Kansas State’s defense had trouble with Texas Tech on Saturday, but it didn’t feel that way when things mattered most.
The Wildcats defeated the Red Raiders 44-38 in front of 51,450 at Snyder Family Stadium thanks to a pair of key fourth-down stops in the second half. They negated an evening otherwise full of explosive plays.
The biggest stop occurred late in the third quarter. The score was tied at 31 and Texas Tech faced a fourth-and-7 from the K-State 41. The Red Raiders were churning out yards and the Wildcats were sputtering, so Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury decided to roll the dice and go for it instead of punting.
It was a decision that caught many off guard. A punt seemed like the smart play. Then again, Texas Tech was successful on eight of its first nine third-down conversion attempts. Maybe it would work.
“We are going to play aggressively,” Kingsbury said. “Obviously, they scored some points in the first half and we felt like we had a chance there. We had a play call we liked, it just did not go our way.”
No, it didn’t. K-State defensive end Reggie Walker blew past the offensive line and sacked Patrick Mahomes for a loss of 12 yards.
The Wildcats took over in excellent field position and quickly marched downfield for a go-ahead touchdown on a two-yard run from running back Charles Jones. Then, with momentum on its side, K-State forced Texas Tech into its first three-and-out and then went ahead 41-31 on a Matthew McCrane field goal. Texas Tech then turned the ball over on downs with 4:13 remaining and the Wildcats added another field goal.
The Red Raiders came back to make things interesting, but, at that moment, the game felt over.
“We all felt like we were going to win after that,” K-State defensive back Dante Barnett said. “The atmosphere was crazy that whole drive, and as soon as we got them in third down and fourth down we knew it was time to make a play. We were all shouting, ‘We’re going to make the play. Who’s going to make the play?’ Then we made the play.”
Texas Tech (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) ran circles around K-State (3-2, 1-1) for 592 yards and five touchdowns, but those gaudy numbers meant nothing in the end.
K-State was the superior team when and where it counted.
That was most evident when K-State defensive back D.J. Reed intercepted a screen pass in the first quarter and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown, when K-State receiver Byron Pringle returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, when K-State defensive back Duke Shelley broke up a pass into the end zone on fourth down in the third quarter and when Walker came through with his sack.
Texas Tech won the stat sheet. K-State won the game.
“Defensively, we struggled, but against a very good offensive football team,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “We certainly did not play like we should. However, when you go back and look at the second half and calculate the score, with the expection of that last touchdown, we played pretty well.”
The Wildcats flexed their muscles most in the second half, holding the Red Raiders to 10 points.
But the first half was a wild display of offense. Both teams went back and forth, hitting each other with a barrage of highlight plays and combining for one punt.
Here’s how wacky things were after two quarters: Texas Tech finished with 363 yards, outgaining K-State by 190 yards, and trailed 31-28.
“Anytime you get a special teams score and a defensive score, you can’t ask for anything more than that,” K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz said. “It was a good, overall win.”
Mahomes, the nation’s leading passer, shrugged off a shoulder injury to put on a clinic against K-State’s defense, running for three scores and hooking up with receiver Keke Coutee for a 61-yard touchdown.
The Wildcats were one of the nation’s top defenses in their first four games, allowing 239.8 and 12.5 points per game, but they could do little to stop the Red Raiders early on.
K-State tried to bring extra pressure at Mahomes by blitzing as many as three linebackers on certain plays, but the strategy rarely worked. Time and again, Mahomes hit speedy receivers across the middle that turned short passes into long gains.
When K-State had the ball, it leaned on its running game, Jones in particular. Jones rushed for a career high 128 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
“When he puts his mind to it and runs hard and aggressively, not trying to pick his way around, he really helps,” Snyder said of Jones. “He does not find those creases to run to if the offensive line is not doing a good job, so I was pleased with the progess we made. But he did run extremely hard.”
Ertz added 83 yards and a score on 10 carries. That production made up for a mediocre passing day from Ertz in which he completed 10 of 20 passes for 104 yards and hooked up with Isaiah Zuber for a touchdown pass. It also helped K-State’s defense stay off the field and rest between drives.
The Wildcats needed all the rest they could get, as they allowed the Red Raiders to pull within 44-38 in the closing seconds and then recover an onside kick. Texas Tech lined up for a Hail Mary attempt on the final play, but it never had a chance. K-State linebacker Charmeachealle Moore hit Mahomes from behind before he could hurl a pass to the end zone.
Once again, K-State was the better team at an important moment.
“We got after the quarterback and shook him,” K-State defensive back Duke Shelley said. “Our defensive line locked down, and that gave us confidence that if we covered long enough we were going to get stops. That gave us confidence, and once we started playing with confidence we never stopped.”
Kansas State 44
Texas Tech 38
TT: Mahomes 1 run (Hatfield kick), 9:48
KSU: Zuber 12 pass from Ertz (McCrane kick), 6:28
KSU: D.Reed 35 interception return (McCrane kick), 4:19
TT: Coutee 61 pass from Mahomes (Hatfield kick), 2:38
KSU: FG McCrane 20, 14:09
TT: Mahomes 16 run (Hatfield kick), 11:19
KSU: Ertz 1 run (McCrane kick), 5:43
TT: Mahomes 3 run (Hatfield kick), 1:47
KSU: Pringle 99 kickoff return (McCrane kick), 1:31
TT: FG Hatfield 34, 5:17
KSU: C.Jones 2 run (McCrane kick), 14:07
KSU: FG McCrane 25, 6:05
KSU: FG McCrane 52, 1:56
TT: Batson 15 pass from Mahomes (Hatfield kick), :05
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Texas Tech, Felton 14-66, Q.White 2-8, Mahomes 9-(minus 3), Stockton 3-(minus 8). Kansas St., C.Jones 19-128, Ertz 10-83, Warmack 8-21, Dimel 1-1, (Team) 1-(minus 2).
PASSING: Texas Tech, Batson 1-1-0-25, Mahomes 45-62-1-504. Kansas St., Ertz 10-20-0-104.
RECEIVING: Texas Tech, Cantrell 10-81, Lauderdale 7-92, Batson 6-56, Coutee 5-130, Giles 4-49, R.Davis 4-34, Sadler 3-26, Stockton 3-13, Willies 2-18, Q.White 1-25, Felton 1-5. Kansas St., Zuber 3-35, Pringle 2-26, Heath 2-21, Burton 2-16, C.Jones 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett