A month into the season is time for identities to take shape in college football, and Missouri has to love what it sees after a 45-28 thumping at Indiana.
Kansas State, not so much after falling at Texas. Kansas? Linebacker Ben Heeney put it best after the Jayhawks survived 13-10 over Louisiana Tech.
“We’re twice as good as we were last year now,” he said.
That’s right, Kansas is 2-1, a year after going 1-11.
The Tigers comfortably put away an Indiana team that figured to pose a stiffer challenge. The margin should have been greater. Mizzou committed three turnovers in Indiana territory, two inside the 5, in the game’s first 18 minutes.
But with 625 total yards and 33 first downs, Missouri was unstoppable. The Hoosiers aren’t Big Ten contenders, maybe not even a bowl team, but there have been enough mixed signals about the Tigers over the past two seasons to remain unsure about a game like this.
Saturday’s performance has Missouri’s arrow pointing up.
“A lot of encouraging things out there,” Tigers Coach Gary Pinkel said.
Just the opposite with Kansas State. Its 31-21 loss to the Longhorns was littered with turnovers, penalties and special teams blunders, the type of play that had doomed Texas to five straight losses in the series.
Saturday, no sequence better revealed the role reversal than one early in the third quarter.
A perfect option pitch arrived at running back John Hubert, who promptly muffed it for a fumble.
When it looked like the Wildcats would dodge trouble by forcing a fourth-and-short near midfield, the Longhorns pulled off a well-blocked fake punt to set up the touchdown that provided a 17-point lead.
Then with two minutes remaining and the Wildcats about to cut a two-touchdown deficit in half, quarterback Jake Waters lost a fumble. A final Waters’ fumble in the red zone with 17 seconds remaining sealed the outcome.
Texas had K-Stated the Wildcats and if the season, and Mack Brown’s tenure, is going to be saved, the process started Saturday. He came into the game off two horrible losses and left with a back slap from athletic director DeLoss Dodds. For the first time this season, the Longhorns played a physical brand of football, and with emotion.
Hey, Brown had a better night than Nick Saban, the prospective replacement if Texas regents had their way. Alabama was lackluster in its victory over Colorado State.
Where does this leave Kansas State? Surprisingly, Waters was more effective than the run-first Daniel Sams. Texas, burned by the run in its first three games, sold out to stop Sams with defensive backs cheating forward and closing quickly. K-State stuck with Waters in the second half, and some of his throws to Kevin Lockett were unstoppable. But the Wildcats couldn’t come up with a second threat.
Kansas also displayed an alter ego. When the Jayhawks fell behind 10-7 in the fourth quarter, they were looking at perhaps their most discouraging defeat in Charlie Weis’ two seasons.
But then the most un-Kansas-like thing happened. They created breaks, forcing two fumbles inside their own 5, coming up with big plays on offense, and finally turning the game over to a walk-on kicker who had failed to make the roster last year. But Matthew Wyman booted the biggest field goal in years, 52 yards at the gun for the victory.
“We’re not on a losing streak,” Heeney said.
Calling a three-point triumph over a Conference USA critical isn’t an understatement, especially the week after losing to another team in that conference, Rice.
“We really needed this win for our season to go how we wanted it to go,” Heeney said.