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Oklahoma State 31, Kansas State 20: Lousy Reception

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Seems like all anyone wants to do is talk about the quarterbacks, but there’s a much larger problem.

This was how the night went.
This was how the night went.
Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

An absolutely dreadful sequence of events which resulted in Oklahoma State scoring 21 straight points in the space of seven and a half minutes was more than Kansas State could overcome as the 25th-ranked Wildcats fell 31-20 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.

K-State moved the ball well on the opening drive, most of the yardage coming on a 37-yard run by Howard. He was 3-7 on the drive, and encouragingly only one of those four incompletions was off the mark at all — and that one was essentially throwing the ball away to avoid a sack, albeit in the middle of the field. But Oklahoma State held and forced Taiten Winkel to kick a 32-yard field goal.

The Wildcat defense pressured Spencer Sanders effectively on the ensuing drive. Unfortunately, they overpursued on the first play and that resulted in a 52-yard gain on a screen pass to Jaylen Warren. Six plays later, Sanders scored from two yards out to give the Cowboys a 7-3 lead.

It lasted exactly 14 seconds. Malik Knowles ran the kickoff back 98 yards to give the Cats the lead again at 10-7. But Sanders led the Cowboys downfield with little effort, retaking the lead 14-10 on a 20-yard pass to Brennan Presley.

Knowles tried to run the kickoff out of the end zone after that, and got plowed at the seven yard line. Howard fumbled the snap, knocking the ball into the end zone in the process, and Malcolm Rodriguez recovered to put Oklahoma State up 21-10. It turned out that Howard was injured on this play, although we don’t know where and to what extent; it wasn’t enough to keep him from returning for a drive in the second half, but he was visibly affected then and it resulted in Jaren Lewis playing most of the rest of the game.

Despite a nice 23-yard completion to Phillip Brooks, the Wildcat drive never got going and they had to punt. It was a good punt by Ty Zenter, fair-caught at the 10, but Warren ended the first quarter with a 19-yard run and got Oklahoma State out of their own shadow. The first play of the second quarter was a 23-yard completion to Blaine Green. The score ballooned to 28-10 when Sanders hit Martin on a 7-yard fade.

As noted, Lewis relieved Howard, but just handed off three times and the Cats failed to gain ten yards. The Cowboys kept dunking, and then Daniel Green was ejected for a second time this season for targeting on a play even Oklahoma State fans seemed to think was a ridiculous flag. The Wildcat defense managed to hold once the Cowboys got inside the 10, though, and Alex Hale had to kick a 20-yard field goal to make it 31-10.

Lewis threw the ball quite a bit on the next drive, including a 21-yard completion to Kade Warner to get K-State close to the red zone. He was picked off by Colby Harvell-Peel on a terrible attempt to throw the ball away under pressure. K-State forced a three-and-out and a punt to take over at their own 40 with just 38 seconds left, and Lewis was able to complete three quick passes to set up a 45-yard field goal attempt by Winkel. It was good, right down the middle, and the Wildcats went to the locker room trailing 31-13.

The third quarter started in much the same fashion as the first half, and Sanders picked up 24 yards on a third-down conversion to Blaine Green. It was the only time during the quarter that Oklahoma State would earn a first down; K-State forced four three-and-outs over the next 13 minutes. That drive ended with a missed 48-yard attempt by Hale. K-State didn’t fare much better, however, going three-and-out three times themselves. The one time they did not occurred with just over a minute to play in the quarter. Lewis was about to be smothered by four black jerseys when somehow he managed to pitch the ball foward to Deuce Vaughn. Vaughn, being Vaughn, raced 55-yards for a touchdown and the Cats pulled within 11.

Oklahoma State finally got another first down on their first possession of the fourth quarter, a 33-yard pass to Presley. What appeared to be another big completion two plays later was wiped out on an offensive pass interference call, forcing the Cowboys into a 2nd-and-26. Sanders found Rashod Owens for a gain of 17, and the play stood despite at least one angle very clearly showing Owens had his toe on the white line when he came down. But on third down, Sanders was hurried and threw incomplete, forcing another punt.

K-State went three-and-out again, and Oklahoma State got some movement. They got as far as the K-State 32, but a holding penalty wiped out what would have been a first down on 3rd-and-6; two plays later, Hale missed another field goal, this time from 49 yards out. Another three-and-out put the K-State defense in a do-or-die situation with 5:45 to play and the team needing two scores.

They died. They didn’t allow the Cowboys to score, but they could not get off the field, and the game ended with Oklahoma State kneeling in K-State territory.

Howard was utterly victimized by his receiving corps, which we’ll get to in a bit. He went 4-12 for 50 yards. Lewis was not bad, which we’ll also get to in a bit; his line was 10-19 for 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Deuce Vaughn was the primary target, catching 5 balls for 73 yards and a score. Knowles caught three balls for 26 yards, Brooks 2 for 40, and four other receivers caught one pass each for 59 yards total.

One big reason for the loss: K-State only gained 62 yards on the ground, and the leading rusher was Howard with 28 yards. Vaughn was held to 22 yards on 13 carries. Joe Ervin only got one touch. Lewis was credited with five carries for only three yards.

For the Cowboys, Sanders was 22-34 for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Martin had exactly 100 yards receiving on nine catches with a score; Warren added 81 yards on 4 catches, Presley had 53 on 2, and Owens had 49 on 3. Warren also ran for 123 yards on 27 carries.

Oklahoma State outgained the Wildcats 481-260, and 137-62 on the ground.

