Everything finally came together for the Kansas State Wildcats during a 31-12 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
After six games of inconsistent play that featured the occasional strong effort on offense and the occasional quality showing on defense — but never both at the same time — K-State finally looked sharp in both areas.
That led to a much-needed victory that could serve as a turning point for this team. It felt appropriate that the game was played under clear skies. Sun, literally and figuratively, shined on K-State. A season that felt disappointing when the day began suddenly seemed full of optimism.
The Wildcats (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) were at their best on defense, holding the usually high-octane Cowboys (4-3, 1-3) to 311 yards and one touchdown. OSU running back Justice Hill, one of the best skill players in college football, managed just 41 yards on 11 carries.
It was a complete flip from last week, when K-State missed 23 tackles and surrendered 557 yards against Baylor. Behind the excellent play of Duke Shelley, Justin Hughes and Wyatt Hubert, the Wildcats flexed their defensive muscles and kept this game within reach until they found their groove on offense.
And they sure found their groove in the second half. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their final four drives.
Alex Barnes rushed for 181 yards and four touchdowns. The Pittsburg junior is emerging as, perhaps, the best running back in the Big 12 behind a resurgent offensive line. But he was also a weapon in the passing game, catching three passes for 51 yards.
K-State struggled mightily to move the ball in the first half, but Barnes eventually opened things up for quarterback Skylar Thompson and the passing attack, which led to 28 points in the second half.
Thompson completed 11 of 22 passes for 130 yards. He also rushed for 80 yards, mostly on scrambles.
Oklahoma State led 6-3 at halftime, but it was all K-State from there.
Momentum started to turn immediately when K-State forced a quick Oklahoma State punt and Thompson led the Wildcats on a 70-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 9-yard touchdown run from Barnes.
The Wildcats kept chugging along on their next possession, a 61-yard drive that featured a 1-yard scoring run from Barnes.
Oklahoma State answered with a touchdown drive of its own to pull within 17-12 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys never got any closer. Barnes added two more touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to turn the game into a blowout.
Quite the departure from the first half, which was a defensive struggle that felt like it belonged in the Big Ten.
Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense managed 170 yards and six points, while K-State compiled 151 yards and three points.
Barnes was the only effective player on the field, consistently finding enough room to move the chains on his way to 94 yards before halftime. Hill had 16 yards on four carries.
Thompson was particularly unimpressive early, completing 4 of 14 passes for 29 yards. Most of his best plays came on scrambles, but he tried to do much on the final play of the second quarter and took a sack at the OSU 30 when he could ill afford to do so.
With the Wildcats out of timeouts and only a few seconds remaining on the clock, they were unable to get their field-goal unit on the field. Time expired, and K-State got nothing out of a 14-play, 49-yard drive.
It seemed the type of play that would doom the Wildcats at the time. But they figured things out and controlled the second half.
That’s something they hope to build on as they prepare for the next game at Oklahoma in two weeks.