Kansas State finished the non-conference portion of their schedule 3-0 under new coach Chris Klieman with a 31-24 win at Mississippi State on Saturday. Every win is big but this one had to feel particularly nice because the Wildcats made plenty of mistakes and still won a road game against a good SEC team.
Kansas State was picked to finish 8th in the Big 12 but it’s hard to believe they will finish that low after their impressive non-conference play. Their first two games meant nothing if they didn’t play well on Saturday to back it up. And again, they made several mistakes Saturday and still looked like the better team and won the game.
Player of the Game:
I am giving this to Malik Knowles. Nobody else really stood out but Knowles was terrific in the kick return game so I’m giving the Player of the Game to Knowles. On offense Knowles had just one reception doe 12 yards. He rushed twice for just 12 yards. But Knowles had three kick returns for 124 yards and a touchdown.
The turning point in the game came on a 100-yard kickoff return by Malik Knowles early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 24-24. Mississippi State took its first lead with just 4:47 left in the third quarter to go ahead 21-17. Then just ten seconds into the fourth quarter the Bulldogs kicked a field goal to go up a touchdown. On the ensuing kick, Malik Knowles returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, immediately tying the game right after Mississippi State thought they were taking control. After that touchdown the Kansas State defense held the Bulldogs to back-to-back three-and-out possessions giving the offense time to get back to what worked for them early in the game and score what would eventually be the winning touchdown.
Nobody was great in this game but Skylar Thompson was effective. Thompson made several nice throws even though he was just 10-for18 for 123 yards in this game. The coaching staff didn’t ask him to do a lot in the passing game but Thompson made good decisions for the most part with what he was asked to do.
Room for Improvement:
The Kansas State punt return team needs to get a lot better. Multiple muffed punts recovered by Mississippi State made this game much closer than it should have been.
Surprisingly, discipline was lacking today. Stupid penalties tacked on yards for Mississippi State when Kansas State had a chance to end drives.
Ball control was another weak spot for the Wildcats in this game. The Wildcats had four fumbles and lost three of them.
Once again, even with all of these problems, the first two of which should be easy to fix before the next game, Kansas State looked like the better team on the road and won the game.
You could second guess how Kansas State’s first possession of the game ended. The Wildcats drove from their own 32 to the Mississippi State 20 before attempting to convert on a fourth and one. Kansas State moved the ball down the field relatively easily with a good ground game. Chris Klieman decided to try to run for a first down on fourth and one when the Wildcats had a relatively short field goal attempt in their sights and they were stopped. With this being the Wildcats first true test of the season, scoring on their first drive would had to have been a confidence builder to legitimize the blowouts they had against outmatched opponents in their first two games. It wasn’t a terrible decision based on the success the Wildcats were having on the ground. And I’m sure Klieman wanted to try to punch the ball into the end zone instead of settling for a field goal. Regardless of the reason, it didn’t work and the Wildcats got no points out of a nice drive.
On their second possession of the game, Kansas State was once again facing a fourth down play around the Mississippi State 20 yard line. Now, the first possession in which they went for the first down was just 4th-and-1 and this second possession was 4th-and-4, but Klieman decided to try for the field goal this time. This was an easy decision but some coaches would have decided to go for the first down again to prove their point. Klieman made the right decision to take the three points and jump on the scoreboard first.
Kansas State has next weekend off before traveling to Oklahoma State in their first Big 12 game this season. Much like Kansas State, Oklahoma State won their first two games easily against weak opponents. Oklahoma State will not have next weekend off. The Cowboys travel to Texas to open their Big 12 season.