At times in Saturday’s game versus No. 6 Oklahoma, the Kansas State defense showed flashes of what had made it successful earlier this season.
However, flashes weren’t enough to tamp down the talented Sooner offense, led by sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler, who played arguably his most complete game of the season in a 37-31 road victory over the Wildcats.
Rattler’s efficiency was a microcosm of the entire Oklahoma offense. The sophomore completed 22 passes of his 25 attempts for 261 yards — which might seem fairly pedestrian by head coach Lincoln Riley’s high standards, until one realizes the Sooners’ 2-to-1 pass-to-run ratio.
“(Rattler) can beat you in so many different ways,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “He scrambles and we tried to second contain him because they do enough good things in the run game that you have to pinch your defensive ends and if you don’t, they’ll gash you in the run game.”
Rattler wasn’t perfect, though.
One of Rattler’s three misses wound up in the hands of K-State junior corner Julius Brents, who snagged his first interception of the season in a key spot for the Wildcats after an onside kick recovery for K-State was overturned.
Rattler heaved a ball toward the east side of the north end zone, underthrowing his receiver, allowing Brents to easily pick off the ball at the Wildcat 7-yard line.
“We knew (Oklahoma) would take their shots,” Brents said. “Coach made a great call and put me in a position where I could see the whole play happen in front of me. From there, I was just playing ball, and it was, ‘See ball, get ball.’ Credit to my D-line up front. They flustered them, and having the crowd be there, too, it all just came together.”
Just one play prior to that, the K-State defense had another flash in one of the two sacks the defensive line collected.
Sophomore Felix Anudike-Uzomah notched his team-leading fifth sack of the year, dragging Rattler to the ground on second-and-8 to force a third-and-long, which became even longer after an Oklahoma false start.
“Whenever I go to get a sack, my mind goes to black because I’m only focusing on getting to the quarterback,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “It probably was a second effort. I saw (Rattler) rolling out and I just caught him.”
The Wildcats’ other flash defensively came early in the game, following sophomore running back Jacardia Wright’s red-zone fumble the Sooners returned 70 yards to the K-State 19.
Oklahoma drove to the 1-yard line, but a botched snap followed by a false start gave the Sooners third-and-goal from the 18.
On the next play, senior defensive nose tackle Timmy Horne fought his way through a double team and wrapped up Rattler, bringing him to the ground and forcing the Sooners to kick a field goal.
“We wanted to limit them to three in that situation,” Horne said. “So we took that as a win. But I’ve been itching (to get) a sack, and it’s been close, but I finally got home. I’ve been telling (defensive ends) Coach (Buddy) Wyatt in practice, ‘Coach, I need a sack,’ and he would always tell me, ‘Be patient, it’ll come. It’ll come when you’re not even expecting it,’ and honestly, I wasn’t even expecting it. I got double teamed and I ripped through and (Rattler) stepped up and I saw the ball and I hit him.”
Aside from those three plays, K-State’s defense struggled with inconsistency throughout the duration of the game.
The Wildcats adapted a bend-but-don’t-break mentality, taking away Oklahoma’s deep ball, but exposing themselves in the short and intermediate passing game which Rattler capitalized upon.
“We didn’t want to give up the home run on the throw,” Klieman said. “We didn’t give up that home run, but when you decide you’re not going to give up the home run, you’re going to give up some underneath stuff. But that’s where it comes down to we need to be really good tacklers.”
K-State’s tackling was less than stellar Saturday, which led to short-yardage Rattler throws being turned into 20-plus yard gains. Nearly half of Oklahoma’s total passing yardage came after the catch.
Klieman attributed part of the defensive struggles to the talent of the Oklahoma skill players.
“Give their offense credit,” Klieman said. “They’ve got tremendous football players. When we blitzed, they would crack our extra player who was responsible for the flat and we just couldn’t rally. We didn’t tackle exceptionally well on defense, but Oklahoma is a really good offensive team that can make plays and make people miss. So that’s something that we’re going to have to improve on.”
K-State now has two weeks to rest and prepare for Iowa State while trying to rediscover the defensive mentality that led to early season success.
“In the first three games, we didn’t have as many mental errors,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “These last two games we’ve just had some busts and mental errors that we need to fix. Hopefully in this bye week we can take care of it and continue on to the next game and defeat Iowa State.”