The Kansas State football team will get two weeks to prepare for its next game against Baylor, and that is probably a good thing.
At least that’s what the Wildcats seemed to think in the aftermath of a 14-7 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Their first defeat of the season sent them tumbling out of the national polls (from No. 18) and left them searching for answers, particularly on offense.
They want to make up for it by putting everything they have into their final nine games, all against Big 12 opponents, starting on Sept. 25 at Snyder Family Stadium.
“We have no other choice but to bounce back,” K-State defensive back D.J. Reed said. “I’m not a loser. My teammates aren’t losers. We aren’t losers. We are going to have to bounce back and get prepared for (the rest of the season) this bye week. No playing around, just work.”
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There will be a lot to review from K-State’s trip to Nashville.
On the positive end of the spectrum, the Wildcats played well on defense. After looking a step slow against the run in their first two games, they shut down running back Ralph Webb and limited the Commodores to 65 rushing yards. Vanderbilt gained just 270 yards total.
K-State’s defensive line took a big step forward behind Reggie Walker, Will Geary and Tre Dishon. Elijah Sullivan provided a boost at linebacker and Trent Tanking made a team-high 10 tackles. Most weeks, that is more than enough for victory.
But Vanderbilt also played well on defense, and K-State managed just seven points and 277 yards, well below the prolific numbers it put up against Central Arkansas and Charlotte.
Senior quarterback Jesse Ertz completed 10 of 28 passes for 76 yards and threw two interceptions, receivers uncharacteristically dropped a handful of well-thrown balls and Alex Barnes struggled to find running lanes.
“We made some inappropriate choices, both who to throw to and not to throw to,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “You have to see ahead of your throws.”
Snyder took blame for those mistakes, as well drops and penalties. He said he hasn’t instilled enough discipline for his players to properly secure the ball before turning up field to gain yardage, or to avoid mistakes the way vintage K-State teams have.
K-State players are confident that will change.
“We still have total faith in our offense,” senior linebacker Trent Tanking said. “We know against Baylor everything will be clicking.”
For a team that entered the season with high expectations, losing a game it was favored to win against Vanderbilt was difficult to take.
Reed summed up the final score in one word – sad.
Still, the season is far from over. K-State still expects to contend with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for a Big 12 championship. A bye week followed by a home game against winless Baylor gives it an opportunity to get right before embarking on a tough stretch of games that includes Texas, TCU and Oklahoma.
Ertz compared the Vanderbilt loss to a 17-16 setback against West Virginia last season. The Wildcats felt like they let that game slip away, and, at 2-2, morale was low. But they finished the year by winning seven of their final nine games.
Over the next two weeks, they hope to build toward a similar turnaround.
“We have a pretty mature team,” Ertz said. “We realize that wasn’t a Big 12 team, and we still have a chance at the whole conference. It’s not the end of the road for us. We’ve been here before … We aren’t going to be laying down anytime soon.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett