Last year, North Dakota State had the talent, depth and grind-it-out game plan to spoil Kansas State’s family reunion.
The Bison beat the Wildcats on opening night and ruined the dedication of the West Stadium Center by squeaking out a 24-21 win in the final minute of play, shocking the second-largest crowd in Bill Snyder Family Stadium history in the process.
Stephen F. Austin did not have that chance.
The Football Championship Subdivision Lumberjacks were undermanned and outclassed in K-State’s 55-16 win Saturday night, with the Wildcats quickly jumping out to a double-digit lead in a game that was never in doubt.
But a closer look reveals more than just a lopsided win for the Wildcats on opening night.
A defense with six starting spots to fill showed its inexperience against SFA, allowing 16 points and 302 yards, while failing to put much pressure on the Lumberjacks’ duo of quarterbacks and allowing their receivers to find openings for several big gains.
Despite facing a ‘Jacks defense that allowed more than 500 yards per game to its opponents last season, you get the feeling the Cats will be fine on offense.
Jake Waters looked good both throwing and running the football, and even without top receiver Tyler Lockett, who was held out most of the night in a precautionary move, the unit put up 55 points.
Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson were both solid running the ball, with Jones looking particularly good out of the Wildcat formation while Robinson found success lined up as the main back alongside Waters.
But the defensive players didn’t match the effort of their offensive counterparts.
K-State’s secondary gave the Lumberjacks’ receivers plenty of elbow room for short gains, while also allowing multiple 30-yard gains on deep looks. Both quarterbacks were able to scramble effectively against the Wildcats’ defense, each going for runs of more than 15 yards.
“Defensively, we have some work to do,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “We made some mistakes — we just have to do a better job. It’s not rocket science to be able to stop the quarterback when he pulls it down and brings it out.”
To be fair, the Lumberjacks don’t win many games, but they do sling the ball around.
Despite ending the year with a 3-9 record in 2013, they averaged 38.5 points a game and 571 yards of offense.
With its top rusher and several prominent receivers back this year, the ‘Jacks figure to light up the scoreboard night in and night out, but with just 23 total points in eight meetings against current Big 12 members, the ‘Jacks made the K-State defense look quite average.
Talented JUCO transfers D’Vonta Derricot, Isaiah Riddle and Terrell Clinkscales didn’t play Saturday and each come highly touted as potential difference makers on defense. Whether they can get up to speed and help the defense in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but K-State showed it could use reinforcements if it’s going to contain the high-octane passing offenses of the Big 12, not to mention the high-scoring Auburn Tigers, who come to town in less than three weeks.
Snyder indicated his defense must improve if his team hopes to beat Iowa State, which lost 34-14 to North Dakota State in its opener, next week.
“People got scrambles against us last year, we gradually got a grasp of it,” Snyder said. “We’re going to see it this coming week. (Iowa State QB Sam) Richardson, he can pull it down and bring it out — his eyes are going to light up when he sees the tape tonight.”
Whether the K-State defense fares better against the Cyclones remains to be seen — they logged just 253 yards against the Bison Saturday. If the offense performs even half as well as it did Saturday, it might not matter.
But when the competition ramps up in Week 3, Snyder knows the defense must improve.
For now, the Cats can celebrate after a family reunion that ended far better than last year’s dud. But when the fireworks end and the dust settles, the defense must get back to work.