In his final college game, Kansas reserve tight end Trent Smiley ran under a Michael Cummings pass in the end zone and was careful to get one foot down.
Career reception No. 5 for Smiley was a touchdown that made a dent in Kansas State’s 51-13 victory. Afterwards, Smiley stood outside the Jayhawks’ locker room clutching the touchdown ball.
“At least they told me it was the ball,” he said.
Smiley spent a few moments engaging inquisitors about the play, how he was in the game because Jimmay Mundine had been injured, how Cummings put the ball on the money, but then the chatter turned to the future. Smiley is a senior who won’t be a part of it, but he’s adamant about who should be.
“I’m done, so I can say things,” Smiley said. “The difference was night and day. We had a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Everybody was ready to compete. We felt encouraged and motivated.”
The postgame theme among players was strongly supportive of Bowen, who was named interim head coach on Sept. 28, replacing Charlie Weis the day after Kansas was skunked by Texas. Bowen went 1-7 in his audition with the last two weeks, including a loss at Oklahoma, most unsightly.
No matter, to those who suited up.
“I would love to finish my career playing for Clint Bowen,” Cummings said.
Cummings became the starter a game after Bowen took over, and Cummings finished with a better quarterback rating and completion percentage than Montell Cozart, who started the season.
It was one of two major personnel moves made by Bowen. The other was handing more play-calling duties to Eric Kiesau.
No changes were going to alter the outcome against a Kansas State squad in contention for a Big 12 championship. The Wildcats head to Baylor next week with a chance to gain at least a tie for the title, and they treated the Jayhawks about the same as they have in recent years.
Saturday’s 51-13 score is actually the average score of the Sunflower Showdown over the past five years, and the K-State winning streak in the series is six, which happens to be each of Snyder’s seasons back on the sideline after a three-year hiatus.
The day started poorly for Kansas, a three-and-out on the first series, and a bad throw by Cummings on the second that resulted in a tipped interception.
The game was 4 minutes, 42 seconds old and Kansas State led 14-0.
Cummings’ second interception will make all the blooper reels.
The Jayhawks had driven from its 25 to the K-State 32, and on a third-and-11, Cummings escaped trouble and saw Rodriguez Coleman near the pylon.
Cummings’ throw arrived, a bit short. Coleman left his feet and the ball struck his foot, sending the pig skyward. Cummings thought there was contact before the ball arrived, but no flag left an official’s pocket.
Two Wildcats had a chance to make the interception. Randall Evans did.
“You come into a game where you have to play a perfect game and play as good as you possibly can play,” Bowen said. “But starting off with turnovers is obviously not the way we needed to go.”
K-State drove far enough to kick a field goal, making it a three-score lead, before the Jayhawks put together an answer.
It started with a stellar defensive play by linebacker Michael Reynolds, who crashed through a pair of offensive lineman and brought down Charles Jones for a 7-yard loss. For the only time, K-State punted.
A combination of runs by De’Andre Mann and Corey Avery accounted for two first downs, and got Kansas to the 27, where Cummings lofted a beauty to Nick Harwell for a touchdown.
That throw and the scoring pass to Smiley were the Jayhawks’ offensive highlights. Defensively, Kansas stopped K-State that once. The Wildcats scored on nine possessions.
The game was a disaster for Kansas. But Bowen believes better days are ahead.
“It starts this week, it goes into winter conditioning, spring practice and summer days,” Bowen said. “Guys have to pay the price and earn everything they get. There has to be a standard set in your program.”
Kansas should know soon if Bowen is the one to establish it.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.