Five Things

1) This was not on the quarterbacks.

There was noise on Twitter griping about Will Howard. Let us be perfectly clear. Howard threw eight incompletions. One was overthrown, one was thrown away, and basically the rest were on target, in the receivers’ chests.

Lewis was also the victim of drops, although he wasn’t as accurate as Howard.

Malik Knowles was thrown the ball seven times. He caught three of them. He dropped the other four. Now, admittedly, the Oklahoma State secondary was playing magnificent coverage and deserve a ton of credit for getting their hands on passes. But a receiver’s got to catch more of those than he doesn’t when they’re being thrown right at him. It’s part of his job, and somehow pinning the blame on the quarterback for throwing into coverage misses the point.

Another problem which is directly attributable to either the receivers themselves or their coaching is the pressure the quarterbacks endured tonight. The basic problem is that they can’t get open consistently, which in turn forces the quarterbacks to either scramble interminably or throw into terrible coverage.

We can complain about the quarterback all day long, and argue about who it should be. But none of it matters if he can’t count on his receivers, and K-State’s have been terrible all season.

2) The defense collapsed early, but got it together.

The first half was a mess, but in fairness the defense never seemed to get off the field. K-State’s opening drive lasted 6:03. After that, the offense never held the ball for more than three minutes at a stretch. The kickoff return for a touchdown by Knowles played into this as well. The Wildcats endured consecutive drives of over four minutes at the end of the first quarter and start of the second.

And yet... the offense didn’t hold the ball at all in the second half. Only two second half possessions lasted over two minutes, and those were 2:12 and 2:13. So exhaustion doesn’t explain everything, since the defense absolutely annihilated Oklahoma State in the third quarter. How bad was it? After the first drive, which lasted seven plays before ending in a missed field goal, Oklahoma State embarked on four third-quarter drives. They ran twelve plays and gained a total of three yards.

And did not score a single point in the second half.

If Knowles catches the touchdown pass on the opening drive, and then takes a knee in the end zone on his third kickoff instead of trying to run it out, this game might have gone to overtime tied at 24.

Even with the awful first half, something amazing happened. The only Big 12 teams that gave up fewer points than Kansas State today were Baylor (29), Oklahoma State themselves (20), West Virginia (16), and Oklahoma (13).

3) Courtney Messingham’s got to go.

First, see Thing One up above. The receivers are his responsibility.

Beyond that, however, was a drive in the third quarter which was just mind-boggling. At their own 34 on first down, a receiver came in motion left. He stopped at the left end and reversed; the ball was snapped and Lewis handed off to Vaughn for a gain of seven.

The next play, 2nd-and-3 at the 41, a receiver came in motion left. He stopped at the left end and reversed; the ball was snapped and Lewis handed off to Vaughn for a gain of two.

The next play, 3rd-and-1 at the 43, a receiver came in motion right. He stopped at the right end and reversed; the ball was snapped and Lewis handed off to Vaughn for a loss of one.

Are you serious? In a situation where you need to score points, calling basically the exact same play three snaps in a row to hand the ball to the one guy they’re expecting to get the ball on every play? If you’re leading by 17 with four minutes to go, sure. Do that. Doing it tonight? That’s inexcusable and a firing offense.

4) The refs are always suspect in Stillwater.

We all remember that time the sideline monkeys just up and moved the chains and the officials didn’t even notice. Or that time Daniel Sams didn’t fumble. We got two stupid calls tonight.

As it happened, the absurdly stupid out of bounds call on the Owens catch didn’t matter. But Daniel Green’s ejection did, and it’s important to note something vitally important about that call, which was first mentioned by our own Eric Rubottom.

You can’t “target” and wrap your arms around the ball carrier at the same time. It’s physically not possible. This probably isn’t an officiating issue as much as it is a rule issue, but some common sense should prevail as well. It doesn’t help that Green’s helmet clearly hit Sanders in the shoulder.

This isn’t just homer complaining, either. Even Oklahoma State fans expressed disbelief at the call.

5) All is not lost.

The defense showed some pride, especially after losing Green — and, once again, we’ll get to more on that in a moment. The offensive line lost tonight, but they weren’t getting completely manhandled; Lewis scrambled a lot, but he had time to operate. They just couldn’t open running lanes.

And quarterback, while by no means a strength, is not the problem.

Oklahoma is beatable. Tonight, fans were chanting the name of Caleb Williams. Who’s that? It’s Oklahoma’s backup quarterback. That should tell you how things are going in Norman.

Players of the Game

Tonight, it’s easy. Nobody gets it on offense because nobody deserves it. Lewis and Vaughn at least did something to draw consideration, but on the other hand Lewis wasn’t really great and Vaughn was completely stuffed running the ball.

On defense, our hero of the night is linebacker Nick Allen. Allen barely saw the field before Green was ejected; after that, all he did was make ten tackles (tied for the team lead), seven solo (team lead), and got in on a tackle for loss. Allen, more than anyone, was largely responsible for the defense getting its act together after the final Cowboy score.

And we don’t normally do a special teams player of the game, but tonight we have to hand one out. No, it’s not Knowles, because his decision to try and run that kick out of the end zone takes a lot away from his touchdown return. It’s Ty Zentner, who punted seven times — four of which went for over 50 yards and three of which were downed not inside the 20 but inside the 10. Zentner really helped the defense from the second quarter onward and deserves credit for his contribution.

Next

Back home to face the currently 4th-ranked Sooners in an attempt to post a third consecutive win.