GLENDALE, Ariz. — That’s twice now that Bill Snyder and Collin Klein, who carry the blood through Kansas State’s football veins, have fallen flat in bowl games.
Thursday night, in the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon, Snyder couldn’t coach and Klein couldn’t quarterback and the game turned out to be a big disappointment for a K-State team that hasn’t won a bowl game since 2002.
In droves, Wildcat fans follow this team wherever it goes. But in this game, a 35-17 loss, they were let down by a team that looked unprepared and rusty, even with almost five weeks to prepare.
That was also the case in last year’s Cotton Bowl, a 29-16 loss to Arkansas.
The Fiesta Bowl, with such a big buildup in that it involved two teams that were on the edges of the national championship picture, lost much of its considerable suspense early. When Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas returned the game’s opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, the game was on. And K-State was unable to jump on the Oregon train, which sped through the Arizona desert.
Snyder, whose pedigree is well documented, nonetheless had his second questionable bowl game in a row. Against Arkansas, Snyder became too conservative early in the second half when the Cats needed to be cut loose. And he did more of the same against Oregon, especially by choosing to punt the football away with just more than seven minutes left in the game and his team down by 15 points.
Oregon proceeded to run more than five minutes off the clock before kicking a field goal.
There was also an awful mess at the end of the first half.
K-State, down 15-10 and with the ball at the Oregon 18-yard line, lined up to go for it on 4th-and-1. But tackle Cornelius Lucas was called for a false-start penalty and Snyder made the right choice of kicking a field goal. Only the almost-always reliable Anthony Cantele missed a 40-yarder and Oregon proceeded to 77 yards on only five plays for the most damaging score of the night.
I also didn’t understand why Snyder didn’t use tailback Angelo Pease on the first two series of the second half, after Pease gave a charge to the K-State offense in the first half by rushing for 33 yards on four carries and catching a pass for 12 yards.
Instead of Pease, Snyder went with John Hubert, who had three touchdown runs in the regular-season finale against Texas but otherwise had a so-so second half of the season.
By the time Pease got back on the field, K-State was down 32-10.
K-State’s special teams were awful and the Wildcats were called for seven penalties. They looked rusty and out of sync offensively most of the night, except for some nice play from Pease and senior receiver Chris Harper, who had six catches for 55 yards in the first half but only two for 16 in the second.
“We were beaten by a better team,’’ Snyder said. “We made too many mistakes.’’
Snyder’s lack of bowl success – he’s now 6-8 in the postseason without a win since a 2002 victory over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl – has to be eating at him.
He’s a coach known for precision and the book on him is that with more than the usual time to prepare, he’ll find the vulnerabilities of the opposing team and expose every last one of them.
Instead, the trend has been for K-State to appear dazed and confused after these long layoffs. Obviously, Snyder wanted this one badly. Instead, K-State kicked away a chance at its first 12-win season.
Klein hasn’t really been right since going down with an undisclosed injury in the Oklahoma State game two months ago. He rushed for 30 yards on 13 carries against an Oregon defense that had him targeted from the first play. There were even a couple of late hits on Klein that weren’t flagged as the Ducks charged him aggressively and with some malice.
Forced to pass because of the game-long deficit, Klein completed 17 of 32 for 151 yards.
“I mean, it’s hard,’’ Klein said. “It’s not the way any of us wanted to go out. You know, that’s the way it goes.’’
Klein’s numbers were eerily and disappointingly similar to those he put up in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas, when he rushed for 42 yards on 24 carries and completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 173 yards.
It’s too bad Klein’s tremendous college career had to end on such a sour note. He’s been such a force and such a leader and Snyder continued to sing Klein’s praises even after a loss.
“He’s a wonderful family man, a great teammate with his players, he makes the best out of everything he has,’’ Snyder said. “And he strongly believes in those values we talk about so often and you and I want to teach our children.’’
But in the two biggest games of his college career, Klein was sub-par. The teams K-State played were able to devise ways to minimize his effectiveness.
Oregon’s offense was supposed to be the difference maker, but it was the Ducks’ defense that was the story of the game. It limited K-State to 283 yards and had it not been for a pass interference call in the first half, the Wildcats’ only touchdown in the first 48:25 might have been averted.
More than 25,000 K-State fans came to the desert, hopeful the team they love could shock the world.
The loss won’t shake their faith. But they’re probably ready to see K-State win a bowl game. It’s been too long.