Vanderbilt defeated Kansas State 14-7 on Saturday in Nashville.
Three lingering thoughts on the game:
1. There was no shortage of blame to go around on offense.
K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz said he has to play better than he did against Vanderbilt, and he is right. The Wildcats aren’t going to win many more games if he continues to complete 35.7 percent of his passes, average 2.7 yards per attempt and throw two interceptions.
But this loss wasn’t on him. It was a group effort.
There was plenty of blame to go around for a stat line that read: seven points and 277 yards.
After re-watching the game, it feels like the biggest issues were at receiver. Ertz only connected with two of them -- Isaiah Zuber (four catches for 37 yards) and Byron Pringle (three catches for 25 yards). Ertz targeted both Isaiah Harris and Dominique Heath four times, but they were kept off the stat sheet. Pringle and Zuber saw a combined 15 passes and turned them into 62 yards. Not good.
They all could have had bigger days, but they struggled mightily with drops. In all, I counted six drops. Four of them were unforgivable.
The opening drive stalled when Harris failed to reel in a well-thrown ball on a crossing route. Pringle got caught trying to turn and run before securing a pass and later let a ball slip away on his way to the ground. Heath couldn’t snag a pass that was thrown a little behind him in front of the goal on K-State’s final drive.
The other two drops (Harris on a diving effort near the sideline and Zuber losing the ball in triple coverage) were understandable, but prevented K-State from picking up big yardage.
I wonder if all those drops (on top of two picks) made Ertz hesitate in the second half. On K-State’s final offensive play, he had Harris open across the middle for what would normally be an easy first down pass, but he didn’t see him or trust him and looked elsewhere before ultimately taking off on an unsuccessful scramble.
“It’s not like anybody is trying to drop the ball,” Ertz said afterward. “I’m not mad at them. I missed my fair share of throws. I had two interceptions forcing the ball. Nobody was perfect tonight.”
That includes the coaching staff and the running game.
As good as Ertz was on the ground (126 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries), K-State should have made more of an effort to get Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon involved. Vandy gobbled up Barnes in the backfield a few times, but the Wildcats shouldn’t have conceded everything between the tackles. Almost all of their runs went to the outside. Silmon had two big runs in the second half, and then never saw the ball again.
I was also surprised K-State never tried any horizontal passes. As well as K-State receivers typically block on the perimeter, they may have found success with the occasional bubble screen or pick play.
It was clear K-State thought it was better off throwing down field and running with Ertz. That’s the opposite of what the Wildcats did best last season.
2. K-State’s defense is trending up
The biggest positive to come out of this game was the way K-State’s defensive line played.
After two weeks of rarely getting after the quarterback or stuffing the run, K-State’s front four made lots of plays against the Commodores. Reggie Walker played his best game of the season, continually forcing Vandy’s offensive linemen to hold him, rather than give up a sack. Trey Dishon had some nice tackles. And Will Geary was a force.
The senior defensive tackle had an outstanding game, finishing with five tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Every time Vandy ran his way, he was there to make a play.
And it would have been an even bigger day if not for the officials overturning a Kyle Shurmur fumble he appeared to force in the first half that Kendall Adams scooped up and took to the end zone.
By the way, I’m still not sure what the Big 12 crew in charge of that game saw to reverse the ruling on the field. The ball appeared to be coming out before Shurmur’s knee touched the ground. I certainly didn’t see indisputable evidence that it wasn’t a fumble. I think K-State fans are right to gripe about that one. But I’m no official.
K-State held Vanderbilt to 270 yards, with just 65 of them coming on the ground.
They also played well at linebacker. Trent Tanking led the team with 10 tackles, Jayd Kirby was next with eight and Elijah Sullivan looked good.
This was an encouraging game from K-State’s defense.
3. Vanderbilt is good
As frustrating as it was for K-State players and fans to lose a game they were favored to win by four points, Vanderbilt isn’t a bad team. Far from it.
I thought enough of the Commodores to rank them No. 25 in my AP top 25 ballot this week. They are legit on defense, having given up just 13 points all season. I doubt anyone in the Big 12 will bother K-State’s offense the way Vandy did. And they are good enough on offense to win games.
I’m not expecting Vandy to beat Alabama this weekend, but it should give the Crimson Tide a game. The 19.5-point spread in that one seems too high.
A loss to Vanderbilt doesn’t necessarily mean bad things are on the way in Big 12 games. It just means K-State lost a road game to a pretty good team.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett