No one dressed in a Kansas State football uniform felt more relief than Alex Barnes when Kansas State’s 27-24 victory against South Dakota went final Saturday night at Snyder Family Stadium.
“If we would have lost,” Barnes said, “that would have been on me.”
Barnes, K-State’s starting running back, was understandably hard on himself. The fact that he rushed for 103 yards meant little when he realized it took him 21 carries to hit that number. Even worse, he put the ball on the ground three times and lost two fumbles. One of them occurred in the final minute, with the Wildcats trying to run out the clock. His lone priority was to hang onto the ball, yet it still popped loose and gave the Coyotes unexpected life.
That, he said, was inexcusable.
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“I want to apologize to all the Kansas State football fans who came (Saturday),” Barnes said. “I didn’t come ready. I am a better football player than that ... I didn’t’ come out ready to play and started that game out really slow. I wasn’t being physical. I can’t explain it.”
Some coaches will pull a running back at the first sign of ball-security issues, but Snyder stuck with Barnes because he has never had issues with fumbles. Snyder couldn’t think of a single time Barnes had previously fumbled in practice or a game with the Wildcats, let alone three. This was uncharacteristic.
Barnes certainly didn’t expect fumbles to be an issue coming off an impressive preseason camp in which some teammates and coaches pointed to him as the best all-around player on the roster.
“I wasn’t thinking about it,” Barnes said. “I wasn’t making a conscious effort to hold onto the ball. I just let it go. Man, it’s not something I like doing or something I usually do. It’s not something I have done since high school. I am going to double down on my ball security this week and make sure it doesn’t happen again this season.”
Snyder is confident Barnes will secure the ball in future games. This, it seems, was simply one bad game. Odds are he will improve as the season continues, starting next week against Mississippi State.
But his playing time could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t. With capable running backs Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon behind Barnes on the depth chart, there’s little reason to trust someone with fumble issues.
“There’s no stat that you can create that will overcome three turnovers,” Snyder said. “Alex is not that kind of player. He feels bad about it. He got up in the locker room and apologized to his teammates. He’s a humble young guy. But that goes back to us being able to coach guys to possess the ball, quarterbacks, backs, and receivers.”