A sign of how things went for Kansas State during a 63-7 demolition of Florida Atlantic on Saturday: Three of its touchdown drives lasted one play.
The Wildcats dominated the Owls, piling up 495 yards on offense and forcing four turnovers on defense. But no stat summed up the blowout better than K-State’s scoring efficiency.
Three times, Florida Atlantic turned the ball over within 12 yards of its end zone. Three times, K-State scored on the following play.
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“That was so nice,” K-State fullback Winston Dimel said after rushing for 19 yards and four touchdowns. “Getting the ball on the 1, or inside the 10, makes things so easy. It’s a lot easier than having to drive the whole field. Touchdowns like that boost everyone’s confidence.”
K-State’s confidence started rising in the first quarter with an interception from Kendall Adams that he returned to the 10-yard line. Dimel scored on the next play. Next, linebacker Charmeachealle Moore returned a fumble within scoring range and quarterback Jesse Ertz scored on a 12-yard keeper. Then Dimel scored immediately after K-State recovered a fumble at the 1.
Throw in a 75-yard punt return touchdown from Dominique Heath in the third quarter and it was an unusual day of quick-strike scores.
That made things easy two weeks after they opened the season with a 26-13 loss at Stanford. The Wildcats (1-1) led 42-0 at halftime and flooded the field with backups in the fourth quarter.
Still, K-State coach Bill Snyder was angry. Though he was pleased with the final score, he was outraged by 13 for 131 yards.
“We totally lacked discipline to play this game,” Snyder said. “Seven of (the penalties were) on wide receivers, the rest of them holding calls. That is why I am angry right now. It’s nothing more than discipline. If you don’t have discipline you may get a game or two like this, but when you line up and play in our conference without discipline you are going to be hanging your head.”
K-State players understood Snyder’s message, but they also walked out of the locker room feeling like they took a step forward.
If K-State continues to look sharp on defense and strong in the running game, it will be able to endure a normal amount of penalties.
The Wildcats looked most improved in the secondary. After struggling at times to slow Stanford’s passing attack, they clamped down on Florida Atlantic’s receivers, intercepting two passes. Adams, a safety, made the first pick in zone coverage on an ill-advised pass from FAU quarterback Jason Driskel. Cornerback D.J. Reed made the other in man coverage.
Both were helped by K-State’s defensive line, which pressured Driskel throughout. At one point, he was so flustered that he let the ball slip out of his hands for a fumble while trying to throw a screen pass.
The Wildcats sacked him four times. Jordan Willis and Reggie Walker were consistently in the backfield, pressuring him into mistakes.
“One of our goals every week is to create three turnovers,” senior safety Dante Barnett said. “When we got the third one, everyone was happy about it. Then Coach Snyder came up to us and said, ‘I’m greedy, I want another one.’ It felt amazing to go out there and get a fourth.”
K-State’s defense had the freedom to take chances the way the offense was playing in front of 50,871 fans at Snyder Family Stadium.
Florida Atlantic entered the day sporting one of the nation’s worst run defenses, coming off a loss to Miami in which it allowed 279 rushing yards. K-State running backs were even more effective on the ground against the Owls, helping the Wildcats rush for 336 yards and seven touchdowns.
Dimel led the way with 19 yards and four touchdowns, Ertz added 40 yards and a touchdown, Alex Barnes finished with 73 yards and Alex Delton and Joe Hubener both scored. But Dalvin Warmack was the most explosive running back on the field, gaining 90 yards on nine attempts.
Overall, K-State averaged 6.9 yards per rush. That made for a much different, and happier, scene than the Stanford loss, in which the Wildcats averaged 2.9 yards.
“I have been seeing things around that our running backs haven’t broken a long run in a while,” Warmack said. “We all took it upon ourselves to keep that in mind coming into this game. We wanted to be playmakers.”
They were, which meant Ertz didn’t have to do much in the passing game. But his 117 yards and a touchdown helped the cause. He was at his best on the opening drive, when he found Heath for a 20-yard touchdown on a well-placed throw against coverage.
The Wildcats were sloppy from the start, committing three penalties on their opening drive, but they scored all the same.
It was a sign of things to come. K-State played too well for penalties to matter against an overmatched opponent.
“It’s never good to be in that situation,” Ertz said, “but we did a pretty good job digging out of those holes on second-and-long, third-and-long. That is something to be happy with.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett