Bill Snyder described Kansas State’s offense as “soft.”
Skylar Thompson said the Wildcats need to find “an identity.”
Alex Barnes took things a step further.
Frustrated by a 31-10 loss to No. 18 Mississippi State in which the Bulldogs effortlessly amassed 538 yards and the Wildcats plodded their way to just 213, Barnes, a junior running back, offered a harsh assessment of the current state of K-State’s offense.
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“That’s embarrassing,” he said. “That’s pitiful. We came in hoping to be one of the nation’s most efficient offenses and right now we are nowhere near it. We realize that. The players realize that, the coaches realize that. We are going back to the drawing board. We have to find something that is going to work, because, right now, we are not where we need to be.”
Fixing a sputtering offense is priority No. 1 for K-State as it attempts to move on from yet another nonconference flop and make some noise in the Big 12.
Yes, the defense also got shredded by Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (159 rushing yards on top of 154 passing yards and two touchdowns) and running back Kylin Hill (211 yards and two touchdowns), but Blake Seiler’s unit has looked light years ahead of K-State’s offense through two games. Remember, the Wildcats managed 408 yards and one touchdown last week against South Dakota. It will take a lot more than that to win games in the high-octane Big 12.
So what does K-State need to do in order to turn things around under new coordinator Andre Coleman?
Thompson hit the nail on the head. The Wildcats need to establish an identity. Right now, it’s hard to say what that might be.
Coming into the season, everyone who followed this team said it would go as far as the offensive line would take it. With All-America candidate Dalton Risner leading the way at right tackle alongside four returning starters, K-State figured to have one of the best front fives in the Big 12, if not the nation.
But they aren’t living up to that. So far, they have been a weakness more than a strength. Mississippi State boasts one of the best defensive lines in all of college football with stars like Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks every week. This was K-State’s opportunity to prove it had an offensive line that could stand up to anyone. Instead, it got exposed.
The Wildcats surrendered four sacks and seven QB hurries, rarely giving quarterbacks Alex Delton and Thompson adequate time to stand in the pocket and throw. One of those hurries nearly led to a fumble from Thompson, when blitzing linebacker Leo Lewis flew around the offensive line and running back Justin Silmon and hit Thompson from behind, but it was ruled an incomplete pass after a video review.
On K-State’s opening series, Sweat blew by Risner untouched and forced Thompson to throw the ball away. Risner looked to Barnes in confusion afterward, thinking he was meant to block Sweat in the backfield. But Barnes said he was a receiver on the play, meant to serve as a passing outlet should Thompson encounter pressure.
“They were disruptive,” Barnes said of Mississippi State’s defensive line. “They were all over the place. They were getting to the quarterback with four-man pressures. That is unacceptable. We have got to do a better job.”
No one from K-State’s offensive line spoke with media afterward.
Those early hurries rattled Thompson. He was constantly looking over his shoulder for defensive ends, rather than looking downfield for receivers. That’s the main reason why he completed just 7 of 17 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. His only highlight came on a 23-yard pass to Dalton Schoen in the end zone.
Snyder mostly absolved Thompson of blame afterward, instead choosing to put the offensive line on blast.
“A lot of the problems we had throwing the football was just the fact that we did have pressure on him and the quarterback really couldn’t see out,” Snyder said. “You’ve got big guys in front of you. Sweat looks like he’s 7-feet tall. I know he’s not that tall, but he sure looks that way. But they get tall on you, and the closer they get, the less you can see and that created some problems for us.
“We had a number of throws that went into the ground. You saw throws that were just errant. You saw some throws where we had wide open receivers and we threw the ball in the wrong place. Part of that, not all of it, is just not being able to see out. So we’ve got to do a better job.
“Would I say our pass protection is not capable? no, I think they’re quite capable, but by the same token, we’ve got to be able to do it. We’re just a little soft right now.”
Things should get easier for K-State next week when it host Texas-San Antonio. But the offensive line also struggled against South Dakota. So, who knows?
It’s unclear what the Wildcats will do if they can’t get things turned around up front. With Coleman calling plays for the first time and two quarterbacks splitting snaps, things feel out of sync.
Thompson suggested the individual players within K-State’s offense don’t yet trust each other fully, which has led to mixed results.
That was summed up well on one play in the second half. K-State called a trick play in which Delton handed the ball to Barnes, Barnes lateraled the ball to receiver Isaiah Zuber, Zuber lateraled the ball back to Delton and then Delton threw to Zuber ... for a loss.
Something has got to change.
“We are definitely searching for an identity,” Thompson said. But our confidence is not lost. We are just disappointed, because we know we are better than what we are putting out on the field right now.”