With the exception of linked material, everything that follows is the opinion of this writer only, and does not reflect the views or opinions of the rest of the Bring on the Cats editorial staff, contributors, or commenters.
So that happened.
In a vacuum, losing is nothing. It's a data point and typically, you can't extrapolate much from a single data point. But this loss feels different.
We've lost before, of course. We've even lost BIG before. In fact, just in the six seasons since Bill Snyder's return in 2006, opponents have scored at least 50 points on Kansas State on several occasions, including 66 (Texas Tech, 2009), 58 (Oklahoma, 2011), 52 (Oklahoma State, 2011), and 52 points (Baylor, 2012). But this loss feels different.
Maybe that's because Kansas State was shut out? It's been a long while since the Wildcats laid a goose egg. The last one was in 1996, a 12-0 loss to Colorado. But that game was played in Boulder. The last shutout loss at home came in the middle of a 7-4 season, the first winning season for Snyder in Manhattan. It was a 10-0 loss, and yes, it was to Colorado. But this loss feels different.
That's because this loss should feel different. In 1991 as in 2009, we were at the cusp of a new/renewed beginning, and we had no rational reason to expect better. The 2011 season was a gift (perhaps even more so in hindsight), and the losses came after Kansas State had compiled an unexpected 7-0 record. That 2012 loss to Baylor though? That one hurt. It downgraded the season from "once-in-a-lifetime" to merely "special," and in retrospect, it revealed some tendencies we were able to ignore for a short time. Those tendencies have now come home to roost.
I didn't get to watch the game yesterday, a blessing I didn't sufficiently appreciate. So I watched it on the DVR last night, so you wouldn't have to. But I couldn't force myself to watch after halftime, and I understand fully why fans--otherwise so loyal and supportive of the program--felt compelled to leave the stadium by the thousands. This was a beatdown of epic--and yes, unprecedented--proportions.
Oklahoma beat Kansas State 55-0 yesterday in Manhattan, Kansas. That is the who, what, when and where. But what about the how? And the what next?
I'm going to attempt to break it down, mostly because I need this as a fan, but maybe also because catharsis is good for all of us.
There's something wrong with the coaching
The last two losses revealed that our coaching staff, while creative and knowledgeable enough put together a winning first-half game plan, can't seem to sustain that creativity through four quarters. There is either a failure to react to halftime adjustments from our opponents, or an attempt to overcorrect for possible adjustments in a way that ignores what the opposing team is actually doing on the field in the second half. Regardless of the individual facts in each game, I think the problem can be condensed into a single word: stubbornness.
Scipio Tex, in his usual inimitable style, said this about Bill Snyder:
He coaches like water. He flows to what works with no friction or effort.
You know what else is true about water? Once a tiny stream finds the path of least resistance through giant glacial rock, it sticks to that path with a stubbornness not rivaled by even the most defiant toddler. It takes decades, even centuries of effort--small geological changes, and maybe even a seismic shift--to make that stream change its course.
Snyder decided a long time ago that his way was the only way, and if his way demands running plays to a script even though they're not working, then that's what Kansas State will do. If his way demands overcorrection in the second half, then that's what Kansas State will do. If his way demands that Kansas State's undermanned offense pass the ball when running plays might be more successful, then that's what Kansas State will do.
It's hard to argue that Snyder's presence has been anything but an overall good, a bit of wizardry that built--and rebuilt--our little corner of football magic in Middle America. That we're even disappointed about the turn of this season is a testament to how far we've come. We owe that progress, at least in part, to Snyder's stubborn refusal to compromise his principles, his loyalty, and even his coaching philosophy, just for the sake of victory.
But it's possible there's a ceiling on all that, and Snyder's stubbornness means we hit it harder and sooner than other programs.
There's something wrong with the way we recruit players
There's a certain narrative about Kansas State that we see in the national media--and even the blogosphere--from time to time: Bill Snyder is a wizard who can put together a championship-caliber team out of clay, chicken wire, and spare parts harvested from an assortment of Kansas farm boys. This narrative is amusing but--as most of us already know--it isn't really true.
