What an ugly, stupid, beautiful game the Wildcats provided last Saturday. It was the college football equivalent of a root canal, but if you have a rotten tooth the end result of a root canal is positive, despite the pain along the way. Getting to the final whistle wasn’t fun, but the end result puts K-State in position to attack the back half of the schedule following a perfectly timed week off. We’ve seen this type of game from K-State in the past, and the results haven’t always been positive (cough Tulane cough) but if you’re going to put together a conference championship winning season, you’re going to need to win a few games where you don’t play well.
Take the 2012 Big 12 Champion Wildcats. They had to grind out a 27-21 victory on the road in Ames against an Iowa State team that finished the season 6-7. Iowa State had the ball late with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown, but the defense held and good guys returned to the Little Apple with the W. Without that relatively ugly win, they don’t share a part of the Big 12 with Oklahoma.
The 2003 team didn’t have many scares after their 3-game losing streak, but the Missouri game that ended 24-14 had upset potential. The offense, despite dominating on the ground, couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. The Wildcats only managed a field goal in the 2nd half, but the defense held the Tigers at bay, only giving up a touchdown after it was too late for the Mizzou to stage a comeback. They didn’t play well on offense, but they won, and that’s what matters.
Even my Clemson Tigers, at the height of their power in 2018, had to squeak out a home win over a solid, but unspectacular Syracuse team after Trevor Lawrence went out with a concussion. Chase Brice (current App State QB) lead the Tigers to a late 27-23 victory over the Orange. The same Clemson team would go on to crush Notre Dame 30-3 in the semi-final and end the College Football Championship by halftime with a resounding 44-16 win over Bama. But on September 29th, they were only 4 points better than Syracuse. Good teams figure out a way to win ugly games.
After re-watching Saturday’s game, I still can’t figure out how the Wildcats only mustered 10 points. I know the run game struggled, but the passing game, while not efficient, was explosive. Phillip Brooks provided 119 yards on 4 receptions, including a touchdown. Malik Knowles chipped in another 108 yards on 5 receptions, but failed to find the end zone because of an amazing play by an Iowa State defensive back at the goal line. The Wildcats dug deep into their bag of mistakes and found new and increasingly frustrating ways to avoid scoring points.
While the offense struggled, the defense rose to the occasion. The coaching staff’s ability to identify talent from unusual sources was on full display. Former North Dakota State and Virginia safety Josh Hayes led the Cats with 8 tackles and was named Big 12 defensive player of the week. Former walk-on Austin Moore and JuCo transfer Kobe Savage both recorded 4 tackles. Kennesaw State transfer Cincere Mason contributed 2 tackles. Out of K-State’s top 7 tacklers on Saturday, only one (Felix Anudike-Uzomah) started their collegiate career on scholarship at Kansas State (keep this in mind when Oklahoma fans tell you they don’t have enough 4* and 5* players to hold TCU under 50). Chris Klieman needed his defense to keep Iowa State under 10 points to win, and they somehow managed to pull it off. 3-0 is 3-0, it doesn’t matter how you get there.
After the win on Saturday, K-State is in position to compete for the Big 12 Championship game but the road ahead is rocky. As of today, there are four ranked teams remaining on the schedule (#13 TCU, #8 OK State, #22 Texas, and #19 KU) and that doesn’t include a talented 3-2 Baylor team that has dropped two games to ranked opponents or a West Virginia team that has given this team fits in the past. To put things in proper perspective, Alabama, Michigan, have three ranked teams left on their schedule, Ohio State has two ranked teams remaining, and Clemson has one. Maybe the Big 12 isn’t such a “poverty” conference after all (outside of Oklahoma of course).
The defense provided the offense with a get out of jail free card against Iowa State, but don’t expect any more of those the rest of the season. If Coach Klieman wants to be in the Big 12 race late, he’s got to get the offense right over the next two weeks. They’ve been good in spurts, but have two horrifically bad games on their resume as well. Coach Klein must figure out a way to meld the explosive passing offense from last Saturday, with the dominating run game we’ve seen from Martinez and Vaughn. The defense is good, but they’re going up against a few top notch offenses, and good offense usually finds a way to score on good defenses in modern college football. This team must find a way to consistently break 30 points the rest of the season if they have designs on playing in AT&T Stadium December 3rd. That’s a tall order, but the components to get the job done are available. The coaching staff has two weeks to fully assemble them.
If this team can put it together on offense, y’all are in for an exciting six games, and everyone at the Clemson site will stop making fun of me for picking Kansas State to win the Big 12 (which I think we can all agree is the most important thing).