Ryan Mueller and Jonathan Truman could wait no longer.
The tackling duo was ready to celebrate a successful afternoon of hard hits and big stops, and they were going to do so immediately. So they gathered up their defensive teammates and began congratulating them.
One by one, they pointed out the important plays that led to No. 11 Kansas State’s 23-0 victory over Texas on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and the key moments that added up to the Wildcats’ first conference shutout in 11 years. Normally, this scene would have played out behind the closed doors of the team’s locker room after Bill Snyder had given his postgame speech.
But this was no time to follow standard protocol. This gathering was on the sideline while the game was still being played, commencing the moment it was clear a shutout was intact. Holding Texas scoreless meant that much to them.
“It is definitely very challenging,” said Mueller, who had three tackles and a sack, “especially when sometimes in games you have big leads and you put the twos and the threes out there and they (give up) some touchdowns and points. That is definitely a bummer to the defense.
“It’s quite a challenge to shut teams out, especially in the Big 12. But it is a credit to the guys in our locker room and the guys on defense, just taking pride in their work during the week and putting it all together.”
Shutouts are hard to come by in today’s era of high-flying offenses. And they are extremely rare in the Big 12, where teams churn out plays, yards and points at a breakneck pace.
Texas (3-5, 2-3 Big 12) hadn’t gone scoreless since falling to Oklahoma 12-0 in 2004, and it didn’t seem like a shutout was on the horizon when it topped 500 yards in a 48-45 victory over Iowa State last week and piled up 482 yards the week before against Oklahoma.
Yet, the Wildcats, 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big 12, delivered their first shutout since blanking Kent State 37-0 on Sept. 17, 2011. It was the first shutout of a Big 12 opponent since defeating Iowa State 45-0 in 2003.
K-State has come close since, including last year against the Cyclones when it took a 41-0 lead into the final minutes. But the Wildcats’ offense lost a fumble in front of their own end zone trying to kill the clock. With 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining, Iowa State ran in a garbage-time touchdown.
Often there is no room for error.
“You don’t see them very often and we are just fortunate that we got one today,” said Truman, who had a team-high eight tackles. “Our game plan was great from the coaching staff and we were just fortunate enough to execute it. We were so excited when the clock was finally running out. Me and Mueller got some of the defensive guys together and just told each other how proud we were.”
They were proud for several reasons.
For starters, this was a major turnaround for K-State’s defense from last week. It allowed Oklahoma to amass 533 yards and throw downfield for big plays. Cornerback Morgan Burns was no match for OU receiver Sterling Shepard, and safety Dylan Schellenberg seemed lost. The unit played well enough to win, but everyone involved agreed they could do much better.
Seven days later, they approached perfection against Texas. K-State’s pass rush forced Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes into a bad day after throwing for more than 300 yards in back-to-back games. Because of that improvement, many picked Texas to give K-State a competitive game.
But Swoopes completed 13 of 25 passes for 106 yards, and he got no help on the ground.
The Longhorns had trouble moving the ball all afternoon, finishing with 196 yards, and came away with nothing every time it began a promising drive.
The most demoralizing moment had to be in the first half, when Texas drove to the K-State 17 … and punted. A holding penalty, followed by a sack from Elijah Lee, pushed it completely out of scoring range.
Of course, frustration was also obvious when Jaxon Shipley lost a fumble on an attempted reverse at midfield in the third quarter. Same thing in the fourth quarter, when Dante Barnett and Truman swallowed up running back Johnathan Gray before he could get back to the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1 in the red zone.
“You do not ever want to be shut out,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “You want to go get some points and score some points. We thought we had a game plan … Every fourth-and-1 if we could get it down there and go get the first down to set us up for an opportunity to go in there and get the score, that would make it a 16-7 game. And that is a different ballgame.”
K-State’s offense wasn’t at its best, but it took advantage of a low-scoring game on the other end. Jake Waters, playing with a nagging pain in his left shoulder, threw for 224 yards, Tyler Lockett had 108 receiving yards and running backs DeMarcus Robinson and Charles Jones each had a rushing touchdown.
The best thing K-State did offensively was possess the ball for 39:14, giving its defensive counterparts plenty of rest to pursue a shutout and preserving it by killing the final 4:32 behind backup quarterback Joe Hubener.
While the crowd of 52,879 cheered Hubener’s arrival with chants of “We own Texas,” K-State’s defense huddled up on the sideline. It was time to celebrate.
Snyder was glad it did. When asked how much he valued the shutout, it was obvious he was ready to celebrate, too.
“A great, great deal,” Snyder said. “I can’t tell you the last time we had a shutout. It just doesn’t happen this day and age. I thought it was something for our youngsters to be extremely proud of.”