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Friday, July 25, 2014

Bob Lutz: K-State's magic fails to appear

BY BOB LUTZ
The Wichita Eagle

ARLINGTON, Texas — I know, until the last grain of sand is left in the hourglass, Kansas State football fans believe the combination of Coach Bill Snyder and quarterback Collin Klein will pull the Wildcats through.

It wasn't any different Friday night in the Cotton Bowl. Despite falling behind early and despite an offense that was limited to 60 yards in the first half, there was the same feeling that had existed for so many K-State games this season.

It's never over until it's over.

Well, it's over. The game ended well after 11 p.m. Friday night and Arkansas won 29-16. There were hints of one of those amazing Klein-engineered comebacks, but nothing materialized. What may have been Kansas State's best chance resulted in a strange decision by Snyder to punt the ball instead of going for a fourth-and-5 from the Arkansas 37-yard line late in the third quarter with Kansas State trailing by 10, 26-16.

Convert that fourth down and who knows? The pressure on the Razorbacks would have doubled and K-State might have scored to clamp down on the Hogs even tighter.

As it was, though, Snyder chose to put the ball into the hands of his punter, Ryan Doerr, instead of the quarterback who has spit in the face of doubters all season. To the point where there are no doubters any more.

I know what Snyder was thinking. Kill a punt inside the 10-yard line and allow what was a stout Kansas State defense to quickly get you the ball back.

Instead, Doerr's punt landed seven yards into the end zone for a touchback. Arkansas got the ball at its 20 — a 17-yard net gain for Kansas State — and proceeded to hold on to it for 10 plays before punting back to the Wildcats, who started their next possession 80 yards from the end zone and with valuable minutes taken off the clock.

Would Klein have converted the fourth-and-5? No guarantees, especially considering how well the speedy and physical Arkansas defense contained him and the rest of the Wildcats' offense.

Klein didn't put up big numbers. He rushed 24 times but for only 42 yards. He was often hurried in the pocket when he had time to pass, finally completing 16 of 30 attempts for 173 yards.

It was obvious early that if Kansas State was going to have a chance in this game, it would have to roll the dice at times and hope Arkansas had some brain lapses.

The Razorbacks obliged late in the first half. Leading 19-2 — KSU's two came after another blocked PAT by Raphael Guidry and subsequent return by Nigel Malone — Arkansas wasn't content to take that lead to the locker room with 1:27 remaining.

First, Razorbacks' coach Bobby Petrino called for a long first-down pass play from the Arkansas 13. Quarterback Tyler Wilson threw a great pass, intended for speedster Joe Adams. But it was broken up by K-State safety Ty Zimmerman.

But instead of relenting and settling for a nice halftime cushion, Petrino kept pushing. The next play resulted in a four-yard pass play. Then Wilson went back to pass again, only to be rushed out of the pocket and forced to run. Hit by the Wildcats' Adam Davis, Wilson lost the ball and his fumble was recovered by K-State's Ryan Mueller at the Arkansas 13.

Three plays later, Klein hooked up with tight end Andre McDonald for a three-yard touchdown pass.

Game on because the light bulb in Petrino's brain turned off, allowing a struggling Kansas State to gain a glimmer of hope.

Given what Kansas State has been able to accomplish in the second half of games this season, a 10-point deficit seemed like nothing. And with the Wildcats getting the first possession of the second half, it was too easy to predict what would come next.

Sure enough, K-State marched right down the field - 60 yards in six plays — to score. It was 19-16 and Klein was finding his mojo, having rushed for 21 yards on the drive and adding another 21 through the air.

That's why the decision to punt later in the third quarter — even on fourth down with a good distance to go — surprised me, especially since Arkansas had regained its 10-point lead after a nine-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Cobi Hamilton.

There was a chance there for K-State to get close again, and chances were few and far between for Kansas State. The Wildcats had driven the football 43 yards on that drive, including 23- and 15-yard completions from Klein to Tramaine Thompson and Brodrick Smith. Previous to the decision to punt, Klein had thrown a good pass to Chris Harper, which Harper should have caught but didn't.

After lining up, apparently with the intentions of trying to convert the fourth-and-5, Snyder called timeout. And then he sent out the punt team. And the punter kicked the ball into the end zone.

Kansas State didn't score after its initial third-quarter drive. Kicker Anthony Cantele missed a 42-yard field goal with 6:36 left in the game, three points that could have made it a touchdown game.

The attempted field goal was the right call because it could have created a one-score game.

The decision to punt in the third quarter, though, was questionable. Even though Klein wasn't having one of this trademark games, he's K-State's biggest and most-trusted playmaker. Go for it on fourth-and-five. Go for it with Collin Klein.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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