Kevin Haskin: Inexplicable ending to first half another costly blow for K-State

Defense responds, but offense struggles as 28-23 setback leaves Wildcats 5-5

MANHATTAN — A Kansas State football season impacted greatly by odd play-calling included one of the most inexplicable decisions to date Saturday in Snyder Family Stadium.

 

Another strange move proved costly in the fourth loss the Wildcats have suffered by seven points or less, a 28-23 setback against West Virginia.

This time a devastating sequence began with a K-State fumble recovery, which at the very least should have killed the last 48 seconds of the first half.

Especially after a first-down rush by Dalvin Warmack lost four yards.

Then, K-State let the clock tick before executing another snap. Perfect ploy, it seemed, for providing an inexperienced freshman quarterback, Skylar Thompson, a chance to gain his wits by running out the clock with the Cats trailing 21-20.

But no. The ball was snapped. A screen pass was attempted. An interception was snagged.

“I’m not sure, I guess we could have run the clock out,’’ K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “In hindsight that would have been the best thing to do. We thought we could get it up the field and have a chance to get a field goal. We had 40 yards or so, but didn’t. Bad call on my part.’’

Assuming Snyder called the play, but then he wears headsets, which means he approved it. Also, as the only coach who answers questions, he accepted blame.

Yet the screen pass, coming after so much time had ticked off, still seemed out of character for a coach whose play-calling has factored so heavily into his 200-plus wins at K-State.

The costly turnover could have easily been avoided by simply running out the clock. Counting on a freshman QB to have the awareness not to try dumping it off to fullback Winston Dimel was asking too much.

Maybe a week earlier, when Thompson engineered an amazing comeback at Texas Tech, a big gain could have been sprung against a struggling opponent.

But not against West Virginia. Not with how it disguised different defenders, including Ezekiel Rose, who read the screen, stepped in front of Dimel and made the pick with 10 seconds left in the half.

Enough time for Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier to do his intramural thing, scrambling forever without losing the towel attached to his waist, let alone letting a K-State tackler drag him down. Grier eventually wound up, fired for the end zone and connected with Ka’Raun White for an improbable 30-yard touchdown as time expired.

The seven-point swing at the end of the half essentially drained the K-State offense of momentum. Thompson was 13 of 26 passing for 159 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He rushed for 53 yards, but was sacked four times.

“That was a big sequence,’’ acknowledged Warmack, who gained 97 first-half yards but lost a yard on five second-half carries. “That gets (the Mountaineers) momentum going into the half and gets them rowdy and excited.’’

K-State’s defense remained responsive in the damp, chilly conditions.

However, four first-half turnovers and five second-half punts forced by the Wildcats could not be cashed into a win. A second-half shutout was even pitched, but the offense contributed 332 yards, converted 2 of 15 third downs and settled for three field goals by Matthew McCrane.

“It was in our hands. It was ours to win or lose,’’ Snyder said. “We could have so easily won the ballgame, won it handily. It was just a matter of doing things the right way.’’

Instead, the Cats went the wrong way again, falling to 5-5 overall. Their seven-year string of bowl appearances is in severe jeopardy, with a trip to Oklahoma State and a home game against Iowa State left on the schedule and K-State just 3-4 in Big 12 play.

“If we won this won it might have given us momentum to do better things in the next two games,’’ said McCrane, “but we’re kind of starting from scratch again.’’

To think, bowl qualification was considered a formality before the season began.

“Probably a stronger word (exists) than frustrating,’’ Snyder said.

Safe to assume too that language expressed at the end of the first half by anyone invested in K-State football was indeed coarse.

In a season gone south, that particular “bad series of events,’’ as Snyder called it, could stand out as the most incomprehensible blow sustained by the Wildcats.

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