It has been a disappointing year for Wildcat fans thus far, and it looked as if the losing ways were going to continue on Saturday. They trailed Iowa State by 7 with 1:31 left on the clock and the ball in the hands of the Cyclones. Somehow, someway, K-State managed to put up 10-points in the closing 90 seconds to finally get a conference win and end the six game skid, their longest since 1989. I see this as a turning point for the Cats this season, as they now sit at 4-6 with two games remaining with an opportunity to go bowling.
Sure, the Wildcats still looked sluggish on both sides of the ball, but sometimes a little bit of luck and determination is all you need to change an entire season. It could be argued that the Cyclones simply gave the game away and Cats didn’t deserve the victory. While there is definitely some truth to this, what I find most impressive is that Snyder and his team overcame a 21-point deficit at the half, which tied a school record for the largest comeback in school history. Call me crazy, but how is that not something to be fired up about? It’s apparent that Snyder has gotten this team to accept his principles of faith and determination that have been instrumental for so many Wildcat teams in the past.
Now that the Cats have regained their morale, there are several areas they must continue to improve in if they hope to partake in the festivities of bowl season. My first concern is with the struggles associated with the defense. As I’ve said in the past, the “bend but don’t break” defensive philosophy has served K-State well over the years. This year, it seems as if the philosophy has been “bend and completely break.”
The reason K-State has given up so many big plays this year is because of the lack of depth at the safety position. As the last line of defense, the Wildcat safeties have been struggling to find the right angle to attack the ball carrier which has been costly all season long. It was still apparent in Saturday’s win as Iowa State’s Mike Warren rattled off a 76-yard touchdown run. To be fair, the loss of the senior safety Dante Barnett really put the defense in a tough position from early in the season.
Yes, the entire defense needs to improve, not just the safeties, but I’m not very optimistic that will happen this late in the season. Forcing five turnovers was definitely impressive and much needed, but much of the blame rests in the hands of the Cyclones for being careless with the ball. Instead, if the Cats can get a little more assistance from the safeties and limit the big scoring plays, we may be talking about a bid to a bowl game in the coming weeks.
The offense has proven it can put up points this season, but my concern is with the inconsistency. The Wildcats have found themselves playing from behind most of the season which can spell trouble in a conference like the Big 12. In fact, the game winning field goal off the foot of Jack Cantele was the first time the Cats led in a game since playing TCU on Oct. 10. With the college football regular season quickly coming to a close, I still find myself struggling to discover the identity of the K-State offense. For the most part, I was satisfied with the mix of both the pass and run against the Cyclones as they threw for 220 yards and rushed for 165 yards. Moving forward into these final two games, my hope is the Cats will start with more urgency so they don’t leave themselves with a massive hole to dig out of. Quarterback Joe Hubener has continued to grow as a leader as the season has gone on, but he needs to find a way to make the most out of the early positions if he wants to lead his team to a bowl game. Converting on third down early in the game, and limiting negative yards will determine the fate of the season.
It was a much needed win for the Cats and the comeback fashion made it much more impressive. Get excited K-State because it’s not over just yet! Morale is high and it appears to me that Snyder and his team are determined to make something out of this season after all. As long as the defense can make some adjustments and the offense plays with urgency, the Cats will be bowling once again!
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