There were penalties, questionable play calling, missed field goals and turnovers that led to Kansas State’s disappointing loss against Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday night.
All the optimism that surrounded this game for not just the Wildcats, but the Big 12 conference, which was looking to pick up a win over an SEC team for a second-straight week, was out of window due to costly errors. These are the kind of mistakes that Bill Snyder-coached teams don’t typically make. But they made them on Saturday night.
Two non-offensive touchdowns by Kendall Adams and D.J. Reed were both brought back. Adams picked up a fumble by Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur and returned it 35 yards to the end zone in the second quarter, but replay review ruled Shurmur was down before the ball came out. Then as the third quarter ticked away, Reed returned a punt for a TD that was brought back by an illegal block in the back.
Overall, Kansas State committed seven penalties for 68 yards, while Vandy had just five for 50. Vanderbilt played Kansas State football better than Kansas State.
“Not just the two that called back touchdowns, but there were some other penalties that were very costly,” Bill Snyder said. “It doesn’t mean your guys aren’t playing hard, but it means that we’re not playing with the kind of discipline and focus that we need to.”
Kansas State doesn’t get the four and five-star recruits. It never has, it likely never will. At least not consistently. Snyder has built this program on under-recruited players who have chips on their shoulders and are smart. The Wildcats know that to beat a quality opponent, they need to win the turnover battle, have less penalties, and avoid other self-inflicted wounds. Unfortunately, Saturday night in Nashville was full of them.
Now to the turnovers, which were both interceptions by Jesse Ertz. The first one came early in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats were able to get it the ball back on a fumble recovery. But then on the very next drive, Ertz was picked off by Ryan White, who had trolled the Wildcats a bit this week when he said, “We play in the SEC, so we play the best every week.”
Vanderbilt was then in business and ended up scoring the go-ahead, and eventual game-winning touchdown on a four-play, 33-yard drive. Vandy 14, Kansas State 7. Ball game.
And last but not least, the play calling. Before the season, I believed that Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon could be one of the best 1-2 punches at the running back position in the Big 12 conference. Also, I hoped to see Jesse Ertz run the ball less, as he was injury prone, and was too valuable to this team. But against Vanderbilt, Ertz rushed the ball 24 times, compared to only eight for Barnes and three for Silmon.
Sure, sometimes these were pass plays the broke down, but this is just not how the ratio should work in the Kansas State running game. Silmon only got three carries and piled up 41 yards. Yes he was making his season debut, but considering he had the most rushing yards and best yards-per-carry average among Kansas State’s returning running backs, I don’t quite understand why he didn’t get the ball more against the Commodores.
And for all the talk of how good Ertz looked throwing the ball the first two games, maybe we were overestimating his improvement in the passing game. While the Vanderbilt defense is very good and Derek Mason really has something cooking in Music City, Ertz’s performance was still a let down: 10 of 28 for 76 freakin passing yards yards. (Side note: Vandy could end up as the “East of the Mississippi Stanford” if things really click. Nashville, like Palo Alto, is a popular city and both are Ivy League-caliber schools. But, I digress.)
With so much talent at wide receiver including Byron Pringle and Isaiah Zuber, this was a disappointing performance by the passing game on all levels.
After the loss Snyder said, “I didn’t have our football team as well prepared as they needed to be to win. There’s not the discipline that we need to have on our football team.”
Snyder’s right and it’s typical Bill Snyder to take the blame, even though it wasn’t all his fault, not even close. The Wildcats can still work there way through a talented Big 12 conference and come out near the top, but the idea that it can be one of those “magical seasons” in Manhattan went up in flames on Saturday night, with the country music off Broadway blaring in the background.