Kansas State lost to Oklahoma State 29-21 in Stillwater in a rare Friday night contest, and honestly, the game really was not as close as the score might suggest.
Now that I have had a whole day to think about it, I don’t feel particularly better about the loss. It’s no fun to lose a football game, but when the team loses a game it could have—should have—won, the disappointment is particularly acute.
Will Howard had a bad day
This was not a game that could be blamed on any one thing, because there is plenty of fault all-around. There’s no mincing words at this point. Will Howard had a bad day. Every quarterback has at least one of those in a given season, and if you’re lucky, they happen on a day when the rest of the game is going really well. Kansas State was not that lucky.
But here’s the thing. Howard’s problems appear to be relatively fixable. On the pick-six play, he and Philip Brooks clearly had different thoughts on the route. On the terrible snap and fumble that happened on the (IMO unnecessary) 4th-and-8 play, there was clearly miscommunication with the center. These are things Howard and the team can work on this week to avoid a repeat performance. I have no patiences for the resurrection of the Sams-Waters nonsense. Benching a guy for one bad game is to break his psyche and guarantee he won’t be mentally ready for the next game. Let Howard figure out how to be 2022 Howard again. He has the tools. I’m not concerned.
Unfortunately, what Howard said after the game points to a bigger—and possibly unfixable—problem:
I feel like we kind of came in here and listened to the outside noise a little bit too much. They hadn’t put really good stuff on film and we thought we’re a better team than them. I still think that when we’re at our best we’re a better team than them, but we didn’t play our best and they played well tonight. They played better than us.
WHAT?! I can understand being flummoxed for a quarter (generously, maybe even a whole half) when the opponent does things in a new and unexpected way. But that’s why you make adjustments. A team’s inability to adjust, not just to what the other team is giving you, but even to altered expectations on the field? After a bye week? That’s not on the players, is it?
It’s on the coaches
I like Chris Klieman. I think he’s the quintessential players’ coach. He understands the team on a personal level, he’s good at making them feel heard and happy, and he’s good at delegating responsibilities to his staff and to the team captains. As a fan, I’m happy about greater access to the players, the hipper social media presence, all the stuff that ultimately leads to gains in recruiting.
But on game day, between the hash marks, I’m not sure any number of motivational speakers and useful aphorisms are helpful. On the field, you just need your players to know the assignment, to execute as well as they can, and to be able to shake off a bad play and get better over the course of the game. Can Klieman shut out all the extraneous noise and get his team to be laser-focused for the rest of the season? We’ll see.
I like Collin Klein too. He’s one of us and he showed last season that he has new ideas and a fresher way of looking at the offense. But does he know that it’s ok to go back to basics, to just run the ball and milk the clock if that strategy is actually working? You don’t have to throw downfield ALL THE TIME to keep defenses honest. The short game will open up the running lanes, and this is a team—specifically an offensive line—that is built to run the ball. Howard is struggling because he’s being asked to do too much when the game is on the line.
The defense is fine. The secondary is soft and breaks more often than it bends, but it’s still solid against the run and really tightens up in the red zone. Injuries to key personnel have not helped, but I think this is still the best overall unit on the team. If the offense had been even a bit more effective against the Pokes, we would be breathing a sigh of relief right now instead of wallowing in our sorrows.
Hire Sean Snyder
It has to be asked. Is this still Special Teams U? Not only are the kicking and punting about as mediocre as they have been in three decades, but the return game is also completely average now. Yes, there was a blocked field goal and Jack Blumer had 48.5 yards per punt. But he only punted four times, and there was a rash of penalties in the return game.
Bill Snyder emphasized succeeding at the margins by focusing on every aspect of the game, every tiny detail that he could turn into an advantage. A good punt flips the field, a return score can change the entire tenor of a contest, faith in your kicker means 4th down is a surefire chance to score points. We used to have starters playing on the return and kick coverage units, and that’s why our PR/KR return guys were so special. It wasn’t just the guy with the ball, it was the wall of blockers clearing the way. This team needs a special team coordinator/assistant to win the dang day.
This week, the men’s golf team will be in Houston for the Big 12 Match Play Championships. This is the fifth edition of the event. Last time, the Wildcats finished sixth overall, but had wins over Texas and Iowa State and tied with Texas Tech and Kansas.
This time around, Kansas State will start the event with a match against BYU and then take on Cincinnati in the afternoon, with Texas as the opponent on Tuesday.
The Wildcats finally ended a long losing streak by beating Houston 1-0, and will take their newfound confidence to Provo to take on BYU on Monday night. The game is scheduled to start at 6 PM and will be available on ESPN+.