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So what now?

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The only good thing about yesterday’s game is that it’s over

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Iowa State Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Football

Kansas State lost its annual Farmageddon matchup to Iowa State 45-0, though “lost” does not quite convey the enormity of the defeat the Wildcats suffered yesterday. The loss drops the Wildcats out of contention while cementing Iowa State’s place at the top of the standings.

But this is not about Iowa State. Let’s talk about Kansas State here and let’s not mince words here. This game was definitely the lowlight of a season that has gone off the rails, the worst loss of the Chris Klieman era. That we’re not more disappointed is simply an artifact of 2020, a year we didn’t expect much of, and got even less from.

Yesterday’s performance (or lack thereof) made it abundantly clear that the early victories of the season may have been a false dawn. We were relying heavily on Skylar Thompson’s experience, and on intangibles that cannot be duplicated from one game to the next, i.e. huge special teams plays and an unusually high number of takeaways. As we all know from Bill Connelly and his (in)famous skepticism of Kansas State’s smoke-and-mirrors 2011 season, you cannot sustain success through luck and magic alone.

To win games in the Big 12 in 2020, you need an offense that can move the sticks, and unfortunately, the Wildcats don’t seem to be capable of this on any consistent basis. This isn’t a single-game problem either, but a disturbing pattern that has emerged over the past several weeks. Against West Virginia, the Wildcats’ opening drive inexplicably began with Will Howard throwing the ball all over the place, and when that produced the expected turnover, the offense disappeared. Against Oklahoma State, two early scoring drives stalled out in the red zone, and the offense never really recovered. Against Iowa State, it was more of the same. That first drive was great and should have ended in a Kansas State score. But alas.

I’m reluctant to pin our offensive woes on any one person/reason. Howard did not look good yesterday, but there’s still plenty of potential there. He throws a decent enough ball and seems to understand where to get it. He’s just not accurate or efficient right now, and he’s hampered by a wide receiver corps that is short on both depth and health right now. Also, I have some sympathy for the fact that Howard—just a high school kid a few months ago—has been cast into the deep end, and right now, Kansas State cannot get him the development help he needs on the fly, with several players out for Covid-related reasons. Nick Ast may well turn into a serviceable backup, but he was clearly not ready to play at game speed yesterday.

Then there’s the play calling. I’m not as down on offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham as many of you have been from the beginning. But there’s been a lack of creativity in the offensive package he’s designed, and little ability to adjust to the opposing defense. It’s probably not just Messingham either, if we’re in the mood to point fingers.

To his credit, Klieman did not make excuses for his team. But he did use the word accountability a lot, and may have unwittingly revealed cracks in the locker room that all the transfers and Covid problems did not. The players made available for comment yesterday echoed similar sentiments, stressing the need for player unity and control. It’s nice to know the team hasn’t given up, but the players’ body language on the sidelines is a source of concern.

Two games to go. Let’s cross our fingers but keep our hopes tempered. It’s going to be a long off-season.

Volleyball

The VolleyCats were no more fortunate than their football brethren. Taking on #3 Baylor in the second game of the series, #10 Kansas State battled but ultimately lost in straight sets 18-25, 23-25, 13-25 in the regular season finale. The Wildcats finished the season 10-6 and in third place in the Big 12, the highest finish for the program since 2008.

The NCAA has moved some competition to the spring with play beginning in January The NCAA Tournament will be played in April with a 48-team field instead of the usual 64.