It's a nice story to tell. Our backup quarterback is a former walk-on. Our leading receiver is a former walk-on. Some of the greatest players to ever take the field here, whose names now grace our Ring of Honor, were walk-ons. Everyone who suits up for Bill Snyder is a quality individual who will win at life, no matter what they do after their time in purple is over.
But it's also a troubling story. Why on earth does a team like Kansas State, a team firmly in the top half of the Big 12 and with aspirations for more, have a backup quarterback who is not only a former walk-on but did not play (much) in the position in high school? Why is our leading receiver a former walk-on? Why do we have so little depth that, faced with an unusually high number of injuries, we go from a definite bowl prospect to a team that might only win one more game this season?
I don't put much weight into recruiting rankings. For teams outside the elite echelons of college football, star-ratings don't correlate very well with on-field performance anyway. But even if you don't worry about recruiting rankings, there should be some attempt to recruit for depth, to restock the roster to account for player departures, to field a team that can actually take the pounding of the Big 12's round robin schedule.
There's no glossing it over anymore. Our recruiting is dire, and it needs help. There is only so much of a gap that can be filled with better schemes and better coaching. Talent will out, and right now, we have very little of it.
It's a fallacy that we cannot recruit great athletes to Kansas State. In a given year, even Kansas manages to recruit better than we do. So rather than worry about whether every player on the roster buys into Bill Snyder's 16 Goals for Success, maybe we should recruit at least a few players who just care about football and want to win so badly they cannot be denied. There's an overlap set, of course. There are always players who will buy into Snyder's principles and also be fiercely determined competitors. But Collin Klein is lightning in a bottle, and we don't necessarily need a roster full of Collin Kleins. Sometimes you need a Chris Canty too.
There's something wrong with this team's psyche
It pains me to say this, but I think this team may be quitting. You could feel it in their body language after that one sustained drive led to a missed field goal. You could see it in their eyes when the camera panned over the sideline in the second quarter. You could see it in the way some players tackled, in the way they failed to pursue, in the way other players gave up on routes before the play was even over.
It didn't just happen yesterday though. It happened against TCU, when the coaching staff decided to kick a field goal instead of letting the team go for it on 4th and 1. The game was lost in that moment when the coaches decided not to reward these hardworking, loyal kids with just a little bit of trust, a bit of boldness that might have been the difference between winning and losing.
Contrast this with Baylor, who went for it on fourth down 30 times last year. The thing is, even Baylor fails on 4th down about 25% of the time, but as Art Briles notes, the risk of failing is mitigated by trust:
I think it’s trusting your O-line and your QB, your receivers, your running back and your system....Having a plan, and then utilizing that at the proper time.
Faced with a real chance to pull an upset against the #2 team in the country, the coaches didn't trust the team, and now it's an open question if the team trusts the coaches. Lost seasons, lost teams are made of these.
So where do we go from here?
I don't know. Maybe this is nothing but a blip and Kansas State will somehow put it all together and reel off a series of wins like they did in 2013. Maybe we are overreacting because we are spoiled by our own recent success. But maybe this is the beginning of another seismic shift in Kansas State football. Maybe this is the thing that forces Snyder to retire again. I hope not, but anything seems possible at this moment.
All I know is that this team can't take much more of this.
I can't imagine why any of you would want to revisit the debacle against Oklahoma, but if you are inclined, here are your game recap links in no particular order:
Oklahoma 55, Kansas State DNP: Jon Morse thinks of a few other things he could have done in lieu of watching this nightmare of a game.
No. 19 Oklahoma hands Kansas State worst home shutout loss: Kellis Robinett recaps the game, and Bill Snyder says "[a]ll of us are embarrassed."
Seeing Red: OU rebounds from Texas loss to rout K-State: The lone highlight of yesterday's game was watching a kid solve his Rubik's Cube on the scoreboard video (Ken Corbitt, Topeka Capital-Journal).
Did routing K-State ease or compound OU's Dallas debacle? Sooner fans see dark clouds everywhere, even when a game throws up nothing but silver linings (Jenni Carlson, The Oklahoman).
Some other things happened in football yesterday. The Michigan-Michigan State game featured an 80-yard punt by Michigan, and later ended with that same punter flubbing the snap to lose the game as time expired.
LSU used a fake field goal to break a fourth quarter tie and upend Florida.
Have a good weekend, all. This too shall pass.