When all three phases of football are hitting for the Kansas State Wildcats, good things happen, like a four-game win streak. When a couple of those phases are off, bad things happen, and that’s exactly what took place on Saturday night in Manhattan, as the Wildcats fell to the Baylor Bears 20-10. With the Senior Day loss, the Wildcats fall to 7-4, and 4-4 in Big 12 play, and snapped a 4-game win streak. Meanwhile, the Bears (9-2, 6-2) keep their Big 12 Championship game hopes alive with the win.
Things actually started well for the Wildcats. After winning the toss and deferring, the K-State kickoff was returned just 17 yards and the Bears first drive started at the 20. Then before the Bears first snap, the play clock hit :00 and Baylor was pushed another five yards back. The Wildcat defense held solid, and Baylor punted on 4th & 4 from their own 26. And that’s when things took a decided turn for the worse for the Wildcats.
Phillip Brooks, extremely uncharacteristically, muffed the punt, and Baylor recovered at the K-State 24, and the Bears needed just four plays to convert the turnover into the first touchdown of the game. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats, aided by a roughing the passer penalty and a 4th-down conversion, pushed into Baylor territory. But the Wildcats were unable to convert a second 4th-down conversion, and turned the ball over on downs.
But the K-State defense stepped up, and forced a Baylor 3-and-out, though the Wildcats lost starting safety Jahron McPherson after it appeared one of the officials inadvertently stepped on the senior after he had fallen to the turf during the play. As was the case the rest of the game, the Wildcats offense could not sustain the next drive, and were forced to punt.
Another strong defense stand that finished in the second quarter was followed by yet another wasted opportunity by the Wildcats offense. But then the Big 12 officials struck, and after missing possible pass interference on a deep pass from Skylar Thompson to Phillip Brooks, the Wildcats were flagged for kick catch intereference when Raden Plattner’s shadow apparently got in the way of the returner, and K-State’s recovery of a muffed punt got overturned. And then the K-State defense finally broke down, as the Bears were able to march down the field, before Gerry Bohanon hit Drake Dabney for a 2-yard TD pass, for what would turn out to be the winning touchdown, to put Baylor up two scores.
The Wildcats were set to go 3-and-out on the next drive, but a Baylor defender jumped offside on the punt, and gave the Wildcats the needed yardage for a first down, and on the next play Deuce Vaughn took the handoff for 65 yards for a diving touchdown to pull the Wildcats back within one touchdown and breathe new life into K-State’s chances. But with just under three minutes remaining in the half, the Wildcats defense was again unable to hold the Bears, even after Gerry Bohanon left the game after appearing to tweak his hamstring going out of bounds after an 11-yard run. Baylor marched right down the field again, and punched in a field goal as time expired on the half to go into halftime up 17-7.
K-State got the ball to start the second half, and even after getting to start at the 35 thanks to the kickoff going out of bounds, the Cats still went 3-and-out after gaining just four yards. But after the Wildcats stopped the Bears short on a 4th-down conversion attempt near midfield, the Wildcats offense finally put enough together to drive the shortened field to get into field goal range, where Chris Tennant knocked his 28-yard attempt between the uprights to close the gap to 17-10.
But the theatrics weren’t over, and the Wildcats didn’t know they were done yet, as on the ensuing Baylor drive, Nate Matlack forced a fumble that TJ Smith was able to rip from the bottom of the pile (it appeared a Baylor lineman may have had it initially, but Smith came up from the pile with the ball). But the K-State offense was again unable to use what the defense gave them, and went 3-and-out again, again gaining just four yards on the drive.
Then one last time the Wildcats defense was unable to stop the Baylor offense, and the Bears finished the 3rd quarter with the ball beofre taking several minutes off the 4th-quarter clock before scoring their final touchdown of the game to go up 20-10.
The Wildcats actually did threaten on their first drive of the 4th quarter after Malik Knowles caught his only pass of the day for 48 yards to take the Wildcats almost to the redzone, but the offense then sputtered again before settling for a field goal. But this time Tennant’s kick hooked right, and his 39-yard attempt was no good.
The Bears pushed down the field on the next drive, but decided to go for it on 4th & 1 from the K-State 33 instead of attempting a long field, and Daniel Green came up with a big tackle-for-loss to give the Wildcats one more chance with just under six minutes left in the game.
But the final misfortune of the night would befall the Wildcats. One the 4th play of the drive, after pushing across midfield into Baylor territory, Skylar Thompson was injured while completing a shovel pass (through broken protection, which was an issue all game) to Phillip Brooks. After Thompson was helped off the field, Jaren Lewis came in and immediately threw an interception to effectively end the game. Though, in proving some teams just hate OU more, the Bears drove down the field to burn off the clock, but elected to knell twice instead of attempting a final field goal as time expired.
Overall, the Wildcats defense played a solid game, and limited a Baylor team that had been averaging nearly 35 points per game over their last five, to just 20 points, their lowest output since their 24-14 loss to Oklahoma State in early October. The Wildcats were set to stop the Bears rushing attack, and held the Bears to just 174 yards and one score, their second-lowest output since that OSU loss. Your defensive players of the game are Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher, who were everywhere for the Wildcats, combining for 18 total tackles and four tackles for loss, and each had several drive-ending stops.
But the offense continually laid an egg against the Bears, with Deuce Vaughn being the only highlight after amassing 128 yards on just 11 carries and a score, while adding 37 more yards on 5 receptions. The offensive line struggled to keep Thompson upright, and Thompson played one of his worst games since Chris Klieman arrived in Manhattan going 15-29 (51.7%) for just 158 yards (which doesn’t include the 26 yards he lost getting sacked 5 times), and zero scores. At least he didn’t throw a pick, instead reserving that for Jaren Lewis’ lone attempt.
Special teams was also not special for the Wildcats. Ty Zentner’s kickoff continually failed to make the endzone (on a relatively calm night), Chris Tennant went 1-2 on field goals (again), and of course the muffed punt by Phillips Brooks. A unit that usually provides highlights for the Wildcats even in defeat was a net negative on the night.
The Wildcats will have to shrug off the disappointing loss quickly, as they have a quick turnaround before facing the Texas Longhorns on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Longhorns are on an impressive 6-game losing streak, and secured an offseason at home with with their 23-21 loss to West Virginia earlier on Saturday that pushed them to 4-7 on the season.