Will Howard threw three interceptions, the offense struggled for the entire first half, and a 23-7 deficit was too much to overcome as Kansas State fell 29-21 to Oklahoma State tonight at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
After the Cats went three-and-out to open for the first time all year, Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) dinked and dunked their way into the end zone on a 15-play 72-yard drive to get on the board first as Ollie Gordon scored on a two-yard run.
Will Howard threw his first interception after the offense managed a first down, and it was bad. He had time to throw, was able to set himself, and threw it to a black jersey with no white anywhere near him. There was no damage, as both teams then traded 3-and-outs, but a 33-yard run by Gordon set up a 43-yard field goal and the Pokes led 10-0. A bad return by Phillip Brooks would have left K-State at the 15, but a holding penalty on the kickoff set the Cats back even further.
Treshaun Ward entered the game and got K-State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) out of the shadow of the goal posts, and then Howard escaped on a keeper and raced for what was initially ruled a 71-yard touchdown run, but Howard was ruled down at the one-foot line on review. After a sneak failed, Howard dumped one off to Ben Sinnott to put the six back on the board.
K-State got a third-down stop near midfield, but got beaten on a fake punt that the announcers, everyone in the BotC Discord, and even the Wildcat coaching staff called before it happened. A 45-yard completion followed two plays later, and the Cowboys had 1st-and-goal at the 2.
Four plays later, K-State had the ball at the 16 after Marques Sigle blocked a 21-yard field goal attempt, but ended up having to punt. Another 45-yard strike got the Cowboys into the red zone, but consecutive flags pushed them back out and they had to settle for three again, this time from 34 yards out.
Then, trying to make something happen in the last minute since the Pokes would get the ball to start the second half, Howard threw a pick-six to Cameron Epps. That put the Cats in a 20-7 halftime hole.
Oklahoma State basically cruised into K-State territory to start the third quarter, but three decently-defended passes fell incomplete and another Alex Hale field goal, this one from 53, extended the lead to 16.
Howard drove effectively, finally, getting inside the Cowboy 10, but a loss of two by Giddens and a false start pushed them back out to the 16, and on 4th-and-8 from the 13 K-State elected to go for it.
Bad snap, turnover on downs, and a 31-yarder by Hale made it 26-7.
The offense worked again, albeit with a couple of absurdly missed assignments along the way, and Ward finally scored on an 11-yard run... then got called for unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating. The penalty applied to the kickoff, however, not the point-after, and Howard ran it in for two to make the score 26-15.
Thanks to the penalty, and a short kickoff besides, the Cowboys took over at their own 40, but the defense stood up. The offense, however, failed again; Howard threw a howitzer at Giddens on fourth down which Giddens had no realistic chance to catch. Oklahoma State took over at the K-State 26, and immediately picked up 15. The red zone defense once again did its job, and Hale kicked his fifth field goal of the night from 25.
Howard pushed the team down to the 35, then got 29 and 6 on consecutive plays with his own legs to get the Cats within eight points. A double-reverse resulted in in incomplete pass from Keagan Johnson to RJ Garcia, leaving the score 29-21.
As if everything that could go wrong hadn’t already, Jack Blumer’s kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Pokes the ball at the 35. 25 yards later, K-State’s defense held yet again, and Howard took over with 60 yards and 5:17 to go. A 25-yard catch by Brooks on third down kept things moving. But Howard’s third interception, by Nickolas Martin on a pass intended for Sinnott, looked like the final dagger.
The defense forced a 3-and-out, leaving just over three minutes on the clock because the Cats used all three timeouts. Howard hit Giddens, then Johnson. He missed Sinnott, and missed Garcia on what seemed to be obvious pass interference, then overthrew Giddens. On fourth down, his pass was batted down at the line, and that was the dagger.
Howard was 15-34 for 152 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. He led the team in rushing with 104 yards. Sinnott and Giddens each had four catches, which was pretty much indicative of the issue with the offense on the night. Giddens had 65 yards rushing on 16 touches; Ward added 59 on 9.
The Cowboys outgained the Wildcats 412-372, and put 174 rushing yards on the Wildcat defense. K-State had 220 on the ground. Penalties weren’t much of a factor, with only nine called all night for a total of 77 yards on both teams combined. The Cowboys easily won the time of possession battle 34:42-25:18.
WHAT WE LEARNED
1) The defense was still fine, overall.
The first quarter was horrible, and a couple of big plays in the second made the numbers look worse than they were. But the Cowboy offense never set foot in the end zone after their first-possession touchdown and were only 6-18 on third down. K-State held the Pokes to 125 total yards in the second half.
All this took place without Daniel Green and without Jacob Parrish. Green, of course, is out for the year, but Parrish was a scratch tonight. Keenan Garber filled in, and played well including an absolutely brilliant breakup of what could have been a touchdown pass.
2) Marques Sigle actually had a good game individually.
We single this out because he’s been problematic for a month, but tonight he seemed pretty on point. He made several critical stops, and the only “mistake” he could have made really wasn’t; he hit Alan Bowman as he was running out of bounds at one point causing questions as to whether it was a late hit. But the hit was arguably in-bounds or at least right on the line, and while Bowman was still upright and moving downfield. More to the point, the hit was directly to Bowman’s hip rather than high or low, so there was no question of ill intent.
3) Will Howard was terrible.
There’s no getting around it. There are games where Howard simply seems unable to keep from overthrowing his receivers, and this was one. Time after time, the ball sailed over the outstretched arms of a receiver, and two of his interceptions were absolute howlers, thrown nowhere near a white jersey.
If it weren’t for the consistent overthrowing, we’d again wonder if the receiving corps were to blame instead. Even at that, they might be; it often looked as though nobody was getting any separation (except Keagan Johnson). We’re also left to question Johnson’s limited snaps, and wondering if he and Howard just aren’t clicking — in game or in practice.
4) This team was unprepared at game time, period.
There are times when you can watch a team and just see that their heads aren’t in the game. The first quarter fits this perfectly. Assignments were being missed left and right, and the posture just looked lethargic. With 13 days to prepare, the coaches should not have come up against a team as average as Oklahoma State with a game plan which resulted in a straight hour of constant embarrassment. This team looked for all the world like it was 1987, which is the one inexcusable crime in Manhattan.
And if anyone would like to ask Collin Klein why he seems determined to make his players fit his offense this year rather than making his offense fit his players, be our guest.
5) To their credit, they got it together.
The defense held the Cowboys to five field goals after the initial touchdown. Howard’s pick-six ended up being the deciding factor in the game; if that doesn’t happen, his touchdown run would have resulted in a 22-21 game with a decision to kick and tie or go for it for the lead. The offense was even mostly effective in the second half, only hamstrung by the desperation of facing a 23-7 deficit early in the third quarter.
But to be a good football team, you have to be good for 60 minutes, not just 25.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME:
On offense, we’re going with Treshaun Ward, simply for coming back from injury and managing over six yards a carry. Nobody else earned it anyway. On defense, and you won’t believe we’re saying this, the entire secondary. Kobe Savage, Will Lee, Marques Sigle, and VJ Payne combined for 29 tackles, two tackles for loss, and aside from two 45-yard completions only gave up 148 yards through the air and no touchdowns period. After savaging the unit for a month, they earned the joint accolade this week.
Back to Saturday football as the Cats stay on the road for a 6pm kick at Texas Tech.