Saturday Rewind: Analyzing how North Dakota State upset Kansas State 24-21


Now will you believe me when I say we’re not very good?

Those were the first words that came out of Bill Snyder’s mouth following a disappointing 24-21 loss to North Dakota State on Friday night. He was upset. He was angry. He said the K-State football team let its fans down.

They were all understandable thoughts and emotions considering the Wildcats blew a 21-7 lead and opened their season with a loss to a (very good) Football Championship Subdivision team. They are the defending Big 12 champions and they were playing their first game in front of a huge crowd in a renovated stadium. This will go down as a memorable defeat the same way losses to Fresno State and Marshall did years ago.

How did it happen? A look at all that and more in this week’s Saturday Rewind:

THREE THOUGHTS

1. K-State’s running game was awful
Here is how poorly K-State ran the ball against North Dakota State: It managed a measly 41 yards on 23 attempts, despite Jake Waters doing all he could to open up the field by completing 21 of 29 passes for 280 yards. The Bison were getting beat deep and trying to adjust, but the Wildcats couldn’t take advantage on the ground. The biggest problem seemed to be the offensive line, which was missing Boston Stiverson (foot injury). The unit returned six starters from last year’s team, and was expected to be an absolute monster this year, one of the best in the Big 12. But it struggled against North Dakota State, a team it should have outclassed in both talent and depth. But John Hubert didn’t do the offensive line any favors. He rushed for 23 yards on 10 carries, and spent most of his time running horizontally. Had he spent more time running up field and making defenders miss K-State might have been better off. Instead, K-State asked Waters to run 11 times. Not ideal. He gained a yard. K-State needed better blocking, running and play-calling.

2. K-State couldn’t defend the middle.
Go back and look at the majority of Brock Jensen’s big passes. Just about all of them came across the middle. North Dakota State was also strong running over the middle with misdirection and delayed draws. The Bison did some creative things to lure K-State defenders to the perimeter when they were in man coverage, leaving the middle wide open for tight ends and running backs. The Wildcats adjusted to a zone look in the second half, but defenders were unable to close their gaps and swat down passes. That hurt them badly, especially on North Dakota State’s game-winning drive. The Bison overpowered them for 215 rushing yards and third-down conversion after third-down conversion.

3. This loss will hang over K-State all season, but how much will it hurt in the long run?
Losing to a FCS team, even the best FCS team in the nation, takes a while to move past. Just ask Michigan. I heard from a handful of pessimistic K-State supporters after the game who thought this loss would prevent the Wildcats from qualifying for a bowl. Their theory: If K-State can’t beat North Dakota State, who can it beat? I wouldn’t go that far, just yet. Snyder’s teams tend to improve as the year goes along, the next two games are very winnable (though Louisiana-Lafayette won’t be easy) and K-State gets five Big 12 games at home. A better question: will K-State respond to this the way it did in 2003 when it lost to Marshall and rallied to win a Big 12 championship? Will it respond the way it did in 2004 when it lost badly to Fresno State and stumbled to a 4-7 disaster? Or will it respond the way it did in 2009 when it went 6-6 after losing to Lafayette?


PLAYER EVALUATIONS

A few that were good:

Jake Waters
When he was on, he was on. Waters connected on 21 of 29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Both of the scores came on deep balls of 45-plus yards. He can throw it better than any K-State quarterback since Josh Freeman. He also threw two interceptions (one awful, the other out of desperation), which isn’t ideal, and he didn’t have much success in the running game. But neither did anyone else. Overall he played well.

Tyler Lockett
He is going to catch a lot of passes and pile up a lot of yards this season. Lockett caught seven balls for 113 yards and a touchdown on Friday. With Waters under center, Lockett is in for a big year.

Tramaine Thompson
Hard to complain about six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Lockett and Thompson did all they could. The rest of the offense needs to pick it up.

Blake Slaughter
K-State’s new starting middle linebacker made 10 tackles, including two sacks. On a day when the defense didn’t play that well, Slaughter came through with solid plays.

Dorian Roberts
When a cornerback makes five tackles and breaks up two passes, he played well. Roberts was good against the pass all night.

Daniel Sams
He scored a touchdown on a 17-yard run the second he entered the game. Instant offense. Snyder said he regretted not using him more.

A few that were bad:
John Hubert
Some argued he would have a pair of 1,000-yard seasons if not for Collin Klein eating up so many of his carries. On Friday, it looked like he benefited from all the attention defenses showed Klein in the running game over the past two years. Hubert gained 17 of his 23 yards on one run. He spent too much time moving side-to-side.

Offensive line
Keenan Taylor was the weakest link on the offensive line. At one point, he let a North Dakota State defender through so quickly he was able tackle Hubert near the moment of hand-off. But it’s hard to say any of K-State’s five main blockers played well. Cornelius Lucas committed a false start on the opening drive, something you would have never seen last year. Perhaps all those returning starters took their success for granted. Maybe it was something else. Whatever the case, they didn’t perform nearly well enough.

Defensive line
Jensen had all the time he wanted to throw. Even when K-State got him, aside from a few good plays from Ryan Mueller, coverage did most of the work.

Dante Barnett
Barnett in the bad section? Yes, he had an important interception and he delivered a few big hits. But his run defense was sub-par (see below). The safety made poor reads and whiffed on tackles too many times.

GAME IN A PLAY
A 66-yard run from Sam Ojuri in the third quarter summarized the game. North Dakota State was backed up in front of its own end zone following an excellent punt, but ended up in scoring range within seconds.

Let’s break it down:

North Dakota State was clearly going to run on this play, lining up only one receiver to the right. K-State responds by loading eight defenders in the box. The Wildcats wanted to stop this play quick, and maybe even get a safety.

After a slight shift from North Dakota State, K-State now has nine defenders in the box waiting to stuff the run.

As Ojuri takes the hand-off in the end zone, his blockers are setting up a nice lane for him in the middle. But K-State has two defenders and a safety (not shown) waiting to limit his yardage just in case he breaks through the line.

Every North Dakota State blocker handles his assignment, meaning Ojuri is going to gain yardage. But Dante Barnett is still in good shape to tackle him after a few yards. Instead, he overruns the play and winds up getting beat before Ojuri can reach the 8.

Randall Evans ends up having to chase Ojuri down and hope a push tackle takes him down. K-State defenders were in position to stop Ojuri, they simply failed to do so.

North Dakota State ended up getting a field goal on this drive, which was the difference in the game.

Coaching Critique
It seemed like K-State coaches couldn’t decide how to call plays. Waters had great success throwing quick passes to the perimeter and going down field, but the Wildcats rarely stuck with strategy for long. Too often, Waters was asked to run when he should have been throwing.

Statistically speaking
North Dakota State rushed for 215 yards. K-State rushed for 41 yards. That was the difference in the game.

Worth Noting
K-State hasn’t done a good job with debuts the past few years. Anyone remember when the Wildcats brought the “Family” wood out against Oklahoma and lost 58-17 two seasons ago? The Wildcats are now 0-1 in their renovated stadium, with Snyder’s statue looking on.

Twitter Reaction

Quote to note
“You never want to make history on the negative side, but for us it is going to be a test of our character and a test of our team to see if we are going to shut down or come together.” – Ty Zimmerman.