Kansas State football players walked away from a 33-30 loss against Texas with an interesting mixture of emotions.
The Wildcats were understandably upset about how the game ended, with Will Howard unable to find an open receiver on a do-or-die fourth down in overtime. But they were also proud of the way they battled back from an early deficit and went toe-to-toe with the nation’s seventh-ranked team on the road.
When asked to sum up how he was feeling afterward, Howard struggled to explain his mood.
“I don’t know,” Howard said. “I don’t really have an answer for you on that one.”
That was understandable.
K-State (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) now needs a lot of help to return to the Big 12 championship game following this defeat. Texas (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) is in excellent position to make it to AT&T Stadium in December along with Oklahoma State.
Now, it’s time to analyze the game and look ahead to a huge game against Texas ...
Play of the game
Chris Klieman decided to go for the win instead of a tie when he kept the K-State offense on the field for the final play of the afternoon. While trailing 33-30 in overtime, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-goal from the 4 with everything on the line.
K-State tried to get the ball to tight end Ben Sinnott on a short out route as he ran underneath receiver Keagan Johnson.
The play would have worked against man coverage. But Texas defensive backs wisely switched assignments after the snap and never allowed either K-State pass-catcher to get open. Howard had nowhere to throw the ball and went down in the backfield. Game over.
Player of the game
Will Howard completed 26 of 42 passes for a career-high 327 yards and four touchdowns.
On a day when K-State couldn’t run the ball (33 yards on 29 attempts) Howard kept the Wildcats in the game with his arm. He nearly engineered a thrilling comeback.
Stat of the game & quote to note
The Texas defense finished the day with seven tackles for loss, including three sacks. Its ability to create havoc and force K-State into negative plays was a big factor.
As for the quote...
“We had nothing going for us. We were down 27-7 in the third quarter, but those guys didn’t flinch and that’s the kind of resolve that we expect and that we love about our guys.” — Chris Klieman.
K-State football grades
Offense: C. The final numbers (370 yards and four touchdowns) look decent enough. But K-State was abysmal on offense for half the day. The Wildcats punted on their first six drives and looked overmatched against a physical Texas defense. Howard got cooking in the second half and the passing game showed promise with Keagan Johnson, Phillip Brooks and Jayce Brown all making plays. But the Wildcats couldn’t run the ball at all. Offensive coordinator Collin Klein probably should have given up trying to run earlier than he did.
Defense: B. Jacob Parrish came up with a pair of interceptions and Jake Clifton played an impressive game at linebacker. But, if we’re being honest, much of K-State’s success in this area was thanks to a bunch of boneheaded plays from Texas quarterback Maalik Murphy. He only looked sharp in the first quarter, and K-State trailed 17-0 before he began turning the ball over. The Longhorns also averaged 6.2 yards per rush.
Special Teams: B. Jack Blumer provided some excellent punts and Chris Tennant sent the game to overtime with a clutch field goal at the end of regulation. But a missed field goal and a botched extra point in the second half cost the Wildcats some important points.
Coaching: C. The Wildcats have lost seven straight games to Texas. The Longhorns will leave for the SEC before Klieman was able to pick up his first win against them. This is one matchup he can’t quite figure out.
Next up: Baylor
The Wildcats will return home and host the Baylor Bears at 2 p.m. inside Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday.
On paper, this looks like one of the easiest games on the entire schedule.
Baylor (3-6, 2-4 Big 12) is having a down year under Dave Aranda. The Bears began the season with a loss to Texas State and have only beaten Long Island, UCF and Cincinnati since. Baylor is coming off a 25-24 overtime loss against Houston.
The biggest challenge for K-State may be motivation. The Wildcats would have been in control of their own destiny in the Big 12 championship race had they defeated Texas. But that didn’t happen. From now on, they are likely playing for bowl position.
How will K-State respond after an emotional loss? The answer to that question could go a long way toward determining who wins between the Wildcats and the Bears.