Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz emerged from the visiting locker room with something to say following a 14-7 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
“It’s a tough loss,” Ertz said. “The offense totally feels like it is our fault.”
The defeat was stunning for everyone involved, but it was especially frustrating for Ertz. He did all he could to help the Wildcats on the ground by rushing for a game-high 126 yards and a touchdown, fighting for every inch in a game where nothing came easy. But he was also dreadful through the air, completing 10 of 28 passes for 76 yards and two interceptions.
The highlight throws and fortuitous plays that were prominent throughout K-State’s first two games disappeared. It went from averaging 55 points to scoring seven, from gaining big yardage to punting seven times, from rarely making mistakes to erring left and right. It went from winning to losing.
“We didn’t execute today,” Ertz said. “We didn’t make near enough plays to win. We didn’t deserve to be in the game.”
K-State’s offensive woes were plentiful, and there was lots of blame to go around. But they could best be summed up on K-State’s final drive, a last-gasp attempt to tie the game and force overtime in the waning moments.
Here’s what happened: The No. 18 Wildcats (2-1) forced the Commodores (3-0) to punt with 4 minutes, 17 seconds remaining. K-State took over at midfield and appeared to be on its way to something good when running back Alex Barnes broke free for 17 yards. But a personal foul by right tackle Dalton Risner moved the ball back 15 yards.
The Wildcats were back where they started. Ertz then picked up two first downs on the ground, advancing to the Vanderbilt 21. Barnes then ran for four yards on first down. There was still hope. But Ertz was sacked on second down and Dominique Heath dropped a pass just shy of the goal line on third down. They only had one more chance.
It was fourth-and-eight from the Vandy 19, and K-State coaches called a pass. The offensive line provided good protection and Isaiah Harris got open across the middle, but Ertz was hesitant to throw after watching his receivers drop well-thrown passes earlier in the game. So he took off running, only to come up a yard shy of the first-down marker.
“I don’t think we panicked,” Ertz said. “I think we fought until the end. We were trying to make adjustments. We just didn’t make the plays to win the game.”
Vanderbilt deserves credit for stopping K-State. The Commodores entered with one of the nation’s best defenses, having allowed a total of six points in their first two games.
Still, K-State’s offense seemed a bit off.
“Every drive we went out there we wanted to put points on the board,” Risner said. “But we kept backing ourselves up with penalties or five yard losses or interceptions or a tackle in the backfield. It felt like we were shooting ourselves in the foot all night.”
Consequently, the Wildcats went from blowing out teams at home to looking overmatched against a team they were favored to beat, especially in front of a friendly road crowd that was half purple.
The Commodores took advantage and made just enough offensive plays of their own to stay undefeated.
The way Ertz and Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur played in his first two games, some thought this would be an aerial showcase. It was more of an offensive struggle.
K-State’s only source of reliable offense came on quarterback keepers. Vanderbilt kept Barnes in check. K-State receivers uncharacteristically battled drops. And the offensive line didn’t look sharp.
“Our secondary stepped up big,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “They were huge. We had to figure out how to stop the run game. We had to figure out how to make them one-dimensional. I thought it would be by stopping the run, but we figured out how to stop the pass.”
Vanderbilt wasn’t much better against a K-State defense that turned in its finest effort of the season, but it was good enough. Shurmur completed 14 of 23 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. He also cashed in on a short run in the fourth quarter.
It was an unusual touchdown run, as he intended to pass to his right but ended up scampering up the middle after barely holding onto a low snap.
“We got better on defense,” junior defensive back D.J. Reed said. “We got tougher. Vanderbilt is a tough team. They challenged us. We answered the call, but we came up short.”
The Wildcats had plenty of time to respond, but they were unable to do so. They will probably look back at this one and think about what could have been. Even though they only scored seven points, they came painfully close to putting 24 on the scoreboard.
The most notable of those plays came in the second quarter when defensive back Kendall Adams briefly appeared to scoop up a Shurmur fumble and return it 30 yards for a touchdown. The large contingent of visiting fans cheered what appeared to be Adams’ third defensive touchdown in two games, but the play was overturned on video review.
Later, defensive back D.J. Reed appeared to score on a long punt return, but that touchdown was nullified by an illegal block by Brogan Barry.
Matthew McCrane also missed a 42-yard field goal that could have given the Wildcats a 10-7 lead.
Everything that went right in their first two victories seemed to go wrong at Vanderbilt Stadium.
“That goes back to me,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “There’s not the discipline that we need to have on our football team, and consequently, you get some of those kinds of penalties. Not just the two that called back touchdowns, but there were some other penalties that were very costly.”
Vanderbilt 14, No. 18 Kansas St. 7
VAN—Duncan 2 pass from Shurmur (Openshaw kick), 4:06
KST—Ertz 15 run (McCrane kick), 14:53
VAN—Shurmur 2 run (Openshaw kick), 8:23
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Kansas St., Ertz 24-126, Silmon 3-41, Barnes 8-34. Vanderbilt, Webb 21-46, Dobbs 1-10, Blasingame 5-7, Lipscomb 1-5, Shurmur 2-0, (Team) 2-(minus 3).
PASSING—Kansas St., Ertz 10-28-2-76. Vanderbilt, Shurmur 14-23-0-205.
RECEIVING—Kansas St., Zuber 4-37, Pringle 3-25, Valentine 1-8, Dimel 1-3, Barnes 1-3. Vanderbilt, Duncan 6-52, Sherfield 4-97, Jar.Pinkney 2-41, Lipscomb 2-15.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Kansas St., McCrane 42.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett