NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A defensive play was going to be the determining factor between Kansas State and Vanderbilt on a night when the offenses were not productive.
Three straight possessions in the fourth quarter resulted in turnovers, and two went Vanderbilt’s way. The Commodores were able to convert their second takeaway into the winning touchdown for a 14-7 victory over the No. 18 Wildcats on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Wildcats (2-1) escaped an interception of Jesse Ertz that bounced off receiver Bryon Pringle, getting the ball back when defensive tackle Will Geary forced a fumble by the Commodores (3-0).
The ball went right back to Vandy, however, when Ertz was picked off again and Vanderbilt cashed in with a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
The Wildcats made one final push, driving to the Vandy 17 with just over a minute to play but couldn’t convert a fourth-and-8 play when Ertz picked up only six yards on a wild scramble.
“When I was going down I thought I had gotten it, but I looked when I was on the ground and saw I was short,” Ertz said. “That’s the way it goes.”
Neither team could put together an effective offensive package. The Wildcat defense took some steps forward overall, but not without its share of shaky moments while holding Vanderbilt to 270 total yards. The Commodores’ defense lived up to its billing with a strong outing, limiting the Wildcats to 277 yards.
Still, the Wildcats caused many of their own problems on offense. The receivers had numerous drops, Ertz wasn’t sharp with other throws and the running game was ineffective with the exception of the one touchdown drive when Ertz baffled the Commodores.
“Vanderbilt is a good defensive football team,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “They covered well, they pressured the quarterback pretty well. We dropped a ton of passes, we busted some assignments. It takes nothing away from what they did because they played well.
“I didn’t have our football team as well prepared as they needed to be to win.”
The first half ended in a 7-7 tie with both teams managing one good offensive possession but futility otherwise.
Both offenses had a three-and-out series to begin the game, then Vanderbilt put together a 13-play, 84-yard drive resulting in Shurmur’s 2-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Duncan. K-State answered with an eight-play, 75-yard march featuring the quarterback run game with Ertz, who scored from 15 yards out.
Ertz ran for 84 yards in the first half as the Vandy defense couldn’t figure out how to stop him, although it did put the wraps on running back Alex Barnes, who had minus-1 yard on five carries. Ertz was 4 of 13 passing for 33 yards with a handful of drops by the receivers.
“It wasn’t chemistry but the technique they were playing with a lot of different leverages,” said Ertz, who finished 10 of 28 for 76 yards while rushing 24 times for 126 yards. “You’re not going to catch every pass. Sometimes they’re going to hit in bunches, and it’s not like anybody is trying to drop the ball. I missed my fair share of throws and threw two interceptions. Nobody is perfect.”
The K-State defense appeared to come up with a game-changing play late in the second quarter when Geary sacked Shurmur and forced a fumble that Kendall Adams returned 35 yards to the end zone. But, rather than Adams’ third defensive touchdown in two games, the video review resulted in the fumble being overturned with Shurmur’s knee ruled down.
The Wildcats had to sweat out another review moments later when Eli Walker drew a personal foul while blocking on a punt return, a penalty called targeting. The review took away the targeting portion, which would have resulted in Walker’s ejection.
K-State had a chance to go on top late in the third quarter, but Matthew McCrane was wide right on a 42-yard field goal attempt, then D.J. Reed had a 68-yard TD punt return called back by an illegal block in the back penalty on Brogan Barry.
So, with the defenses maintaining control, a scoreless third quarter kept the game deadlocked at 7-7.
Pringle, who had a rough night dropping balls, had one go off his hands and Vandy safety LaDarius Wiley intercepted the deflection.
The Commodores drove to the K-State 12 where Geary made another big hit, forcing a fumble by running back Ralph Webb that K-State linebacker Elijah Sullivan recovered. But the Cats gave it right back when Ertz was picked off by safety Ryan White at the K-State 33.
“I’d have to see it on video tape to say for certain but we made some inappropriate choices, both who to throw to and not to throw to,” Snyder said of the interceptions. “You have to see ahead of your throws.”
Shurmur hit Trent Sherfield with a 32-yard pass on first down. The Wildcats stuffed two runs, but on third down Shurmur dropped a shotgun snap then picked it up and ran it in from two yards out for the go-ahead score.
“We didn’t come up with the answers we needed to, and when we did we didn’t make the plays,” Ertz said. “That’s on me. I probably started forcing the ball a little bit when we weren’t moving the ball and consequently put them in good field position to score after the interception.
“We had our fair share of errors and that’s not going to get you a win.”
The Wildcats are off next Saturday and open Big 12 play at home against Baylor on Sept. 30.
Kansas State (2-1) 0 7 0 0 — 7
Vanderbilt (3-0) 7 0 0 7 — 14
VU — Duncan 2 pass from Shurmur (Openshaw kick), 4:06. Drive: 13 plays, 84 yards, 7:53 time of possession.
KSU — Ertz 15 run (McCrane kick), 14:53. Drive: 8-75, 4:13.
VU — Shurmur 2 run (Openshaw kick), 8:23. Drive: 4-33, 1:53.
Attendance — 40,350.
GAME IN FIGURES
First downs 14 11
Rushes-yards 35-201 32-65
Passing 76 205
Comp-Att-Int 10-28-2 14-23-0
Return Yards 28 0
Punts-Avg. 7-37.71 8-31.37
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 7-68 5-50
Time of Possession 30:27 29:33
RUSHING — Kansas St., Ertz 24-126, Silmon 3-41, Barnes 8-34. Vanderbilt, Webb 21-46, Dobbs 1-10, Blasingame 5-7, Lipscomb 1-5, Shurmur 2-0, (Team) 2-(minus 3).
PASSING — Kansas St., Ertz 10-28-2-76. Vanderbilt, Shurmur 14-23-0-205.
RECEIVING — Kansas St., Zuber 4-37, Pringle 3-25, Valentine 1-8, Dimel 1-3, Barnes 1-3. Vanderbilt, Duncan 6-52, Sherfield 4-97, Jar.Pinkney 2-41, Lipscomb 2-15.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — Kansas St., McCrane 42.
Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.