Injuries — be they cramps or otherwise — devastated Kansas State on Saturday night, with seven starters leaving the game at one point or another. The result was the obliteration of a huge first-half lead for the Wildcats and an agonizing 38-28 loss to TCU at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Adrian Martinez left the game with a leg issue after the opening series, Daniel Green and Julius Brents missed the second half, Deuce Vaughn and Felix Anudike-Uzomah fought through nagging infirmities, and even Will Howard missed two series after coming on in relief.
The end result of this ended up being an overwhelming time of possession advantage for TCU, which wore down the defense and allowed TCU to run roughshod over the Wildcat defense in the second half.
For the first time all season, K-State lost the coin toss and got the ball first. The first play of the game was a 19-yard run by Martinez, but K-State had to punt short of midfield. Max Duggan hit Derius Davis for a 65-yard touchdown on a play in which Felix Anudike-Uzomah was pretty clearly held, and TCU took the early lead.
An injury to Martinez led to Will Howard stepping into the breach, and he quickly evened the contest. A 14-yard run, a 28-yard completion to Phillip Brooks, and another 28-yarder to Kade Warner — who literally stole the ball from the defender — resulted in a touchdown which took only 1:34.
TCU worked their way back downfield, but the defense held inside the 30 and forced the Frogs to settle for a Griffin Kell field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Howard remained in the game, and remained effective. A 38-yard pass to Knowles on 3rd-and-16 gave the Cats a first and goal at basically the two-foot line. After Howard was stuffed on a sneak, the quarter ended; he was not stuffed on the first play of the second quarter, and K-State took a 14-10 lead.
The defense forced a punt, helped by a huge Nate Matlack sack, and fair catch interference on the kick gave the Wildcats the ball near midfield. Two more huge completions to his running backs — 26 to DJ Giddens and 20 to Vaughn — set up an 11-yard touchdown strike to Sammy Wheeler, his first score of the season. The defense responded with another three-and-out, and a few plays later Deuce broke loose for a 47-yard touchdown run capped by a five-yard dive for the pylon. With that, K-State had a 28-10 lead midway through the second quarter.
TCU got to midfield, but Duggan one-hopped a pass on 4th-and-5 which would have been a sure first down. TCU’s defense responded with a three-and-out as K-State went conservative, but Ty Zentner pinned the Frogs at their own eight. They got it all back on the next play as Kendre Miller broke free for 48 yards. With 20 seconds left in the half, Duggan hit Jered Wiley from four yards out to bring the Frogs back within 9.
The Frogs churned downfield, aided by a completion during which Nate Matlack was being choked out by a TCU lineman. Gavin Forsha got his first sack as a Wildcat, but Miller got it all back and converted a first down. A few plays later, Miller scored from two yards out to make it 28-24 K-State.
Vaughn got K-State into field goal range almost single-handedly, but Howard was dinged up on a third-down run and then Chris Tennant missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. Four plays later, Duggan hit Quentin Johnston for a 54-yard score and TCU regained the lead at 31-28.
With Howard down, TJ Rubley came in and immediately threw K-State’s first interception of the season. The defense stopped TCU on downs, but TCU returned the favor.
A questionable roughing the passer call on Ekow Boye-Doe gave TCU first-and-goal. Jacob Parrish almost picked off Duggan, but his foot was on the sideline stripe; Miller ran it in from nine yards out on the next play to give TCU a 38-28 lead.
Brooks got a nice return on the kickoff to get to midfield, but the offense did nothing. On third down, Howard threw an apparent interception, but it was overturned; Howard then found Brooks for 22 yards on 4th-and-13 to keep the drive going. On 3rd-and-9 from the 22, Howard barely overthrew Warner in the end zone; Tennant hit the right upright on a 40-yard attempt.
Khalid Duke was called for targeting on the next drive, to make matters worse. The Cats forced a punt, but Howard threw an interception to Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson with 3:45 to go which was essentially the dagger.
Howard was 13-20 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and added 31 yards on the ground. Martinez had a total of 26 yards, with the lone carry for 19 yards and one completion for seven.
Vaughn had 83 yards on 12 carries and 38 yards on four receptions; Knowles had four catches for 69, Brooks had two for 50, Warner had two for 40 plus two carries for 19.
The Wildcats finished with 390 yards of offense, but only 87 in the second half. 232 of that was in the air, 158 rushing. TCU racked up 496, 280 passing and 216 rushing.
Penalties that were actually called weren’t an issue; the teams combined for seven penalties for 65 yards. But TCU was holding like crazy as they mounted their comeback, the most blatant case being Matlack fully occupying the center of the TV screen with a TCU lineman’s arms wrapped around his neck without a flag being thrown. TCU crushed K-State on time of possession, 38:05-21:55.
What We Learned
1) Words need to be had with someone about hydration.
Some of the injuries may have been injuries, but it certainly looked as though cramps were a large part of the issue — especially when Vaughn and Anudike-Uzomah left the field but returned after one possession each.
It’s a concern because cramps have been a recurring issue with this team all season. We’re not going to suggest that cramping is entirely avoidable, but preventative measures can be taken. It feels like it’s not a priority, however.
2) Will Howard!
Howard was, of course, frustrating last year. Tonight, he came into the game and immediately ripped off four touchdowns on four possessions. At one point, he had more touchdown passes than incompletions. In the second half, things went a little off the rails, but he was still effective in moving the offense downfield even if he couldn’t cash in.
Howard’s performance was a bright spot on a night that ended up being pretty miserable.
3) K-State still has a tendency to go conservative too early.
The Cats had a 28-10 lead late in the second quarter, and went away from the aggressive attacking offense Howard had effectively managed for 20 minutes. This was inexplicable, and perhaps even inexcusable against a team with a potent offense when so many of K-State’s defenders were suffering. Had the Wildcats gone for broke after stopping TCU on downs late in the first half, and taken a 35-10 lead into the locker room, this game would have been completely different.
That’s it. We’re not going to five this week, because the injury situation really nullified any trenchant observations one might make in the wake of this defeat.
Players of the Game
On offense, it’s obviously Will Howard, who was thrust into a situation which he may very well have been directly prepared for. Even Tim Brando hinted that the broadcast team was aware that Martinez was not 100% and might have a short evening. But prepared or not, reeling off four straight touchdowns was a top-notch performance.
K-State hosts Oklahoma State, who should be in the top ten, next Saturday at a time yet to be determined. Tonight’s loss isn’t the end of the world if the team can get healthy; a win next week would leave K-State in sole possession of second place in the conference. If the Wildcats limp into that game, however, the season could start a nosedive very quickly.