We saw the best and the worst of Kansas State’s football team during a 24-21 victory over Texas on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
At times, the Wildcats were so good it felt like they could do no wrong, churning out more yards (405) than they previously had against a conference opponent and dominating time of possession (38 minutes, 27 seconds) while building a 24-7 lead.
At others, the Wildcats were so mistake-prone they appeared in danger of letting it all slip away. A fumble at the goal line, a fumble on a quarterback sneak and an interception (all in the second half) left K-State coach Bill Snyder preaching consistency.
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“It beats the tar out of a loss, but it’s not so much about the win as it is about the how,” Snyder said. “That is my concern … That’s why you don’t see me jumping up and down.”
Still, the good outweighed the bad and K-State (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) beat Texas (3-4, 1-3) in a toss-up game that could go a long way toward determining whether they go on to have a successful season. A loss would have been crushing, but that’s only a concern for the Longhorns, who have lost in five straight trips to Manhattan, dating back to 2002.
With Iowa State and Oklahoma State up next, the schedule is set up for K-State to go on a winning streak.
The Wildcats won by delivering their best offensive half of the season and making big plays on defense.
“We were at a crossroads,” K-State receiver Deante Burton said after catching four passes for 53 yards. “At 3-3, we had to make a choice in what we wanted to fight for. At this point in the season, if we keep losing games, we are really fighting for nothing. We had a choice to make and we came out and played well.”
K-State was at its best on defense, but it took a big step forward on offense. A week after struggling in a loss against Oklahoma, it out-gained Texas by 61 yards and kept the Longhorns off the field for the majority of the first half, making it difficult for them to find a rhythm.
The Wildcats led 21-7 at halftime, 24-7 in the third quarter and 24-14 until the final minute, despite losing three turnovers. They were good enough to overcome mistakes.
An ideal start set them up for success.
Many wondered how well K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz would be able to throw the ball seven days after injuring his shoulder so badly he couldn’t finish the Oklahoma game, but he silenced those doubts on his first pass, hitting Burton for 31 yards on a lofted throw down the sideline.
That seemed to rattle the Longhorns. After getting beat over the top, they spent the rest of the game in soft coverage, lining up defensive backs 10-15 yards off K-State’s receivers. Ertz took advantage by throwing mostly lateral passes that receivers turned into solid gains. That led to his best stat line of the season: 20 of 27 for 171 yards and a touchdown. He also added 78 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“He gave everything he had,” Burton said of Ertz, who didn’t speak with media. “He fought and played hard. He got after it. He is only going to build off it. His confidence is sky high.”
It wasn’t a perfect day, as Ertz threw an interception and lost a fumble, but it was progress.
He led K-State to touchdowns on its first two drives, scampering through traffic for scores on keepers, then found Byron Pringle in the back of the end zone in the final moments of the first half.
That was more than some expected, given he was playing hurt.
“I think you could see some of his throws were soft,” Snyder said, “and he just couldn’t get it out there. He would have gotten a lot more out of some of those throws if he could have thrown it (at full strength), and he will be able to do that next week. It is one of those things that is going to get better and he is going to get stronger.”
K-State might want to repeat this offensive strategy. Dominique Heath, Burton and Pringle all had more than 40 receiving yards. Charles Jones rushed for 81 yards on 12 carries, though he lost a fumble at the goal line that cost K-State a touchdown in the third quarter. And Justin Silmon rushed for 58 yards on 11 carries.
That gave the defense all kinds of rest.
“At one point I was like, ‘Man, this is easy,’ ” K-State defensive back D.J. Reed said. “I never experienced anything like that before. It was easier than practice.”
The Wildcats appeared on their way to a blowout victory when Jones approached the goal line early in the third quarter, but he fumbled at the last moment. It was the first time since 2015 they failed to score inside the 20, ending a streak of 56 straight scoring trips.
Texas pounced on the loose ball and began to mount a comeback.
“It is always tough to lose a game when you know you had the opportunities to win it,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “You look back at the first half, and we did not play well.”
K-State made sure of that by taking care of business on defense, limiting Texas running back D’onta Foreman to 124 yards on 24 attempts and forcing four punts. Outside of an 80-yard touchdown pass from Shane Buechele to Devin Duvernay, in which K-State defensive back Duke Shelley bit on a pump fake and got beat deep, the Longhorns had few big plays.
Senior defensive end Jordan Willis, who had seven tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble, made life difficult for Buechele.
Those type of plays more than made up for a handful of mistakes.
“This was an important win for us,” Willis said. “It was a rebound win for us. To have it at this time, to start the second half of the season, is a big boost. I like what we were able to do.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State 24
KSU: Ertz 6 run (McCrane kick), 9:23
KSU: Ertz 19 run (McCrane kick), 13:32
TEX: De.Duvernay 80 pass from Buechele (Domingue kick), 4:03
KSU: Pringle 8 pass from Ertz (McCrane kick), :09
KSU: FG McCrane 35, 4:30
TEX: Swoopes 8 run (Domingue kick), :31
TEX: Leonard 6 pass from Buechele (Domingue kick), :46
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Texas, D.Foreman 24-124, Swoopes 2-11, Porter 1-1, Buechele 9-(minus 3), (Team) 2-(minus 11). Kansas St., C.Jones 12-81, Ertz 18-78, Silmon 11-58, Barnes 4-17, Hubener 1-9, Heath 1-2, Warmack 1-(minus 2), Dimel 1-(minus 3), (Team) 2-(minus 6).
PASSING: Texas, Buechele 17-24-0-222. Kansas St., Ertz 20-27-1-171.
RECEIVING: Texas, C.Johnson 4-22, Leonard 3-27, Warrick 3-19, A.Foreman 2-17, De.Duvernay 1-80, Oliver 1-23, D.Foreman 1-20, Joe 1-7, Heard 1-7. Kansas St., Heath 7-41, Burton 4-53, Pringle 4-42, C.Jones 2-14, Zuber 2-9, Dimel 1-12.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Texas, Domingue 35.