For so long, Kansas State has won football games the Bill Snyder way.
The Wildcats usually avoid penalties. They rarely turn the ball over. They take what the defense gives them and they stay patient. To put it simply, they don’t beat themselves.
But the Wildcats have been straying from that system lately. An agonizing 33-29 loss to No. 21 Oklahoma State on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium was another glaring reminder. Kansas State was penalized 12 times for 92 yards and lost five turnovers. That’s a formula for failure, not success.
“In our history, we have not been that kind of a football team,” Snyder said. “We haven’t always been extremely good, but we haven’t turned the ball over and we haven’t gotten penalized and it has always given us a chance to win. We still had a chance to win with it, but it sure makes it a heck of a lot harder.”
Things will continue to get harder for K-State, which fell to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12, if the Wildcats don’t get back to their old ways soon. They dug themselves a hole by losing to North Dakota State and Texas and high-powered and undefeated Baylor is up next.
“It’s tremendously hard, just the fact that the last couple years we have had so much success here,” senior safety Ty Zimmerman said. “We didn’t do the things we normally do. We made too many mistakes, too many penalties and took ourselves out of the ballgame.
“I feel like we could just as easily be 5-0 right now. We really could have won those three games that we lost. It comes down to us, fixing the mistakes we’ve made moving forward.”
On Saturday, the biggest mistakes were self-inflicted. No Snyder-coached team had lost that much penalty yardage since 2005. And at one point in the second half, the Wildcats turned the ball over three times in five plays.
Those gaffes ruined a strong defensive effort that held Oklahoma State, 4-1 and 1-1, to 330 yards — it was averaging 474. Despite its struggles, K-State led 29-23 with 6 minutes, 9 seconds remaining.
“Any time you turn the ball over five times you aren’t going to win a football game,” receiver Curry Sexton said. “It stings because you realize we could have won, but we kept killing ourselves.”
Sophomore Daniel Sams, who came off the bench after one play to take over as the Wildcats’ primary quarterback, threw three interceptions and fumbled. Jake Waters also fumbled. The Wildcats also committed a running-into-the-kicker penalty, a slew of false starts and an illegal forward pass on a kickoff return.
The absence of its top two receivers also hurt K-State. Players said Tramaine Thompson was scratched from the game plan earlier in the week, though no official reason was provided. He dressed, but watched the game from the sidelines. Tyler Lockett started the game, but came off the field favoring his right hamstring in the first half and didn’t return.
Snyder said he was unaware how long Thompson and Lockett would remain sidelined. K-State’s other receivers continually struggled to get open against the Cowboys’ secondary, and Sams seemed confused.
“At the end of the day, everything falls back on the quarterback,” Sams said. “I threw three interceptions. That’s something you can’t do.”
Sams showed signs of brilliance, as well. He completed 15 of 21 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns while running for 118 yards. He also led a 57-yard touchdown drive that put K-State ahead in the fourth quarter.
But then everything fell apart. K-State’s defense, which hadn’t allowed a first down in the second half, surrendered a 57-yard touchdown drive less than 2 minutes later when J.W. Walsh hit Charlie Moore for a six-yard score that put Oklahoma State on top 30-29.
Sams threw an interception on the next play while trying to hit a well-covered Kyle Klein up the left sideline and Oklahoma State converted the turnover into a field goal.
K-State once again controlled its destiny with 2:24 to go, but Sams threw another interception, this time into zone coverage around Sexton, and the game was over.
“I just made a bad decision,” Sams said. “That last interception I was trying to make something happen and threw a horrible ball, so it’s something I will learn from and try to come back from.”
Everyone involved in this loss walked away with something to improve on.
“The thing that is so painful about it is we used to find a way to win,” senior linebacker Blake Slaughter said. “Last year we found a way to win. We weren’t that much better. We weren’t that much more talented. It wasn’t that we had five star recruits. We didn’t. We were similar guys. We found ways to win. We have to find a way to do that now.”