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Kansas State Football: Opportunity Squandered

MANHATTAN, KS - OCTOBER 21: Kansas State Wildcats head coach Chris Klieman during a Big 12 college football game between the TCU Horned Frogs and Kansas State Wildcats on Oct 21, 2023 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, KS. Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I think this might be the most disappointed I’ve been in a Kansas State team under Chris Kleiman. I’m not disappointed in the score, there’s not shame in losing to this Texas team 33-30 in overtime. This team opened the season by going into Tuscaloosa and treated the Crimson tide like they were a scrappy team from the Sun Belt. What disappoints me is the way it went down. I wasn’t able to watch this game live. I was stuck with the dreaded “required obligation during football season” on Saturday. I followed the score on my phone when I could sneak a glance, and I assumed when I went back and watched the film, I’d see Texas dominate the game and then lose focus, and then momentum and let the Wildcats back in the game late. Instead I saw the ‘Cats play awful football for almost 3 quarters before kicking it in gear in the 4th, only to come up 4 yards short in overtime.

Let’s start from the top.

The defense gave up the one thing they couldn’t to Texas Freshman quarterback Maalik Murphy, and that was the deep ball. No need to read the defense when you can use your arm / bazooka and throw it deep to your number one receiver in man coverage with no help over the top. No offense to Jacob Parrish, he’s good in certain roles, but at 5’10”, 180, he is no match for the 6’4”, 200 pound A.D. Mitchell. The first touchdown was nothing more than Mitchell giving Parrish a bump and running straight down the field for 37 yards. Nothing fancy, it wasn’t a great route, it didn’t need to be. Texas didn’t think Parrish could cover Mitchell deep and they were right.

It came up again on the next drive. Mitchell burned Parrish crispy for another 47 yards in the exact same manner. Texas snapped the ball, Mitchell ran in a straight line, and if Murphy doesn’t slightly over throw it, it goes for an 82 yard touchdown. The only thing that saved Parrish was Murphy’s freakishly strong arm, because most QBs don’t over throw a receiver almost 50 yards down the field. I’m not blaming Parrish for it though. He was doing what he could, but he wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a lack of effort or execution, it was a lack of genetics. He’s not big enough or fast enough to cover Mitchell down field once he is in the clear and eating up ground with his long strides.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s on Joe Klanderman. I’m not sure what else A.D. Mitchell needed to show Klanderman before he sent Jacob some help. It’s a complete physical mismatch. Parrish is at his best covering shifty slot receivers but instead he’s stuck on a 6’4” gazelle? I don’t feel like he was put in a position to succeed by the coaching staff. They need to better understand his limitations. He’s not JuJu Brents. Luckily this drive ended in a field goal, but it should have ended in an interception. The play was there and went through V.J. Payne’s hands. The defense almost made several plays on Saturday that would have changed the game, but you don’t get credit for almost making plays.

The second touchdown was another case of Texas simply having a better player than Kansas State, but again, I question the scheme. I understand trying to sell out for a 4th down stop at midfield, but how do you not have deep safety? How many times have we seen a 4th and short from this area of the field result in a touchdown after the running back or quarterback slips through a crack and has nothing in ahead but grass and the endzone. In the end, Kansas State had 3 guys and Texas only had 2 blockers, but one of those blockers nudged Sigle slightly on his way to getting all of Will Lee. Sigle made a one handed swipe at the shoe of the 5-Star, number one running back in the 2023 class, C.J. Baxter and it went about as well as you would expect. It’ll be one of the easiest touchdown runs of Baxter’s career. If I’m Texas, I love the idea of Sigle vs Baxter with a touchdown on the line. Again, no offense to Marques, but Baxter is a better athlete in space.

