Kansas State isn’t built like the rest of the teams in the Big 12 conference. The Wildcats are founded on their defense, not their offense. However, against the Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State’s offense seemed up to par to Big 12 offensive standards for the third time in league play. The Wildcats, now 5-3, stabilized their season and took an important step toward bowl eligibility.
Last year, Kansas State’s Achilles heel was the quarterback position. Neither of the two gunslingers who played in 2015 for the Wildcats completed 50 percent of their passes. Entering this season, questions swirled around the spot on the roster.
Was head coach Bill Snyder going to go with incumbent 2015 starter Joe Hubener or Jesse Ertz? Snyder ultimately settled with Ertz as the main man under center this year.
Earlier this season, Ertz’s play was up and down. One moment the Iowa native looked like a Big 12-caliber signal-caller; the next moment fans questioned why he was even on the roster.
For the second straight week, Ertz has looked like a Power Five quarterback.
Although the statistics won’t reflect it, Ertz was effective early on against Iowa State. In the first quarter, the 6-foot-4 signal caller was only 3-of-7 for 25 yards passing. However, Ertz did have a 54 yard run that helped Kansas State claim the early 3-0 lead. Once the second quarter came however, he started to find his groove.
A 11 yard touchdown pass here and a 22 yard bullet there. With Ertz finding his rhythm through the air, the Wildcats’ lead grew to 17-3 going into halftime. Once the second half came around Ertz and Kansas State’s passing attack stalled.
Heading into halftime, Ertz was 11-of-19 for 108 yards and a score. In the second half, Ertz was 7-of-9 for only a mere 43 yards. After 60 minutes of play, the gunslinger was 18-of-28 for 151 and the lone score.
“I’m going to have to watch the type to give an honest answer,” Snyder said after the game on Kansas State’s bogged down offense in the second half. “It’s easy to say execution, but I don’t know if that’s totally the case. I think there were some communication issues, and we didn’t distinctly play well.”
While Kansas State’s aerial attack halted, its running game kept chugging away.
The Cyclones possessed the nation’s No. 115 rushing defense–out of 128 teams. The Wildcats exploited that weakness early and often. Kansas State’s first drive was a 71-rush-yard drive, no passing involved. In the first quarter, the Wildcats compiled 98 rushing yards.
Altogether, Kansas State tallied 247 yards on the ground, produced by a variety of sources. Ertz rushed for a career-high 106 yards, running back Justin Silmon carried the rock for 54 yards and a touchdown, and backs Charles Jones and Alex Barnes both ran for 34 yards and a score.
Jesse Ertz has rushed for 109 yards. He's averaging 15.6 yards per carry.
— ROB GRAY (@ROBWGRAY) October 29, 2016
Although the Wildcats nearly put up 400 total yards and 31 points while averaging 5-plus yards per attempt on the ground–which is solid for a defense-first KSU team–Snyder wasn’t overly pleased by his offense’s performance for four quarters.
“I’m not saying it’s so doggone easy, but the only way you can become successful is start, finish and be consistent in between,” Snyder said. “We’re not doing that.”
Despite not performing consistently, Kansas State still put up its third 30-plus point performance in Big 12 play.
Looking at the remaining portion of the Wildcats schedule, heading to a bowl game seems more than likely since they still have the Kansas Jayhawks to play. Along with Kansas, the Wildcats have Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU left on the slate.
With Jordan Willis, Elijah Lee and Dante Barnett leading the way, Kansas State certainly has the defense to beat those three formidable opponents. The question becomes: Which Wildcat offense will show up — the one that performed against West Virginia and Oklahoma or the one that put up 44 points against Texas Tech?
The way Kansas State’s offense has been playing lately, the Wildcats could perform as they did against the Red Raiders and the Cyclones. If that happens, Kansas State would more than likely finish in the top three in the conference and heading to a second-tier (as opposed to fourth-tier) bowl. If the Wildcats want to grab those prizes, the offense will have to continue to head in the right direction.