All spring, Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder warned that the Wildcats weren’t playing well on offense.
Now we know why.
K-State’s annual spring game, often a high-scoring affair with quarterbacks calling their own plays, turned out to be a defensive battle on Saturday. The purple team, made up of starters, beat the white team, compiled of backups, 23-13. But the true winner was K-State’s defense. The true loser was obvious, too.
“Offensively, we just struggled across the board today,” said wide receiver Curry Sexton. “We struggled to move the ball. We can sit here and talk about how the play-calling was vanilla or all that, but we have to be able to move the ball no matter what the situations are.”
The reasons for those offensive woes were many.
For starters, quarterback Jake Waters often looked better running than he did throwing, completing 26 of 38 throws for 227 yards and an interception. Of course, it didn’t help that his receivers dropped some important passes or that star receiver Tyler Lockett watched from the sideline with a minor injury.
Sexton, one of the game’s top performers, caught eight passes for 88 yards, but he dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the second quarter. Deante Burton also came close to hauling in a touchdown grab, but officials ruled that he juggled the ball on his way out of bounds.
“I don’t think we were the kind of football team I wanted to see today,” Snyder said. “There were some good things. There were some bad things. I think the white team probably played collectively better than the purple team did. I think we struggled on offense.”
Penalties, mental errors and a sub-par effort from the offensive line compounded those struggles.
That was most obvious at halftime. During most spring games, Snyder flips a lopsided score and asks his starters to try and out-score the backups by even more in the second half. But when starters went into the locker room up 7-3 on Saturday, the score didn’t change.
“The offense has not been disciplined during the course of the spring,” Snyder said. “Penalties are the biggest thing. We have had some turnover issues and we turned over the ball today again when we had an opportunity to go in and score. If you are excited about beating yourself you better be excited about losing, because that is what is going to happen.”
“I agree with Coach totally,” Waters added. “You have got to give credit to the white defense, but we just didn’t come out prepared. We didn’t play well. I guess we can use that as motivation to get better in the summer.”
There were some quality offensive performances, though. Two of the best happened to come from backups. Joe Hubener completed 11 of 16 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown against the first-team defense. His best highlight was a 51-yard touchdown pass to Judah Jones, a freshman receiver who also lined up at running back.
Snyder suggested several players who suited up for the white team on Saturday may be deserving of moving up the depth chart. Jones, who had 67 yards of offense, may be one of them.
The backups had lots to brag about on defense, too. Weston Hiebert and Donnie Starks led the white team with seven tackles and Corey Jackson broke up two passes.
Randall Evans led the purple team with eight tackles, while also forcing and recovering a fumble. Charmeachealle Moore had six tackles, including two for loss, and Ryan Mueller led all defenders with four tackles for loss.
The white team managed 256 yards. The purple team amassed 353 yards against the backup defense. That defense made for a dull spring game, but it should create optimism for the 2014 season.
A healthy Lockett will instantly improve the offense.
If touted junior-college transfers Terrell Clinkscales, a defensive tackle, and D’Vonta Derricott, a linebacker, can add something to the defense, it may look even better than it did on Saturday.
“We are definitely looking forward to the season,” Mueller said. “We have a lot of leadership back on this defense. Jonathan Truman, Randall Evans and myself are all players who have been out there playing consistently for the last couple seasons. We have experience and we are fast.”
Kaiden Schroeder, a young K-State fan from McPherson who has been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, was inserted into the game late in the third quarter and scored on a 30-yard touchdown run. When the play was over, the entire K-State team celebrated with him in the end zone.
The scripted play, which included Schroeder wearing the No. 44 in honor of Ryan Mueller, his favorite player, and dressing in the team’s locker room, was similar to the scene at Nebraska’s 2013 spring game in which Jack Hoffman scored a 69-yard touchdown.
K-State players knew it was coming, but Schroeder did not.
“That was the highlight of my day,” Waters said. “I was in the backfield with him and he was a little wide eyed and nervous. It was something special. I am just so happy Coach Snyder let us do that.”
Added Mueller: “He was just speechless. His jaw dropped and he couldn’t believe it. That was awesome.”
K-State football players consider Schroeder an extension of the team. Some consider him an inspiration.
“He has overcome battles,” Mueller said. “Who wants to spend their childhood doing that? I didn’t spend my eighth birthday party in a hospital. I can’t imagine going through that. We are all so glad we can help him out.”
Mueller and Schroeder met shortly after the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. Schroeder has had a connection with the K-State football team since.
“That kid has touched so many lives on this football team,” center B.J. Finney said. “The only way I can describe it is he is one of God’s angels. There is no way around it. You look at him, and you see he knows certain things but there is a side of a kid in him. He has that innocence. He has changed some of our lives. I never thought something would move me as much as he did. That kid is such a blessing, and I am glad we could do that for him.”
P — Gronkowski 14 run (Cantele kick)
W — FG McCrane 42
P — Waters 10 run (Cantele kick)
P — FG Cantele 27
W — Jones 51 pass from Hubener (McCrane kick)
W — FG Patterson 46
P — Dowling 1 run