The 2018 season officially kicked off last night, and Kansas State beat South Dakota 27-24.
This was not, however, a routine win over an overmatched non-conference opponent. This was a fight to the finish, and it took some late game heroics—and some dumb luck in the form of a Yotes’ missed field goal—for the Wildcats to put the game away. That sound you heard was the collective sigh of relief from the entire fan base (Kellis Robinett, Wichita Eagle).
But it never should have come to that. As Jon Morse notes in his post-game recap, the numbers for this game don’t reflect just how terrible the Wildcats looked for about three quarters.
This much is clear: the offensive line has work to do. Whether it was just a lack of focus or an inability to adjust, Kansas State’s most-experienced unit showed the most rust, getting beaten up at the line of scrimmage by South Dakota for most of the first half. The line’s play didn’t allow Kansas State’s running game to get untracked on a day when new offensive coordinator Andre Coleman—maybe keeping things deliberately vanilla—didn’t show any special creativity.
This much is clear: the Alex Delton who overwhelmed UCLA was not in evidence last night. He was only 5-of-14 on the night, including a terrible pick-six that put the Wildcats well behind the eight-ball. He may be a talented runner, but the passing game with Delton in charge isn’t going to put points on the board much.
Although he struggled early in the game (and the hook to remove him came out much too early), Skylar Thompson ought to get the nod at quarterback going forward. With the game on the line, Thompson managed to find Isaiah Zuber in the back of the end zone for the vital go-ahead score. But it wasn’t just that. He threw a nice strike to Nick Lenners (we throw to tight ends?) that would have been a score if Lenners had held on. Even the interception was on a well-thrown ball that was bobbled by Dalton Schoen. Thompson, even on the run, always seems to be looking for the open man, and that should hold the Wildcats in good stead down the stretch. With the game on the line, Thompson is almost certainly our man.
There’s not much to say about the defense. It wasn’t a terrible effort, and the whole defensive unit tightened up considerably in the second half. But there were some trouble spots. Duke Shelley was repeatedly burned and in a way that doesn’t augur well for the rest of the schedule. Eli Walker had a nice interception that was immediately negated by a pass interference call, and by a celebration penalty that showed a lack of discipline at a critical moment in the game.
Finally, as much as we were worried about the special teams, that unit turned out to be just fine (Greg Woods, Manhattan Mercury).
Playing in his very first college game, kicker Blake Lynch proved more than equal to the task, hitting paydirt on all four attempts, including a long of 44 yards to put Kansas State ahead 12-10.
The return game too was firing on all cylinders. Duke Shelley had a 94-yard return that was negated by a penalty, and it was Zuber’s 85-yard return late in the game that sparked the entire comeback.
Kansas State bounced back from their first loss of the season by taking both matches of a weekend doubleheader. The VolleyCats beat Saint Louis and Western Kentucky, both in four sets, at the Marcia E. Hamilton Classic in St. Louis.
Kylee Zumach had her second double-double of the 2018 season, with 12 kills and 14 digs against St Louis. Elle Sandbothe had 11 kills against Western Kentucky and both players were all-tournament selections.
The team is back in action on Tuesday night against the Missouri State Bears at 6 PM at Ahearn Field House for the first game of the home season.