K-State football: Having to adjust expectations

If you were looking for some kind of restorative “make me feel better” performance from the Kansas State Wildcats against Baylor, how do you feel after?

Wins are good, obviously, but I don’t know that I feel that much better — not after a second-half performance delivered with the intensity of a stale Werther’s Original.

There were too many dropped passes by wide receivers again.* And, I admit I was surprised at how key defensive back Cre Moore apparently is to the defense. His absence was noticeable after he was ejected for targeting — especially on the long, gashing pass plays through the middle of the Wildcats defense.

*Holy self-confidence issues, Batman. There have been many past individual receiving talents much better than anyone on this roster, but this group as a whole was supposed to be, perhaps, one of the best ever assembled. Maybe the group still can be by season’s end, but Byron Pringle and crew have to figure out how to, simply, catch the damn ball.

Overall, this team is 3-1, 1-0, which beats anything less. Still, however, I’m struggling with the first four games’ evidence, dropped passes included, and reconciling that it is the base of my growing dread that I badly, optimistically misjudged what the 2017 Wildcats will accomplish.

If anything else, I don’t want to be wrong because, well, being wrong sucks. But, in this case, it also means a letdown. That’s not fun either. I want to believe this team will finish 10-2 and make it to the Big 12 Championship. I want to believe that making such a run — especially now — would mean an outside shot at a national semifinal.

Here’s the evidence I think I’m seeing that will keep that from happening.

Offensive plays. On the surface, this seems like an easy potshot at Dana Dimel, but it isn’t…not totally anyways. He’s trying, or appears to be. He continues to call passes despite receivers’ catching problems. He has dialed down the obvious “give it to Winston inside the 20” stuff from last year. But, there have been head-scratching moments when Dimel seems to go right despite the left working just fine (throwing against Vanderbilt in the second half when the run was effective).

And there is the curious lack of regular use of Justin Silmon. Alex Barnes is a stud, but Silmon has looked pretty darn good in his own right when he gets touches. There should be plenty of room for both of them, especially in an offense that values the run as much as K-State’s does.

Jesse Ertz has to forget about tomorrow. The heart of Bill Snyder’s offense drums to the beat of the quarterback’s bravado. Ertz is a capable leader, he understands the offense, and he’s better every game in terms of reading his running lanes. But, reading open lanes and fully exploiting them are different things. In fact, the past two games it seems when Ertz runs, he’s anxious to get on the ground once he gets into the open. Down the road, when one cut or one broken tackle could mean a first down or score? Hitting the ground after gaining eight yards won’t cut it – not for a team trying to fight its way into a Championship picture.

(By the way, did you happen to notice the difference in spark level with Alex Delton behind center at the end of the Baylor game? If you say no, you’re either lying or didn’t see it.)

The Do-it-all-defense isn’t all that deepK-State leads the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense, but the way it was gashed in the middle by Baylor for big plays after Moore left makes me wonder if the secondary can withstand any missing pieces over the next eight weeks. It will probably show well against Texas. After that, TCU and especially Oklahoma are going to be a challenge.

That said, is it impossible for all starters to be available all year? Of course not. But, it’s a precarious spot.

The Commodores clue. I’m not usually a fan of basing one team’s potential on how an opponent fares, but I think there’s some value in it here. Vanderbilt is in that same Top 25’ish soup K-State is in. So, considering how evenly the two teams played each other, I’ve paid attention to Vanderbilt as it took on other ranked foes. In watching No. 1 Alabama destroy the Commodores, 59-0, and No. 21 Florida following up with a 38-24 win, it left me really unimpressed with K-State’s ability to score just seven points against Vandy.

If I believe K-State is Big 12 Championship quality after those results, then it means Vanderbilt is good enough to win the Big 12. I don’t believe that. So, the other side is K-State isn’t good enough to win the Big 12. That, unfortunately, feels more correct.

Teamrankings.com currently projects K-State to finish 7-5. I don’t think it’s that dire, but I’m thinking I should prepare myself for eight or nine wins as the ceiling for this team, as opposed to the 10 or 11 I thought was on the table at the beginning of the season.

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K-State football: “Delay of Game – Offense”

No. 8 Stanford Cardinal 26, Kansas State Wildcats 13.

The first-blush takeaway was that K-State did itself proud in Palo Alto. While not good enough to win — there simply wasn’t enough consistency from the quarterback position to overcome an early deficit — the defense’s performance in the second half had me thinking this team could wind up with nine wins if some things went right.*Coach_Bill_Snyder

*Actually, before the game, I told Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison over at 610 Sports KCSP I thought if everything went right, K-State might even win 10. Chalk one up to over-optimism. It happens.*

Speaking of what went right, despite 26 points on the board, let’s start with that defense.

Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey broke loose twice for big runs, and Duke Shelley got burned on a long touchdown pass, but all in all, Dante Barnett, Jordan Willis, and friends were better than good for much of that ballgame.

Barnett was a sight for sore eyes — repeatedly assassinating running plays from his safety position. It will  be interesting to see how fast Big 12 offensive coordinators try to exploit Barnett’s dominant run-support mindset, but if they can’t or don’t, we may be watching an All-America campaign.

Willis and the defensive line showed impressive assignment discipline and consistency for it being the first game of the season. It led to a pretty solid showing in slowing McCaffrey, even if Superman finally won in the end.

Now, as for what didn’t go right.

“Delay of Game – Offense”

For the love of God — and, I know I’m asking an old-dog program to learn a new trick — why can’t this coaching staff figure out play clock management?

A lot can happen in 40 seconds – full meals can be warmed up; a Jamaican (or South African) can run nearly a quarter-mile; pregnancy (okay, that one is actually 30 min., but a risky decision takes far less time). So, why can’t a team of coaches assigned to coordinating plays avoid test anxiety and not repeatedly fail to answer in time, especially in inexplicable situations, like, say, in the red zone or after new quarter just began?

FOX Sports color analyst Joel Klatt said it best during Friday’s broadcast: When more than one quarterback has an issue getting the ball snapped on time, that’s not a quarterback issue; it’s a program failure. And, if you listened hard enough right after, you could almost hear a collective “amen” from the K-State congregation.

Here’s hoping, against all historic evidence and logic, things improve on this front as the season goes forward.

Byron Pringle/passing game

Up front, it’s unfair to pin a multi-person process on one player. But, there was a lot of hype on K-State’s shiniest new weapon heading into Stanford, and the result was disappointing. Pringle was targeted 10 times (by my count) and finished with one catch for 14 yards.

Is Stanford’s experienced defense great? Yep. Did K-State’s young, overmatched offensive line give up eight sacks? Yessir. Did KSU’s QBs — Jesse Ertz and Joe Hubener — struggle because of average protection, plus the fact they just aren’t that great of passers in general? Indeed, if you believe, like I do, what you read out of 19-of-41, for 243 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT.

So yeah, it’s not all on Pringle. A few passes were realistically uncatchable and others forced when they shouldn’t have gone his direction. But, one catch isn’t awesome. Still, the emergence of Isaiah Zuber should help loosen things up against defenses not named Stanford.

Alright, time to put the whip away for a bit. In all, K-State was competitive, trailing 19-13 with 2:20 remaining, and judging by reactions afterward, had K-State been ranked No. 15 going into that game, nobody would have blinked at it based on how things played out.

It’s a start. Not a fantastic one, granted, but if K-State plays at that level all season, eight wins seems well within reach.