Joe Hubener threw the ball and Steven West caught it. Just like that, Kansas State’s backup quarterback found a third-string receiver for a touchdown that put the finishing touches on a 55-16 victory Saturday over Stephen F. Austin.
A stadium filled with 52,830 fans cheered and so did a gaggle of starters watching from the sideline.
This is what a blowout looks like. For the No. 20 Wildcats, on the first big night of the college football season, it was a welcome change. A year ago, North Dakota State shocked them with a late touchdown in the same end zone. In previous seasons, they barely beat Massachusetts and Eastern Kentucky.
But Kansas State dominated on Saturday.
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“The team reacted well to it,” junior cornerback Danzel McDaniel said. “We always hear about how we lost to North Dakota State last year. The team wanted to go out and put that game behind them, losing to a (Football Championship Subdivision) school. This was a lot more fun.”
It was a mismatch from the opening kickoff, with K-State scoring touchdowns on its first four drives and forcing the Lumberjacks to punt on their first three. The outcome was decided shortly after halftime, and backups were subbed in for much of the fourth quarter. This was a throwback to Bill Snyder’s first stint as coach, when he won openers by huge margins.
It was also the ideal start to a season that will take K-State to Iowa State next weekend and bring No. 6 Auburn to Manhattan on Sept. 18.
Jake Waters led the charge by picking up where he left off last season, throwing for 223 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 55 yards and two touchdowns. He commanded the offense brilliantly, completing 19 of 28 passes and taking off downfield when he saw space.
That he put up those numbers with limited help from star receiver Tyler Lockett, who caught a touchdown pass and blocked on a handful of plays in the first quarter but was otherwise relegated to the sideline, added to the performance. Lockett said he is 100-percent healthy and described his lack of playing time as a “coaching decision.”
When asked why Lockett didn’t play past the first quarter, Snyder said: “I didn’t want him to.” When asked if he will play his normal role against Iowa State, Snyder replied: “If I want him to.”
Waters led the offense without him.
“I thought I played well,” Waters said. “There are a few throws I would like back, a few things I could have done better. But this offense is filled with guys that were playing in their first games. They are only going to get better. I am really excited about what we can do moving forward.”
K-State’s other top playmakers came from an area of concern heading into the game. Senior DeMarcus Robinson passed sophomore Charles Jones on the running back depth chart and started his first game, rushing for 49 yards in 11 carries and catching four passes for 47 yards. But Jones also looked good, running for 55 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. He also caught a pass for 17 yards.
Perhaps replacing John Hubert in the backfield won’t be as challenging as previously thought. Or maybe Stephen F. Austin needs work on defense.
Whatever the case, K-State had no problems moving the ball in its opener. Nine players caught passes, including touchdown grabs from Lockett, West and Kody Cook.
Things didn’t go quite as well for K-State on defense, as its linebackers and defensive backs were often caught off guard by quarterback scrambles and designed runs up the middle.
Backup quarterback Joe Minden scored the Lumberjacks’ first touchdown on an 18-yard scramble and running back Gus Johnson scored on a 30-yard jaunt in the third quarter.
“Overall, I thought we played reasonably well offensively,” Snyder said. “Defensively, we have some work to do. We made some mistakes. We just have to do a better job. It’s not rocket science to stop the quarterback when he pulls it down and brings it out. They did a nice job scrambling with the football job. We did a miserable job defending against the scramble. We are not a good pass-rush team.”
Still, one of the most entertaining moments of the night came after Minden’s touchdown. While celebrating with teammates, he held his finger up to his facemask. The officials flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct, explaining that he “shushed the crowd” — with K-State leading 21-6.
Before Minden’s drive, the Wildcats had held down the Lumberjacks to nothing but punts, frustrating first-year coach Clint Conque to the point that he pulled the team’s starting quarterback, son Zach.
K-State answered Minden’s touchdown with a touchdown drive of its own and missed a field goal as time expired in the second quarter to go into halftime ahead 28-10.
The Wildcats then scored back-to-back touchdowns to take a 42-10 lead.
Surprisingly, Snyder did so while jazzing up his usually vanilla first-game offense. Jones was taking snaps out of the wildcat formation midway through the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was quieter than the others. After left tackle Cody Whitehair exited the game with an injured right ankle — he winced in pain while trainers examined him but eventually walked off the field without help — Snyder sent in Hubener and the offense tried to run as much clock as possible.
But they had one highlight play in them. It was a welcome change.