‘We took our time’: How a clever, slow substitution on defense helped K-State beat OU

Nate Billings/AP

Nate Matlack barely played during Kansas State’s 41-34 victory over Oklahoma and didn’t log a single defensive statistic on Saturday, but he still managed to deliver one of the biggest plays of the game.

The sophomore defensive end, who was limited with an ankle injury, came through for his team in the unlikeliest of ways by trotting onto the field at a snail’s pace after the Sooners tried to send a new running back and a new receiver onto the field for a fourth-down conversion near midfield in the third quarter.

Oklahoma’s players zoomed to the line of scrimmage in an attempt to beat the play clock. Meanwhile, Matlack slowly jogged to his spot on the field in hopes of preventing the Sooners from running a play.

The gamesmanship worked. Oklahoma began its substitution with 19 seconds left on the play clock and the Sooners were flagged for a delay-of-game penalty before they could snap the ball. Fourth-and-5 became fourth-and-10 and OU coach Brent Venables reluctantly decided to punt.

K-State football coach Chris Klieman successfully used a substitution rule to his advantage and cleverly got the Wildcats’ offense back on the field without making a tackle.

Both Klieman and Matlack deserve credit for that. Turns out, the Wildcats practice slow substitutions on defense.

“Absolutely,” Klieman said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday. “You have to. That’s the rule. If you substitute, you have time to match that substitution and we knew it was a critical situation. They substituted late, and I screamed in the headset, ‘Send somebody, send somebody!’”

This is where things took a humorous turn.

While OU coaches were screaming at their players to get on the field as quickly as possible, K-State coaches were telling their guys to do the exact opposite.

K-State defensive ends coach Buddy Wyatt sent Matlack into the game to replace Cody Stufflebean on the far side of the line. Both players proceeded to move as if they were being paid by the hour.

“Buddy did the perfect thing and sent a defensive end for a defensive end,” Klieman said. “Those kids don’t run a 4.4 (40-yard dash), so it’s going to take them a little while to get out there and then take them a while to get back.“

It seemed like the Sooners were originally only hoping to switch running backs on the play, but the Wildcats took so long to get set up they also ran Drake Stoops out there as a slot receiver.

All the while, one of the game officials blocked Oklahoma from snapping the ball until it was too late.

Instead of taking a timeout, the Sooners tried to run the play but were a moment too slow. The result: a penalty and a punt.

Had that sequence gone differently, maybe the game would have ended differently. Oklahoma was only trailing 24-20 at the time. Who knows?

“You hate it as an offensive coach, but that’s the rule,” Klieman said. “So it was a benefit for us. We’re fortunate it worked out, because I think they had a delay on that and it knocked them into a punt when they were going to go for it.”

Add that onto the list of reasons why K-State pulled off the upset over Oklahoma.

“We work on that,” Klieman said. “It was a really sharp play by Coach Wyatt to get a defensive end for a defensive end. It would have been easy to just ship a corner out that was close to us, but we went defensive end for defensive end and we took our time.”