I simply don’t understand Klanderman’s thinking to start the game. Things tightened up later, but he gave up 17 points because he thought Jacob Parrish could cover A.D. Mitchell and Marquis Sigle could tackle C.J. Baxter one-one-one. Nothing I’ve seen of film this season indicates either is up for the challenge. Sark ate the K-State staff’s lunch. The strength of the Kansas State defense is their cohesion. They may not have the best players at every position, but when everyone is playing hard, and playing together, it doesn’t matter. When you start chiseling off Wildcat defenders and asking them to be better than guys they’re not better than, you give up points in bunches. That’s what happened on Saturday. Texas didn’t beat the Wildcat defense, they beat individual Wildcat defenders.

If you’re reading this you know how the game panned out, and I’m going to stop with the blow-by-blow analysis. K-State lost this game when it went down 17-0. I know they fought back and took it to overtime, but if you take out those 3 poorly schemed plays in the first quarter and start of the second, I think the run game eventually wears down Texas. If you asked Sark before the game if he’d take 41 passing attempts from Will Howard and 18 carries combined for Giddens and Ward he would give you an emphatic “no comment” but in his head he’d say “yup”. The start of the game forced the Wildcats into the game Texas wanted them to play, and they still almost pulled it off despite the Wildcats trying their best to lose the game over the first 3 quarters.

Going down 3 scores required Coach Klein to abandon the run game to try and stage a comeback. Remember, not only was K-State down 17 but the defense showed no ability to contain Texas. The first drive ends in a touchdown if Murphy doesn’t slightly over throw his open receiver down the seam. The ‘Cats needed points in a hurry and didn’t have time to let the beef soften up the Longhorns for the 2nd half. Instead of the Kansas State relying on their offensive line run blocking and backs (both quarter and running) to win the game; they had to put the game in Howard’s hands and hope the receivers could make enough plays to win.

Instead of grinding the Texas defenders into the turf, the offensive line was forced to pass block the athletic Texas defense, and it cost the ‘Cats seven points when Ethan Burke embarrassed K.T. Leveston on a bull rush and strip sacked Howard inside the Wildcat 5 yard line. Throw in Keagan Johnson turning at least 3 points into a Texas interception by not only dropping a perfect deep ball, but somehow managing to throw an oop to the Texas safety for an interception in the process. You can’t beat this Texas team by gifting them points, and it’s a small miracle that Howard got the team close.

Again, I wouldn’t be disappointed in the outcome if the game did play out like it did. Texas has more 5-star talent on their bench than Kansas State has recruited in the history of the program. The game was in Austin. Texas is playing well this season and has a killer run game. That’s tough to beat on your best day, but this wasn’t anywhere near close to the Wildcats’ best day. They had to abandon everything that got them to this point because the offense came out of the gates slow and the defense refused to exit the gates. Instead of getting the ground and pound with Will, Avery, DJ, and Treshaun; you got Air Howard. Don’t get me wrong that was a legendary comeback in the 4th that will be under appreciated because of the eventual outcome, but that’s not what the offense does best.

Mixing my sports for a moment, I’m never mad when a pitcher gives up a homerun throwing their best stuff. I’m a Braves fan and the last pitch of Spencer Strider’s 2023 season was a 100 mile-an-hour fastball that was deposited in the seats by a Philly batter. I didn’t like the outcome, but I wasn’t disappointed. I would have been disappointed if he went down throwing his change-up. That’s what Kansas State did in this game, they went down throwing their change-up because the defense went brain dead in the fist 20 minutes of the game.

This wasn’t an opportunity taken from Kansas State by a solid Texas squad. This was an opportunity squandered by the Wildcats. I put that at the feet of the coaching staff. Now it’s time for the coaching staff to rally the troops and push forward against Baylor. They can’t let this loss beat them twice. The Big 12 Championship game is probably out of reach, but back-to-back 10 win seasons is still on the table, and the team hasn’t accomplished that in almost a decade. In fact, they’ve only managed once in the last 20 years. It’ll take a perfect finish, but if the Wildcats play their game, it’s possible. If they don’t, the Kansas game is looking mighty interesting.