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The good, the bad, the ugly

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Kansas State loses the game and maybe the plot.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Football

So that Norman Conquest didn’t go quite as I hoped, as Kansas State was rolled by Oklahoma 38-17, and that scoreline doesn’t nearly suggest just how dominating the Sooners were in this game.

Unlike other games this season, we may actually have useful information from this loss, as Derek Smith suggests in his recap: Three Things We Learned.

As with most games—wins or losses—there is good, bad, and downright ugly. Let’s get the good out of the way first, if only because there is so much less of it.

The good

The game revealed that a Bill Snyder-led team is still capable of gambling. Early in the game, the Wildcats went for it on 4th down when a field goal try—inevitably, frequently—would have been the call. That the team actually converted seemed less surprising than the decision itself.

Plus, the Wildcats did a solid job of limiting mistakes in this game. There was no burning of early timeouts, no completely laughable penalties, nobody punching a teammate in celebration. More importantly, there were no interceptions or fumbles.

In the second quarter, playing catchup—inevitably, frequently—Kansas State showed actual creativity on offense. There were draw plays, designed bootlegs, running backs and wide receivers using their speed and athleticism. Dominique Heath deserves special mention here, as he had a banner day with seven passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Even with a big deficit to overcome at halftime, there was a feeling that the offense could maybe strike back, make things interesting.

The bad

The bad? Well, the bad news is mostly that the good didn’t last. At a critical point of the second quarter, during a momentum-changing drive, Jesse Ertz took a hit and fell on his shoulder. He came out of the game and—inevitably, frequently—Joe Hubener came in for him.

In fairness to Hubener, he did not make matters appreciably worse. Indeed, he engineered a terrific drive that ended with an improbable strike delivered in stride to Heath for a 54-yard touchdown. But was a game Kansas State was probably going to lose anyway, and without Ertz and the new formations designed to make use of Ertz’s specific skills, there was no way Kansas State could make the best of the few chances Oklahoma provided.

Hubener is what he is, spectacular one minute, wildly erratic the very next. We are beyond the point of hoping for improvement, for a significant increase in his ceiling (such as it is). He has value as a backup because he has real in-game experience and sufficient knowledge of the playbook. In a situation where Ertz goes down—inevitably, frequently—it’s appropriate to put it in the guy who can come in cold off the bench and manage the game. For all intents and purposes, Hubener is still that guy.

Let’s project forward though. We have no news of Ertz’s injury or progress, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume he’s done for now. With a week to practice, to get reps with the 1s, and to grasp the system, there is at least a reasonable argument that Alex Delton should get the nod against Texas. Whatever else we may disagree on, however much we may like Hubener personally (and it’s hard to dislike a guy who is so thoroughly #EMAW), I think we can agree with The K-State Collegian’s Riley Gates that the Hubener experiment should be over.

But Snyder nixed the argument almost instantly, noting “Joe, obviously, is the No. 2 quarterback. If Jesse couldn’t go, in all likelihood, that is who it would be.” (Kellis Robinett, Wichita Eagle).

There were other bad things too. The defense came into the game looking like the best unit in the Big 12, but at the end, the secondary—inevitably, frequently—gave up too many big plays. Although adjustments were made and the defense was solid in the second half, it was nowhere near the sort of assignment-sound ball the defense is capable of. Giving up two early scores in the first quarter put Kansas State in an early hole the offense couldn’t climb out of it.

Even special teams, such a vital part of Snyderball, was barely a factor against Oklahoma. One long run by Byron Pringle isn’t much to hang your hat on, if you’re a Kansas State fan.

The ugly

There is no argument here. Kansas State is now 115th in total offense, good for dead last in the Big 12. In the three losses so far, the Wildcats have averaged a measly 319 yards of offense. The offense—with or without Ertz—is shambolic (Robinett, Eagle).

Snyder was perhaps a bit kinder, calling it a “work in progress,” but it’s obvious that the Wildcats’ MO, which depends so heavily on lengthy drives mixing up the run and pass and ticking precious minutes off the clock, is a bluff in the face of the score-a-minute offenses that can put up three touchdowns in the space of a quarter and can keep a team in a close game even until the final seconds (Ken Corbitt, Topeka Capital-Journal).

The question to ask then is why? I watched the Ohio State-Wisconsin game last night, and at several points in the game, as the Buckeyes lined up on offense, I had flashbacks to 1998 and Kansas State’s Michael Bishop-led offense. The Buckeyes are winning titles using a vintage Snyder-designed offense (with a few modern wrinkles, of course). But Kansas State’s own offense is floundering, and has the added disadvantage of playing in a conference where everyone else is faster to the huddle and quicker to the end zone.

What gives? There are several answers, all plausible, none reassuring. Maybe we no longer recruit the athletes that can run that type of offense. As TB noted in a post-game conversation, we had almost no competition for dual-threat quarterbacks in the late 1990s. Now everyone is on the market for the next Cam Newton.

But maybe, just maybe it’s time to try something different? Snyder set the Big 8 on its head in the early 90s by featuring a pro-style attack in a conference where everyone had run the wishbone for a million years, and it paid off. When Snyder came back in 2009 to discover that the Big 12 had fallen in love with the spread offense, Snyder modified the zone read and added the QB draw/pop concepts that Kansas State rode to a Big 12 championship in 2012. When the world zigs, Snyder zags, and it’s time for him to maybe zag in a different direction. Here’s at least one option worth considering (again courtesy of a conversation TB):

Volleyball

It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom for Kansas State in Norman though. The VolleyCats rallied for a four-set win against Oklahoma, taking the match 3-1 (13-25, 25-19, 25-21, 28-26). At one point in the fourth set, the Wildcats were actually trailing the Sooners 24-22, but then ran off six of the last eight points to take the set and the match.

Kansas State started slow, playing poorly in the first set and setting a season-low for points with just 13. But the Wildcats bounced back in the second and third, with senior Brooke Sassin recording seven kills off nine swings, while teammate Alyssa Schultejans managed six kills off nine attempts. The two kept the momentum going in the third stanza, where each managed seven and six kills respectively and Schultejans scored four consecutive points.

Kersten Kober had a match-best 15 digs, the 17th time this season she’s been in double digits for digs. Katie Brand had 52 assists and 10 digs for the match.

Up next, the volleyball team returns to Ahearn Field House to host West Virginia next Saturday. First serve will be at 6 PM, and will air on KStateHD.tv as well as on KMAN 1350.