Jake Waters yearned for a mulligan the instant the football left his hand.
It was late in the second quarter against Oklahoma State and the Kansas State quarterback was trying to throw a deep pass to Curry Sexton. But instead of hitting his teammate in stride, the ball wobbled and fell into the arms of Oklahoma State linebacker Ryan Simmons. It was a poor decision compounded by poorer execution. The result was Waters’ first turnover in five Big 12 games. At least it should have been, until Waters was granted a do-over when the play was erased by a roughing-the-passer penalty.
Waters got his wish. He remains the Big 12’s only turnover-free starting quarterback.
Still, the memory remains.
“One of the worst throws of my life,” Waters said afterward. “... I’ve got to be smarter with the football ... That throw will keep me up at night.”
That Waters showed such remorse for his lone questionable pass in five conference games shows how seriously K-State values mistake-free football. The Wildcats have been flagged 27 times for 222 yards, making them the nation’s least-penalized team. They have also lost seven turnovers, a Big 12 low. Opposing coaches like to say Bill Snyder’s teams “refuse to beat themselves” and that description has never felt more appropriate.
Of course, K-State’s mistake-free brand of football will be put to the test on Saturday at TCU, which leads the nation in turnover margin. The Horned Frogs have forced 15 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles. If anyone can make the Wildcats mess up, this is the opponent to do it.
“Certainly, TCU’s defense is gifted, strong and knowledgeable about what they do,” Snyder said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “It just goes without saying that it is vital for whoever is our quarterback, at any time, to make good decisions.”
Waters is confident he will make good decisions against the Horned Frogs. But if he throws an interception, he knows he will have to move on from the bad throw more quickly than he did against Oklahoma State. Though he went on to pass for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-14 victory, he also misfired on three more potential scores. He twice put the ball a foot long while trying to find Deante Burton in the end zone and also slightly overthrew Tyler Lockett on a breakaway route, though Lockett reeled the pass in with a circus catch.
K-State’s offense, though effective, felt a little off.
“It shows that we are still capable of doing a lot more,” Lockett said. “I think that we did a great job, but we still left some points out there. We went for it and whiffed. We have to be smart. If it is second and one, we got to get the first down. The biggest thing is we have to increase our IQ. ... It’s not really hurting us, because we’re not in close games, but we still have to work on that. When we play a great team like TCU this week, we can’t make those type of mistakes.”
No kidding. The Horned Frogs average 48 points.
And their defense rarely allows mulligans.
“We need to just get a little better at what we are doing, because we know we have a tough challenge up next,” Waters said. “I feel like we are playing OK, good enough to get a good win against a good team like Oklahoma State. Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement. We are going to go back and watch the film and see that we could have done that better, we could have done this better. We left a lot of points on the board.
“We are just going to have to make those plays when it comes down to those big games.”
Another list for Waters – Waters was named a semifinalist for another national award Tuesday. The senior is one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, presented to the nation’s top quarterback. On Monday, he was named one of 20 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award, given to the top player in college football.