K-State responded, moving down to the Red Raider 26 before Nick Lenners caught a pass but fumbled trying to stretch, ending the drive. Tech pressed into Wildcat territory, but the defense forced a turnover on downs. Skylar Thompson was sacked twice on the next series, putting the Cats in a 3rd-and-34 hole. An 18-yard completion to Landry Weber wasn’t enough to move the chains, but a personal foul on Devin Drew gave the Wildcats an automatic first down and another 15 yards. Thompson threw five straight passes, completing four; the final completion was a 22-yard dump to Vaughn which gave K-State a 25-24 lead.
Chris Klieman rolled the dice and went for two, but Thompson’s pass to Vaughn was incomplete, and an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Knowles meant Zentner would have to kick off from the 20. An offsides call on the kickoff forced a re-kick from the 15, wiping out a brilliant special teams effort which actually would have had Tech taking possession inside their own 25 despite the original penalty. But Zentner boomed another kick, an 81-yard kickoff which resulted in Tech only reaching the 26 on the return.
A holding penalty pushed Tech back to the 16, but Colombi escaped the pocket for a 28-yard scamper. Facing 3rd-and-4, Colombi kept it and was stopped short; Tech went for it on 4th-and-2 and burnt a timeout in the process. They converted, pushing into Wildcat territory. But then Anudike-Uzomah and Matlack buried the dagger.
The win was the sixth straight over Tech, a record of futility against the Wildcats outpaced only by the Jayhawks, and the tenth Wildcat victory in the last eleven meetings.
K-State (4-3, 1-3 Big 12) outgained the Red Raiders 377-318. In a bizarre turn, K-State’s advantage was through the air, 296-148; Tech (5-3, 2-3) outrushed the Cats 170-81. Skylar Thompson was a beautiful 24-30 with a touchdown and no interceptions. Vaughn was his leading receiver with 68 yards on seven catches, but five other receivers had at least 30 yards receiving. Vaughn was also the leading rusher with 52 yards on 15 carries; Knowles added 26 on a pair.
1) This is not the third-quarter meltdown Wildcats. It’s the slow-start Wildcats.
It’s becoming apparent that the real problem plaguing this team is letting the opponent get an early lead. Four times this season, K-State has basically spotted the other team a two-touchdown lead in the first half. Two of those resulted in wins, but one was against an FCS team and the other was the result of Tech repeatedly firing rounds into their own feet.
This is a problem that needs to be fixed. If K-State is going to have a season we can all admit was a success, they’re going to have to start getting out of the gates at the gun rather than late in the second quarter.
2) There was no quit today.
Let’s call it what it is: after the disastrous start, K-State outscored Tech 25-10. The defense only gave up 37 yards in the third quarter, and 76 in the fourth; 28 of that 76 was on one play. That’s 113 second half yards for Texas Tech, a team with a very potent offense.
The offense didn’t do anything spectacular today. They were just really good. Thompson was brilliant, overcoming Tech’s focus on Vaughn by throwing darts all afternoon. Of his six incompletions, three were outright drops.
But most importantly, after Anudike-Uzomah’s safety, the Cats were just locked in. There were some lapses in discipline, but there were no critical mistakes.
3) K-State utterly won third (and fourth) down.
Tech was 2-12 on third down attempts, and they were 0-4 in the second half. They were 3-5 on fourth down, but only 1-3 in the second half. Meanwhile, K-State converted 5-13 on third down and were a perfect 2-2 on fourth.
This is a pretty important metric, and something to build on.
4) Special teams made a huge impact.
We’ll get to this more in a minute, but aside from the Knowles fumble the Wildcats were nearly perfect on special teams this afternoon. Special teams directly resulted in a safety, contributed to the hold on the final drive, and after the first quarter did not allow Tech to start a drive outside their own 26.
5) There’s still a lot to be nervous about.
Make no mistake: this team still has major flaws. The most galling play after the first quarter was a run by SaRodorick Thompson which resulted in a 28-yard gain despite approximately 28 Wildcats piling on him 15 yards before he went down. There were at least three penalties on the Cats which were utterly inexcusable, and one which went unnoticed by the officials when Reggie Stubblefield drew his hand across his throat after a stop. (The phantom roughing the passer call on Hentz occurred right after this.)
We also have to be concerned about the physical well-being of Thompson and Knowles. Thompson took an awkward turn which appeared to tweak his injured leg early in the game, but managed to shake it off. Knowles left the game briefly, having to be supported by trainers as he hobbled off to be looked at, but was back in the game on the following possession.
Players of the Game
On offense, we’re going to let Thompson and Vaughn split the honors. Thompson was, again, brilliant overall; Vaughn scored twice and we can’t ignore that. On defense, Felix Anudike-Uzomah had the safety — without which K-State does not win — and the key sack which left Tech in a desperate fourth-and-long.
And we’re actually giving out a special teams player award this week, because Ty Zentner was absolutely amazing. Zentner punted three times, averaging 55.7 a kick and planting one inside the Tech five which led to the aforementioned safety. His booming 81-yard kickoff after K-State’s final score was also vitally important, as it prevented Tech from getting decent field position for its final gasp drive.
The Cats host TCU on Halloween Eve for Homecoming. The Frogs are dangerous offensively, averaging 37.2 points a game and 460 yards of offense. But they’re 3-3 because they’re also giving up 32 points and 445 yards a game. It could be interesting.