Three thoughts from TCU’s 52-45 victory against Kansas State:
1. The Wildcats should have kept running.
K-State fans can blame anyone they want for this loss. The coaches that asked Joe Hubener to throw 18 passes in the second half with a 35-17 lead, the quarterback that threw a pick six and lost a fumble, the receivers that struggled to get open and dropped passes or the injured defense that gave up 52 points -- they are all fair game.
No matter how you slice it, the Wildcats would have been better off running the ball after a successful first half. So no one argued with Bill Snyder when he blamed the loss on himself.
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Here is how the first half broke down statistically. K-State rushed 28 times for 165 yards and five touchdowns. Hubener and Charles Jones made TCU linebackers look slow and unprepared. K-State possessed the ball for nearly 23 minutes. Hubener completed 8 of 15 passes for 101 yards and K-State took a 35-17 lead. A near flawless effort.
In the second half, K-State changed strategy and ran 20 times for 63 yards. Hubener completed 5 of 18 passes for 56 yards. TCU scored 35 points. K-State managed one touchdown.
Just like that, K-State blew a double-digit lead in back-to-back games. The common thread in both losses: unsuccessful passing in the third quarter. The Wildcats opened the second half with six straight passes, which led to a pair of three-and-outs, at Oklahoma State. Then they threw on 7 of their first 10 plays Saturday, resulting in a TCU touchdown and a punt.
Afterward, Bill Snyder suggested TCU went all-in against the run and K-State tried to take advantage of openings in the passing game. That strategy might have worked had Cody Small caught an open pass on the first play of the second half or had Hubener not thrown a pick six three plays later. Execution was poor. Hubener checked into some of the throws. It wasn’t all on the coaching staff.
But K-State failed to play to its strengths. The offensive line and fullbacks played their best game of the year. Jones looked like a new man running the ball. Hubener had 97 rushing yards by halftime. Why stop running? If K-State wanted to show TCU something different, why not try Kody Cook for a series?
A few years ago, K-State surprised Texas by running on nearly every play behind Collin Klein and Daniel Thomas. It worked in the first half, so the Wildcats didn’t let up in the second half. They won a blowout without attempting more than a few passes. They should have tried to do the same Saturday.
2. Welcome back Charles Jones.
If you read my K-State thoughts with any regularity you know I prefer Justin Silmon to Charles Jones, but Jones may have won his starting job back against TCU. He ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, hitting holes with speed and running aggressively straight ahead.
Too often, Jones runs sideways in the backfield and gets taken down before he can get anything going. That wasn’t the case Saturday.
Snyder said he had never seen Jones run harder. Jones agreed it was his best game in a K-State uniform.
Jones also made a key catch-and-run against Oklahoma State that went for 72 yards in the fourth quarter. Perhaps I wrote Jones off too quickly. He can be a valuable member of the offense.
3. K-State’s secondary needs to get healthy immediately.
The good news is freshman corner Duke Shelley looked good. Not great. But good enough to help K-State’s depleted secondary moving forward. Snyder said he couldn’t have asked for more of Shelley under the circumstances, playing in his first game.
The bad news is Jesse Mack looked lost, while Donnie Starks, Nate Jackson and Kaleb Prewett continued to struggle. With Danzel McDaniel, Morgan Burns and Dante Barnett all out with injuries, Sean Newlan played on Saturday, too.
Burns and McDaniel have struggled to cover this season, but the Wildcats need both corners back against Oklahoma. Snyder said he expects Burns to return to the field for the game. McDaniel got hurt against TCU, but the injury didn’t look like anything that will keep him out long term. The biggest question is Barnett.
He hasn’t played since the opener, but he appears ready for a return. If not against Oklahoma, then maybe he will be back against Texas or Baylor or Texas Tech.
K-State has lost two difficult games, but the schedule isn’t getting any easier. Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech are all excellent passing teams. The quicker the Wildcats get a healthy secondary, the better off they will be.