Kansas State will start Big 12 Conference play Saturday at West Virginia, one of two Big 12 teams that remain undefeated. It’s an early showdown in a league that appears wide open and a big test for the Mountaineers, who have yet to beat the Wildcats.
And if there’s a mystery team in the Big 12 this season, it’s K-State. Coach Bill Snyder’s team is 2-1 but has only played two-and-a-half games.
Saturday’s final nonconference tune up against overmatched Missouri State was a Kansas State 35-0 victory that was shortened to 30 minutes. Severe weather delayed kickoff for over an hour and at halftime the radar indicated more storms were moving in. Rather than endure more delays during what was to be a second half of more lopsided competition, the game was declared over.
Coaches like to preach that you “control what you can control.” Weather certainly fits into the “can’t control category. But Snyder dearly wanted to get game experience for his second- and third-string players.
“(Missouri State) Coach (Dave) Steckel was also wanting to do so,” Snyder said. “I wanted our guys, because we have a lot of guys that are twos, threes, I wanted them to get in the ball game. I think all the players wanted to play, but so be it.
“That’s two out of three non-conference ball games we haven’t been able to get the twos on the field. “Hopefully down the road it doesn’t cost us.”
The weather situation played a role in changing Snyder’s usual strategy involving the coin flip. Typically the Wildcats defer and go on defense if they win the toss. They called the flip correctly against the Bears but decided to receive.
“It was my understanding that if we had this kind of weather that the ballgame had to go into the third quarter or that you had to have a snap in the third quarter for the game to be official,” Snyder said, “which is true in conference games, but that is not the case in nonconference games. So that was the thinking behind (receiving the opening kickoff).”
Regardless of the weather and the shortened game, Missouri State, an FCS school, provided the Wildcats a glorified scrimmage. The Bears are picked to finish near the bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference and were without starting quarterback Breck Ruddick, who was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
“We did play well,” Snyder said of the defense.
“They did lose their No. 1 quarterback, however the guy who lined up and played against us was their starter for nine games last year so he had some capabilities, and they had the back-up who came in and ran the quarterback run game. If we had any issues it was giving up a few things in the draw game, but outside of that I thought we played well.”
Kansas State scored on its opening possession with quarterback Jesse Ertz directing an 11-play, 63-yard drive. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on five of their eight first-half possessions.
Ertz, a junior, put up outstanding numbers. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns – the lone incomplete pass was a drop by Isaiah Zuber – and also ran for 85 yards.
“His numbers looked awfully good,” Snyder said of Ertz. “Based on what I saw he did not make any real mistakes whatsoever. I thought he managed the game, got the snaps off, and did not get any delay-of-game penalties. He threw the ball well.”
Missouri State punted four times and turned the ball over twice, gaining 54 yards on 29 plays.
Since Snyder returned to coach the team, K-State had never held three consecutive foes under 300 yards. That was accomplished Saturday but playing just a half leaves that as a note with an asterisk.
And that’s appropriate for a team that, other than a “good job, good effort” loss at Stanford in the season opener on Sept. 2, enters October with the need to prove how strong it is. Or isn’t.