Kansas State defeated Baylor 33-20 on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
Three lingering thoughts from the game:
1. The struggle is real for K-State receivers.
Things have been so bad the past two games that it almost feels surprising when the Wildcats don’t put the ball on the ground. Isaiah Zuber and Dalton Schoen are K-State’s only regular contributors with catch rates above 50 percent. That’s ... Not good.
Byron Pringle was targeted four times on Saturday and didn’t make a catch. He’s had a rough go since the Central Arkansas game. Dominique Heath has been quiet all season. Isaiah Harris has disappeared.
Even Zuber, suddenly the most consistent receiver on the roster, had an ugly drop that cost K-State a touchdown against Baylor. At least he caught four passes for 79 yards and a score earlier in the game. He is right to describe K-State receivers as “the weak links on the team.” This position was thought to be a strength in the preseason, but it hasn’t turned out that way at all.
For now, K-State players seem to have confidence in their receivers and expect them to turn things around.
“I know our wide receivers are fully capable of catching every ball,” fullback Winston Dimel said. “They do it all the time in practice. I’ve seen it. They are here because they are great. They will start catching the ball again.”
Still, it’s troubling they haven’t already. One would have thought two grueling weeks of practice following the Vandy game would have eliminated most, or all, of the drop problems. But here we are.
Some possible solutions: Get Schoen more involved. He has been targeted six times this season and he has caught all six passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. It’s not a stretch to say he has the best hands on the team. Keep him on the field and let him try to make something happen across the middle. It might also be time to give Carlos Strickland a try. I’m not sure why K-State coaches haven’t played the Cal transfer yet, but he may offer some upside. Jesse Ertz could obviously make some passes easier to snag with better placement, as well. His completion percentage over the past two games is an unsightly 37.8 percent. Maybe some bubble screens would build up confidence?
It is imperative K-State solve its drop issues soon. Texas has allowed an average of 11.3 points over its past three games and made Iowa State look silly during a 17-7 victory in Ames on Thursday. Moving the ball against an improving Longhorns defense this weekend won’t be easy, especially if drops persist.
2. Jesse Ertz didn’t look right running against the Bears.
Maybe he was going out of his way to let plays develop and run behind his blockers. Maybe he was a little banged up. Whatever the case was, K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz rarely, if ever, ran at full speed against Baylor.
On several keepers, it looked like he was leisurely jogging in the open field. He still rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown, so maybe it was by design. But Ertz is the type of player who usually hits the hole at full speed and takes off. That wasn’t the case here. He looked fine throwing the ball, and there were a few times he quickly scrambled away from Baylor defenders. So it’s not like he was seriously hobbled. It was just kind of strange to watch.
The fact that he sat out the final drive and then skipped media interviews makes you wonder if he was dealing with some sort of minor injury in this game and needed a head start on treatment before Texas.
3. Tanner Wood made a huge impact on the defensive line.
Tanner Wood finally seems like he has got this defensive end thing figured out.
Not only did the K-State senior make six tackles on Saturday, he delivered one in the most ferocious way possible (body slam) and knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage.
The Wildcats looked great on the defensive line against Vanderbilt and once again got after it up front against Baylor. They obviously miss Jordan Willis in the pass-rush department, but they have played well the past two games and have mostly stuffed the run. Wood is a big reason why. If he continues to make that kind of impact alongside Will Geary, Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker, K-State will continue to make plays on the defensive line.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett