Bill Snyder wasn’t sure what to expect in Kansas State’s locker room following a deflating 24-21 loss to North Dakota State on Friday. He hadn’t suffered a season-opening defeat since his first season, 1989. K-State players had never experienced one at the college level.
This was new ground for everyone.
Still, Snyder didn’t like what he saw behind those closed doors.
“I would like to see a whole bunch of mad guys, in all honesty,” Snyder said. “I did not see any. That is concerning, for sure. They are certainly disappointed, and they are hurt.… But nobody is knocking any walls down. I know that.”
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The subdued emotions could be explained. The Wildcats were stunned from a loss they never saw coming. They took a 14-point lead early in the third quarter and appeared on their way to victory. Instead, the top-ranked Bison of the Football Championship Subdivision reeled off 17 unanswered points and clinched the game with a devastating 80-yard, 18-play touchdown drive in the final moments.
The loss hadn’t hit them yet.
Snyder also must not have taken a close look at senior receiver Tramaine Thompson or junior center B.J. Finney. They were livid.
“Guys were upset, maybe he didn’t see every single person and he was talking as a whole, but there were guys that were upset,” Thompson said. “Nobody is happy about losing a game like that. If they are, they are probably not on our team.”
Echoed Finney: “I’m pretty upset. I’m pretty angry with it, because I made mistakes I shouldn’t have. I should have played better and it kind of went through the unit. I have to hold myself to a higher standard. I am going to hold everyone in that unit to a higher standard. We have got to execute and we have got to be better.”
There was plenty of blame to go around, but much of it will end up on the shoulders of K-State’s offensive line. Last year it paved the way for 5,218 yards of offense and one of the nation’s top running attacks, and returned six starters. Some expected the Wildcats to have the best offensive line in the Big 12 this season. They were supposed to outclass North Dakota State in both talent and depth, especially with experienced running back John Hubert behind them.
But it didn’t matter. K-State managed 41 rushing yards on 23 attempts and continually lost the battle up front. One play in the second half summed up the night. Jake Waters handed the ball off to Hubert for what could have been a productive play. A hole was opening up on the left side, and he was ready to burst through it. But right guard Keenan Taylor, who was playing in place of Boston Stiverson, who was out with a foot injury, was beaten so badly that North Dakota State was able to tackle Hubert for a loss within a second of getting the ball.
“We made a lot of mistakes and took a lot of things for granted,” Finney said. “North Dakota State did a good job of game-planning and gave us some looks we weren’t ready for. We just have to be better overall as a team and a unit.”
Hubert didn’t do the offensive line any favors by showing hesitation and rushing for 23 yards on 10 carries. Neither did the coaching staff. Daniel Sams ran for a 17-yard touchdown on his first play from scrimmage in the third quarter and was rarely used afterward, carrying the ball one more time.
But Waters and K-State’s receivers were busy.
Perhaps that is the most shocking part of K-State’s struggles up front. Waters opened up the field by throwing for 280 yards and hitting Tyler Lockett and Thompson for big gains, but the Wildcats were unable to take advantage on the ground.
For Lockett, that was frustrating.
“You could say that,” Lockett said. “We need the running game to open up more passes. That is just something we have to look at. We have got to watch film and see what happened notice the stunts they gave us and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.”
Snyder is confident K-State’s offensive line will improve.
“They are bright enough and have played together long enough,” Snyder said. “I just think we got beat on the other side, and did not do all the things that we needed to do.”
It might take anger for K-State to respond from its 0-1 start. It hadn’t lost to a FCS team since 1989, either. It will definitely take better blocking up front.
“I’m coming back with my work boots on,” Finney said, “and (offensive line) Coach (Charles) Dickey is coming back with his work boots on. We are going to figure this out. We are going to make this happen one way or another. It just depends on how guys are going to handle this. Are they going to fall apart or come together? This team is a very tight team. I believe we are going to handle it perfectly.”