If Kansas State football coach Chris Klieman didn’t know offense reigns supreme in the Big 12, he does now.
The Wildcats struggled to gain yards, pick up first downs and score points for the second straight week, and they once again paid the price for it during a 31-12 loss to Baylor on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, dropping their record to 3-2 and 0-2 in conference play after a hot start.
K-State has played admirably on defense in each of its Big 12 games, holding Oklahoma State and Baylor well below their average scoring totals, but that has meant little in the grand scheme of things for the Wildcats as they have rarely reached the red zone, let alone the end zone.
“It’s obviously just a little bit of a shock,” said Wildcats defensive end Wyatt Hubert. “I don’t feel like the entire team as a whole is playing up to its ability. I think we look like a completely different team this week and last week than we did against Mississippi State. I don’t know what is going on right now, but I feel like we are going to get it fixed.”
Quarterback Skylar Thompson has led the Wildcats to a grand total of 25 points in conference play under Klieman. It takes more than that to win games in this league.
Finding solutions on offense will almost certainly be Klieman’s primary task as the Wildcats get two weeks to prepare for their next game, against TCU.
“We are all accountable,” Klieman. “We all have to be better and it starts with me. I’ve got to be better and make sure to push the right buttons. The seniors have to be better, everybody’s got to get invested a little bit more so that we can get this thing turned.”
It’s hard to pinpoint where the Wildcats got bogged down the most against Baylor (5-0, 2-0). K-State failed to run the ball the way it did during nonconference games, finishing with 123 rushing yards on 40 attempts Saturday.
But it wasn’t any better in the passing game, where Thompson needed 34 attempts to throw for 218 yards and a touchdown. He also tossed his first interception of the season on a tipped pass that careened directly into the hands of Baylor cornerback Grayland Arnold.
The Bears clinched the game shortly after that turnover.
K-State forced Baylor into a third-and-22 on the following drive, and it seemed like the Wildcats might still make things interesting trailing 17-6 early in the fourth quarter, especially when Gerry Bohanon came on for an injured Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer. But Bohanon found receiver R.J. Sneed with a short pass up the left sideline, and Sneed spun past three K-State defenders for a first down.
Bohanon scored on a short run a few moments later, and the Bears led 23-6 with 10:34 remaining.
The Wildcats aren’t built to play from behind, and they were unable to mount a serious comeback the rest of the way.
More than 50,000 fans showed up to cheer on the Wildcats as they wore alternate uniforms for their Big 12 home opener, but the stadium was empty as the Bears put the finishing touches on this one.
The excitement and momentum K-State created while starting 3-0 is now gone. They are replaced by serious questions about this team’s ability to compete in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State and Baylor are both good enough to play in bowls this season, but they aren’t on the same level as Oklahoma or Texas.
The Wildcats have looked particularly overmatched on the offensive line during conference games. The Wildcats seemed confused and overwhelmed against Baylor’s 3-5 defensive front and surrendered 15 tackles for loss.
That made it difficult for K-State’s offense to get much of anything going until it was too late. James Gilbert rushed for 94 yards on 18 carries and Dalton Schoen had six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown, but there were few other highlights.
For the second straight game, K-State’s most valuable player was senior punter Devin Anctil. While the Wildcats struggled to move the ball consistently on offense, they at least gifted their defense solid field position thanks to Anctil booting six punts for 245 yards and pinning the Bears in front of their own goal line on three different occasions.
It seemed like K-State was getting some good news on offense when Malik Knowles surprisingly started for the Wildcats and Thompson targeted his favorite receiver four times on the first two drives of the game. But Knowles came up lame early in the first quarter and didn’t return.
Without him, the Wildcats tried to get Joshua Youngblood and Chris Herron, a pair of true freshmen, involved on the perimeter. Give them credit for creativity. But it wasn’t enough.
Not while Baylor churned out 426 yards behind a balanced attack that featured 230 yards from Brewer and 50-plus yards from five different skill players.
Baylor will likely enter the national polls next week as one of two remaining undefeated teams in the Big 12.
K-State is next in action against TCU on Oct. 19.