As John Hubert broke free for the second-longest run in school history late Saturday night, Kansas State’s 51-9 victory over Missouri State at Snyder Family Stadium felt like most early season games between mismatched opponents.
The team from a BCS conference held a large lead over the lesser-known visitors, and victory was assured.
Backup quarterback Daniel Sams would later enter the game and scramble past defenders for a 46-yard touchdown run, Chris Harper would later catch a fade pass in the corner of the end zone and Tramaine Thompson would later return a punt 89 yards for a breathtaking score.
It was exactly the way K-State wanted to finish things after needing to come from behind to defeat Eastern Kentucky 10-7 in their season-opening game last season. This was much easier than that. But, for a while, it didn’t look like that was going to be the case.
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“We were tremendous tonight … later on,” said senior fullback Braden Wilson, who ignited a 35-point fourth quarter by running in a four-yard touchdown with 14 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. “We really struggled for a while. We picked it up and played great, but we came out rusty and started slow.”
K-State players will have a week to fix that problem before Miami comes to town for a highly-anticipated game. They will also have three full quarters of mediocre football to sort through while they search for answers.
That’s how long it took the Wildcats to pull away from Missouri State. It wasn’t until senior quarterback Collin Klein, who threw for 169 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 54 yards on the ground, found Tramaine Thompson in the left corner of the end zone with an 18-yard pass in the middle of the third quarter that the Wildcats scored their first touchdown.
From there, everything came easy and K-State’s offense looked explosive. But until that point, everything came hard.
Both teams swapped field goals in the first half, and K-State entered the third quarter with a 9-6 lead despite driving into the red zone three times in the first half. When Missouri State answered back with a field goal of its own early in the second half, the game was tied at 9-9 and the sellout crowd of 50,007 was nervous.
K-State players were anxious, too.
“I figured we’d be scoring a little bit more touchdowns than field goals,” said Anthony Cantele, who made three field goals. “… Starting off that way I was like, ‘Oh no, not again.’ I don’t really like those close games, but the offense pulled it off. I knew they would.”
Still, it wasn’t what they were hoping for.
“We talked all week about starting fast,” said Harper. “Then we come out and start real slow.”
Missouri State hung with K-State by throwing for big yardage across the middle. The Wildcats secondary seemed ill prepared to deal with the Bears’ hurry-up offense in the first half, and was fortunate to allow nothing worse than field goals.
K-State’s defense played tough near the goal line, but allowed plenty of yardage between the 20s. Missouri State finished with 418 yards of offense and would have scored a touchdown on its first play from scrimmage had quarterback Ashton Glaser, who passed for 257 yards, not overthrown a wide open receiver.
“I do not think the final score showed how we really played in the game,” Glaser said. “But it happens. We missed some opportunities.”
The Wildcats adjusted as the game went on.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but we bounced back and kept them out of the end zone,” said senior linebacker Justin Tuggle, who made his first start at the position. “We have a lot to work on, but I’m proud of the way we played on defense.”
K-State certainly proved itself as the superior team as the game wore on. Not only were the Wildcats rolling on offense and special teams, they found success on defense.
The Bears never threatened to score, and Nigel Malone intercepted a pass that erased all hope of a comeback. Some would point to that as a defining moment in the game, but not K-State football coach Bill Snyder.
“The defining moment of the ball game was the first half. It was a 6-6 ball game,” Snyder said. “The rest of it, we wore them down more than anything else. We had … just a plethora of issues.”
K-State’s secondary will need the most work. But the Wildcats’ passing offense bogged down at times, too. Though Klein played well, he seemed hesitant to pass at times and deferred to scrambles when receivers were open.
Some of that may have been due to K-State coaches allowing him to call his own plays at times. Some of that can be due to jitters.
“First games are weird,” Klein said.
The Wildcats also didn’t need to throw much. Hubert rushed for 152 yards and Angelo Pease added 38 yards. Their rushing attack was strong from start to finish.
That was enough on opening night, but K-State will need more as the season continues.
“We have to start fast. We cannot just come out flat and do what we did against Missouri State, because they are a good team. We have to start fast.”