It appears that the 2018 version of the Kansas State Wildcats may simply not be a very good conglomeration of American football players. Mississippi State Bulldogs, on the other hand, looked every bit the part this afternoon as they dismantled K-State 31-10 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The Bulldog linemen, on both sides of the ball, ultimately dictated the outcome. On offense, those linemen helped Kylin Hill rush for an absurd 211 yards on 17 carries, with two touchdowns. (Hill added a 16-yard touchdown reception to his highlight reel, too.) Nick Fitzgerald, who was unable to complete a deep pass all afternoon, made up for it with 159 rushing yards of his own on 19 tries. The end result? 384 rushing yards on only 39 carries for the Bulldogs, easily among the worst performances by a K-State rush defense in the Snyder era.
K-State’s only scores were a 26-yard first quarter field goal by Blake Lynch and a 23-yard touchdown pass from Skylar Thompson to Dalton Schoen. The Wildcat offense simply could not open up this afternoon, with Thompson held to a 7-17 for 86 yard day and Alex Barnes kept to 75 yards on 17 carries plus 19 more yards on 2 catches.
Alex Delton may have played his way out of the rotation, with only four net yards on 12 carries and while three of his four passes landed in the hands of a human being, one of those was an interception. Delton’s entire offensive output on the day was a mere 16 yards.
The offensive line did not perform as badly as the results would indicate; much of the damage was done by edge rushers destroying blocking backs. It was not, however, a stellar performance either. The defensive line was pierced repeatedly, and the linebacker play was atrocious.
Which leads us to what we learned today:
1) Skylar Thompson has to be QB1 going forward.
Thompson’s stat line doesn’t look incredible, but in the second half — as always, it seems — Thompson was poised and at least made decent decisions, if not always finding the mark. Delton had probably the second-most forgettable performance of his life, only behind getting injured in the season opener two years ago.
2) Alex Barnes is probably okay.
Barnes didn’t hit the 100-yard mark, but against the Bulldog defense that’s not really a condemnation. He did not fumble, so last week’s case of the yips doesn’t appear terminal.
3) The rush defense was terrible, but let’s withhold judgement for a bit.
If a month from now Hill doesn’t have 800 yards rushing, then today turns into a screaming indictment of the Wildcat run defense. But what we saw today was a beast, and if he continues running over everyone it’s hard to blame the Cats for getting run over too.
4) The pass defense was [Italian chef kissing gesture].
While Fitzgerald did rack up 154 yards passing on only 11 completions, it took him 27 attempts to get there. He threw a pick right at freshman defensive end Wyatt Hubert, and repeatedly tried to go deep on the Wildcat secondary.
Fitzgerald completed one pass of more than 10 yards downfield. There were pass plays which gained more than that — 32, 23, 21, 16, and 13. Add that up and it’s 105 of his 154 yards, leaving 49 yards on six catches for the rest of his resume.
Those longer plays were, with the lone exception, the result of short throws underneath, and the safeties can be blamed for not making tackles. But Duke Shelley, Walter Neil, and A.J. Parker were blankets on the Bulldog receiving corps.
This is important heading into Big 12 play, because the weakness of the secondary has been the team’s Achilles’ heel for far too long. Big 12 teams are going to have to run to score on the Wildcats, and no Big 12 team has Kylin Hill or the Bulldog offensive line.
5) The special teams are still rolling.
We mentioned this last week, and we’ll do it again. Duke Shelley averaged over 27 yards a return, doing his job and giving K-State decent field position on every attempt. Half of K-State’s punts were downed within the 20, and the only attempted return for Mississippi State lost a yard. Lynch did miss a field goal... but it was a 52-yarder.
If only the other question marks coming into the year could have been answered so swiftly and definitively.
Next week, K-State will have a chance to recover from this and get back on the right track as they host Texas-San Antonio. That’s a good thing, because that secondary we just spent four paragraphs praising is going to get thrown right into the Big 12 shredder in two weeks as they face Will Grier.