Kansas State football vs. Oklahoma report card: Wildcats fall short in second straight loss
MANHATTAN — Kansas State was still very much in the game at halftime, trailing 13-10, but Oklahoma scored on its two possessions in the third quarter and the Wildcats were chasing points the rest of the way.
K-State's best chance to get back in it came late in the third quarter after Skylar Thompson hit Deuce Vaughn with a touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 27-17, and kicker Ty Zentner recovered his own onside kick. The play survived one video review, saying that the ball had traveled 10 yards, but Oklahoma won a second challenge that showed Zentner had kicked the ball twice.
Here are the grades from K-State's 37-31 loss to Oklahoma, which dropped the Wildcats to 3-2 with a 0-2 Big 12 record:
Offense: Skylar's back. Enough said.
Sixth-year senior quarterback Skylar Thompson returned after missing the previous two games with a knee injury and immediately injected much-needed life into the Wildcat offense.
The quarterback run game was off the table in order to protect his knee, Thompson took the passing game to a new level, setting career highs in completions and attempts while going 29 for 41 for 320 yards and three touchdowns. He also spread those completions between 10 different receivers.
"The kid was on point today," K-State coach Chris Klieman said of Thompson.
More importantly, two of the touchdowns went to Phillip Brooks and Landry Weber, the first this season for the wide receiver corps.
K-State's running game, which stalled last week at Oklahoma State, produced 100 yards averaged 3.7 yards per carry against an OU defense allowing just 79 a game and 2.5 per attempt on average. Deuce Vaughn ran for 51 yards to go with 10 catches for 104 and a touchdown and Joe Ervin had 33 yards on seven attempts.
The Wildcats also outgained Oklahoma overall, 420 yards to 392.
The one negative, which proved to be significant given the final score, was running back Jacardia Wright's fumble at the Oklahoma 13-yard line on the game's opening drive. OU linebacker Nik Bonitto scooped it up and returned it 70 yards the other way, leading to a Sooner field goal and a minimum six-point swing.
Thompson came up big in the clutch time and again as K-State converted four of five fourth-down play with the fifth overturned on review when Weber was ruled to have trap the ball on the ground. The Wildcats also were 8 of 15 on third-down conversions.
Defense: Not enough stops
K-State's offense did its part to keep the defense off the field against a potent Oklahoma attack, but it wasn't enough.
The Wildcats controlled the ball for 19 1/2 minutes in the first half and tied the game at 10 on Taiten Winkel's field goal with 1:30 left, but that was enough time for Oklahoma to get in field goal range and go back in front at the break with two seconds on the clock. The Sooners then drove 75 and 90 yards on their first two possessions of the second half to go up by 17, and the Wildcats were playing from behind the rest of the way.
Oklahoma did not punt once and faced only seven third downs all game, converting four, while also getting points on all six red-zone opportunities.
"Give their offense credit. They've got tremendous football players," Klieman said. "When we blitzed, they would crack our extra player that was responsible for the flat, and we just couldn't rally," Klieman said. "And we didn't tackle exceptionally well on defense, but Oklahoma's a really good offensive team that can make some plays and make people miss, so it's something that we have to continue to improve on."
It didn't help that Sooner quarterback Spencer Rattler had his best game of the season, completing 22 of 25 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. And running back rushed for 91 yards, the most by an OU back so far this year.
The Wildcats did respond defensively twice, the first after OU returned a fumble on the game's opening drive to the K-State 19 and had a second-and-goal at the 1. A bad snap, false start penalty and Timmy Horne's 5-yard sack allowed them to limit the damage by holding the Sooners to a field goal.
The defense also mitigated the damage after K-State recovered an onside kick in the third quarter, only to have it overturned on review. Julius Brents intercepted Rattler on the subsequent possession.
Special teams: Knowles and Zentner lead the way
Malik Knowles' 93-yard kickoff return touchdown with 1:20 left — his second score in as many weeks — cut the final margin to 37-31 and gave the Wildcats a glimmer of hope.
Oklahoma recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
But that was the second onside attempt by the Wildcats, who got one late in the third quarter with a chance to cut into a 10-point Oklahoma lead. Ty Zentner bounced the kick 10 yards and recovered it himself, a ruling that was upheld on video review, but an OU challenge showed that Zentner made contact with the ball twice on the kick, constituting an illegal touch, allowing the Sooners to retain possession.
The Wildcats also did not allow a single return yard, with two of Zentner's three kickoffs going for touchbacks and the other resulting in a fair catch. His only punt covered 60 yards to the Oklahoma 20, and with a penalty on the return pinned the Sooners back at their 10.
Taiten Winkel was good on his only field goal attempt, a 30-yarder late in the first half and now is 6 of 7 for the season, plus perfect on 18 point after attempts.
Coaching: Klieman and staff play to win
Klieman, not known as a gambler — he never really had to be while winning four FCS national championships in five years at North Dakota State — uncharacteristically went for broke against Oklahoma.
Starting with the opening drive, any time the Wildcats crossed midfield it became four-down territory, and it paid off with four conversions in five attempts. He was playing to win and it clearly pumped up the offense.
The Wildcats' first touchdown came on a 2-yard completion from Thompson to Phillip Brooks on a misdirection play. Klieman presented his senior quarterback with three options and Thompson made the right choice, freeing Brooks to race for the right corner flag.
Then there was the surprise onside kick in the third quarter that worked to perfection and needed two separate video reviews to be overturned.
Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and Thompson were in sync all game as the Wildcats punted only once. If only they could have dialed up a few more stops, it would have been a banner day for the coaches.