Near the end of an interview with reporters Tuesday, Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters was asked a broad question about Saturday’s game against Texas-El Paso.
If he could choose one thing for his team to do well against the Miners, what would it be?
“Finish,” he said.
“Every game, we have been able to drive it on the defense and move the ball down the field, but we either kill ourselves with penalties or make a mistake,” the senior said. “Once we get down to the red zone, we haven’t been able to finish. That is the biggest thing. We have been able to move the ball when I am smart with the football and we make plays. We have just been stalling around the red zone.”
Those missed opportunities were most noticeable during a 20-14 loss to No. 5 Auburn last week. The Wildcats played well enough to win, but three missed field goals and an interception in the end zone held them back. They made five trips inside the Auburn 20 and scored twice.
“Last week was pretty frustrating,” running back Charles Jones added, “because we didn’t execute like we wanted to. … We want to get in the mindset of just getting it in the end zone and fighting harder.”
The red-zone woes were wide-ranging.
Star receiver Tyler Lockett lost a well-thrown ball off his chest that ended up in the hands of an Auburn defensive back for a touchback. Waters lost big yardage on a fumble that led to a missed 42-yard field-goal attempt by Jack Cantele. Then Cantele flubbed a 22-yard try. Throw in a missed 41-yarder just outside the red zone, and little went right for K-State after it crossed the 50.
Add in two disappointing drives against Iowa State the previous game and it’s easy to see why K-State is focused on its red-zone offense this week.
On the season, K-State has been adequate inside the 20, scoring 14 times on 17 trips. It has scored 12 touchdowns and two field goals. Those numbers aren’t bad, ranking sixth in the Big 12. But they are well outside the top 50 nationally. The mistakes have been compounded by timing. Each the Wildcats walked away from the red zone with nothing, or three points, the impact has been noticeable.
Against Iowa State, the Wildcats threatened to take a 21-0 lead midway through the first quarter, but were unable to cross the goal line on two of their three early promising drives, resulting in a 13-0 advantage. Iowa State retained confidence and roared back to lead 28-13 before halftime.
“We have to have a stauncher mindset in regards to that area of the field,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “We probably need more work down there. My belief is that if you can move it down the field you ought to be able to move it down there. The field condenses a little bit, so, in terms of the passing game, it is not quite as expanded as it would be out on the field. Aside from that, defenses are defenses and offenses are offenses.”
Waters thinks he can guide K-State into the end zone by simply making smarter decisions.
Against Iowa State, he became overconfident in his passing abilities and checked into too many throws against the Big 12’s ninth-ranked run defense. On one drive, back-to-back incomplete passes turned first-and-goal into third-and-long. Against Auburn, he thinks he could have made better passes.
He hopes for better results against UTEP.
“Iowa State game, we threw three times down in the red zone and had to kick a field goal,” Waters said. “Against Auburn we threw the ball and it didn’t really work out. We might have to change that up when we choose to throw and I choose to throw. When the plays come, we just have to make them. That is the biggest thing. When plays present themselves we have to take advantage, especially down in the red zone, because it is so hard to get in.”
Burns expected back
Snyder said he expects starting cornerback Morgan Burns to play against UTEP. The former Trinity Academy standout missed portions of the Auburn game with an apparent groin injury.
Moore out for season
Charmeachealle Moore, a junior linebacker from Dallas, will miss the remainder of the season with an undisclosed injury, Snyder said. Moore made two tackles in the season opener against Stephen F. Austin, but hasn’t played since. Snyder said Moore will apply for a medical hardship waiver in hopes of turning the lost season into a redshirt year.
Snyder and K-State players continued to support Cantele on Tuesday, saying they remain confident in his kicking ability despite missing four of his first eight tries. But Cantele may have to perform in practice this week to remain atop the depth chart. Freshman Matthew McCrane replaced him for a fourth-quarter extra point against Auburn and will continue to push him for playing time this week.
“Every day is competitive,” Snyder said of the kicking position. “Going into this week, we will have competition.”
Thank you, K-State fans
Snyder wrote a letter to K-State fans Tuesday that said the following: “On behalf of our players, coaches and support staff, I want to thank you so very much for your expected, yet amazing support Thursday evening. As always, you were truly special and greatly appreciated. Although we didn’t do our part, you provided a great motivational spirit for each of us.”