Kansas State defeated South Dakota 27-24 on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Here are some thoughts, awards and grades from the game.
Player of the game
Isaiah Zuber is the obvious choice. Blake Lynch gets honorable mention for kicking four field goals in the first half, but Zuber takes home MVP honors. Without him, K-State doesn’t beat South Dakota. The Wildcats were in serious danger at the start of the fourth quarter. Then Zuber, a junior receiver, returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown. Then Zuber got open in the back of the end zone for another score. Just like that, K-State went from 12 down to in control. He finished with 176 all-purpose yards and established himself as the team’s No. 1 playmaker.
Play of the game
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Zuber’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. Sorry to be repetitive, but it gave K-State momentum and swung the game its way. Up to that point, the Wildcats had scored only on field goals.
Stat of the game
Four. As in K-State committed four turnovers (two Alex Barnes fumbles, one Alex Delton interception, one Skylar Thompson interception) without forcing a single takeaway on defense. It’s not often you see the Wildcats lose the turnover battle by four.
Quote to note
“I just didn’t have them prepared to play. If they were ready to play and played the way we wanted them to, which is my responsibility, we would have probably fared a little bit better than we did.” — Bill Snyder.
Offense: D. It was an ugly night of football for K-State’s offense, which lost four turnovers and didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. Skylar Thompson probably did enough to start again at quarterback next week, but he was far from impressive. Delton completed just 5 of 14 passes and threw a pick six. Barnes rushed for 103 yards, but uncharacteristically fumbled three times. And K-State’s heralded offensive line was outclassed by an FCS opponent. In the words of Thompson: “I’m not sure we could have done any worse.”
Defense: B. This turned out to be a decent showing for Blake Seiler’s unit after a slow start. K-State held South Dakota scoreless in the second half and surrendered only 334 yards. Kyle Ball and Reggie Walker looked good at defensive end, and Kevion McGee surprisingly had four pass breakups. Those were positives. The secondary could have played better, though. Duke Shelley, especially, had trouble in coverage against South Dakota receiver Levi Falck, who caught 11 passes for 140 yards.
Special Teams: A+. Turns out, special teams might not be the weakness some envisioned. Lynch was perfect on field goals, connecting on kicks of 22, 24, 38 and 44 yards in the first half. And Zuber was electric in the return game. The Wildcats scored more points on special teams than they did on offense.
Coaching: C. It was a disappointing debut for offensive coordinator Andre Coleman. K-State fans spent the entire offseason convincing themselves he would revolutionize the offense, but his playcalling was anything but inventive against South Dakota. He ran the quarterback 23 times for 136 yards and couldn’t get much of anything out of the passing game. Maybe it was just first-game jitters. But this looked like a less efficient version of the 2017 offense. Snyder seemed angry at his offensive coaches afterward, refusing to say anything positive about their game plan. Defensive coordinator Seiler and special teams coordinator Sean Snyder brought up the overall grade to a passing level.
K-State will play host to No. 18 Mississippi State at 11 a.m. Saturday in its biggest nonconference game of the season. Mississippi State will provide a much tougher test than South Dakota. The Bulldogs steamrolled Stephen F. Austin 63-6 in a game that was over at halftime. Usual starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald missed the game while serving a suspension, but it hardly mattered. Backup passer Keytaon Thompson came in and threw for 364 yards and five touchdowns, adding 109 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback controversy?
Mississippi State will be favored after playing a much smoother opener than K-State, but it would be silly to write off the Wildcats after one mediocre game. Things turned out fine the last two times they struggled against an FCS opponent. In 2011, they edged Eastern Kentucky 10-7 in the opener and went on to win 10 games. In 2013, they lost to North Dakota State and still went 8-5.