Three thoughts from Kansas State’s 23-9 loss at Texas on Saturday:
1. This losing streak will test K-State’s resolve.
The numbers don’t look good for the Wildcats right now. They have lost four in a row for the first time since 2008 and for the first time under Bill Snyder since 2005. They are 3-4, they are winless in the Big 12, they haven’t looked good since the first half of the TCU game and they still need three more victories to qualify for a bowl.
And Baylor, another probable loss, is up next.
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This is uncharted territory for a team that went 38-14 the past four seasons.
Everyone from Snyder down is understandably frustrated.
Still, if K-State players can focus on the big picture and keep their spirits up they can end the season with a winning record. Back in August, I predicted the Wildcats to win their first three games, lose their middle five, and win their final four for a 7-5 record.
That’s still within reach.
The schedule softens significantly after Baylor. At Texas Tech, Iowa State, at Kansas and West Virginia are all manageable games. The Wildcats might even be favored in three of them. Beating the Red Raiders will be the toughest challenge, because they can put up points, which K-State is struggling to do at the moment. But Snyder has won four in a row against Texas Tech. The last three were blowout victories.
Now, K-State needs to make some adjustments, especially on offense, to win down the stretch, but it can be done. The biggest question is: Can players hang in there mentally?
I think they can. Defensive tackle Travis Britz had a good quote Saturday in which he simply said, “We will win again.” His teammates seem to think they are close to ending this streak.
“A lot of guys are down,” added receiver Deante Burton. “I think this is really where you find out what kind of players you’ve got on your team and the players you want to have on your team. You get punched in the mouth a few times like we have this season and you lose a couple heart-breakers, you decide how you play, who you are. I think we’re starting to weed out what’s going on and figure out the guys who want to play. That’s going to be what you want to build your team off of.”
2. The Wildcats can’t throw.
In the understatement of the weekend, Snyder said the Wildcats are currently “limited” in the passing game.
Joe Hubener completed 10 of 22 passes for 97 yards a touchdown and an interception. Kody Cook was 1 of 2 for 10 yards. If not for Burton making some impressive catches and Texas defenders dropping potential interceptions, those numbers could have been even worse.
Weather played a factor, but Hubener is only completing 45 percent of his passes on the season. His receivers struggle to get open.
You can blame the coaching staff for calling 24 passes on a day when Texas moved the ball more effectively throwing 16 times, but there simply isn’t much talent in K-State’s passing game. Even when plays look good and a receiver gets open, the chances of a completion are slim.
Hubener looks every bit like a former walk on that didn’t start a game at quarterback in high school.
Cook had a marvelous half against Oklahoma State, but has looked like a receiver trying to play quarterback since.
I continue to think K-State should lean more on its running, especially with Charles Jones playing the way he is. But you can’t abandon your passing game, either. Offensive strategy will be a challenge.
Maybe Alex Delton or Jonathan Banks can return and add a new dynamic to the quarterback mix, but Snyder made that sound unlikely, at least in the short term.
“We don’t have anybody back yet,” Snyder said of the injured quarterbacks. “So it doesn’t mean that at some point in time we won’t, but right now we don’t.”
3. Where has this Charles Jones been?
The junior running back looked incredible against Texas, shedding tacklers and even using a nifty spin move to gain 122 yards on 18 carries. He ran straight ahead with power, averaging 6.8 yards per touch.
Add on his big game against TCU – 75 yards and two touchdowns – and he is on a legit hot streak.
I’m not sure what the coaching staff told him to change after a slow start, but he looks like a new man out there. It would be nice if they could get Justin Silmon to complement him, but he seems to have gone the other direction, disappearing against Oklahoma and Texas.
Jones has been the team’s top playmaker in two of the past three games. K-State needs him to keep that up.