Heading into Saturday’s clash at Mississippi State, Kansas State defensive end Reggie Walker had a goal for the defensive line.
The Wildcats had allowed 14 points over their first two games, but the front four didn’t have a sack.
They had two in K-State’s 31-24 win, but more important, they set the tone from snap No. 5. Here is how the defensive front made a difference in capturing K-State’s first road win over a SEC team in school history.
Snap No. 5 was a run-pass option tunnel screen to Mississippi State receiver Deddrick Thomas. Bulldogs starting quarterback Tommy Stevens gave a play fake to the running back and immediately retreated.
He took three steps back and fired off his back foot to Thomas to his right. Mississippi State pulled its right guard, which left K-State linebacker Daniel Green clean through the A-gap.
Green dived for Stevens and landed at the quarterback’s feet. His pressure was enough to force the off-balance pass, and it went into the grass incomplete to force a punt on third-and-4.
The pressure continued on the next Mississippi State drive as senior defensive end Kyle Ball got the Wildcats’ first sack of the season from the defensive line.
Ball was unblocked. Stevens read Ball on another RPO play that was designed for an inside zone run play or a bubble screen to the quarterback’s left.
Ball gave a hesitation move toward the running back, Kylin Hill, and bounced around when he saw Stevens kept the ball. It was a loss of four and the first time Stevens was hit.
Stevens came into Saturday with an injury to his right shoulder sustained in Week 2 against Southern Miss. It was unclear weather he would play until game time.
Ball visibly affected Stevens’ comfort in the pocket. The next play, senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon split a pair of Mississippi State offensive linemen up the middle and forced Stevens to escape.
He climbed the pocket, escaped Jordan Mittie and Ball and made one of the more impressive throws of the day to receiver Osirus Mitchell. One play afer that, he was picked off as senior safety Denzel Goolsby snagged a tipped ball.
On Mississippi State’s next drive, its last of the first quarter, Stevens went 0-for-2 with two overthrows that sealed the K-State defense’s grip.
On third-and-9, defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton dialed up a blitz disguised as cover 0, man-to-man with no safety help. He put seven Wildcats within two yards of the line of scrimmage and brought five.
Dishon got there as Stevens let go of the ball, and the pass sailed out of bounds.
After Stevens was hit once, his footwork suffered and he seemed to start to lose trust in his arm.
After a holding call on first down, a second quarter drive rested on Stevens’ injured shoulder. On second-and-19, he had four receivers to the left half of the field. He had windows for open receivers but didn’t pull the trigger.
He backpedaled to his left, but Dishon got to him before he could make a decision.
In the third quarter, on Stevens’ last play of the day, Hazelton brought an overload blitz to the quarterback’s right with cover 3 over the top.
Mississippi State ran a pair of routes 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, and junior cornerback A.J. Parker, who was responsible for the deep right third of the field, stayed over the top. Stevens overcompensated on a throw up the seam, and the ball carried to Parker.
After K-State took a 10-0 lead through the first 13:31 of the first quarter, Stevens started making more dangerous throws.
Ahead of the Bulldogs’ first touchdown, Stevens faced a third-and-5. Walker rounded the Mississippi State right tackle and forced Stevens to climb in the pocket.
He threw into double coverage to Mitchell, who stands 6-foot-5, and got away with it for a first down.
After freshman backup Garrett Shrader came in for Stevens, the pressure didn’t stop. On third-and-7 in the third quarter, a pair of Wildcats broke through the Mississippi State line again.
Shrader rolled to his right and floated a pass off his back foot to Thomas. The ball sailed over junior nickle corner Jahron McPherson and went for 26 yards. It was ill-advised but a great throw under heavy pressure.
K-State’s closest sack that didn’t count came late in the third quarter. Shrader had inspired a comeback and held onto a 21-17 lead.
On first-and-10, he faked a pitch to running back Lee Witherspoon and eyed a flood concept to his left. K-State covered it well on the back end, but Shrader was close to forcing it. He squared his shoulders, but Ball had ripped through the left edge and had Shrader around the waist.
On the ESPN broadcast, a K-State fan even said, “Oh, we got him.”
Shrader held onto the ball until Ball turned him almost 180 degrees facing Witherspoon in the flat. Instead of forcing the ball into coverage, he checked it down to avoid an interception.
On a day of ‘almost’ for the K-State defensive line, the Wildcats had one last shot at the quarterback that would have ended the game.
Dishon flew through the Bulldogs’ line and forced Shrader to his right. Walker was waiting and got his hands on the quarterback. Shrader tried to fit his pass into a tiny window, and junior linebacker Elijah Sullivan stepped in front. He had the turnover in his hands to seal the win but dropped it.
A play later, the game virtually ended anyway as Shrader turned into a helicopter.
K-State finished the win with two sacks, six tackles for losses, two interceptions, three pass break-ups and three quarterback hurries. It forced Mississippi State to make a change for a freshman quarterback and was the driving force behind making the Bulldogs rely almost entirely on their running backs.
“Our D-Line played exceptionally well,” Klieman said. “I’m so happy for those guys, a bunch of seniors up there. They did this without Wyatt Hubert. Guys like Kyle Ball and Reggie and (Bronson) Massie played really, really well at end. So did all the defensive tackles. Jordan Mittie is a stud, and he made plays. (Trey Dishon) made plays. Everybody made plays, and we had to against a terrific running back.”