Daniel Sams has had perhaps the best two-game stretch by a Kansas State quarterback running the ball in school history. And yet the Wildcats are in the middle of a three-game losing streak and facing a harsh reality of possibly not making a bowl game this season.
That’s the kind of season it has been for K-State, now at the halfway point and in the middle of its second bye week, still with no clear-cut quarterback leading the Wildcats.
Both Sams and Jake Waters have had their good moments — whether it was Waters passing for more than 275 yards in three of his first four games or Sams rushing for 118 yards against Oklahoma State and then 199 more yards and three scores a week later against Baylor.
But with the good has come the bad, and there’s been a lot of that. Waters had four interceptions through the first two games, two fumbles at Texas and another at Oklahoma State. Sams had four turnovers at Oklahoma State — including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions — which he followed by throwing another fourth-quarter pick just this past week to seal a Baylor victory.
“We still aren’t where we need to be,” Sams said Tuesday. “As far as me finishing at the end of the game, interceptions are something that we can’t have. We still have areas that we need to improve, but I feel like we’ll get there.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder said he’s seen improvement in both of his quarterbacks through the first six games, but neither is quite where he wants them to be just yet, clearly.
“I think the results have come from practice time — focusing on what is significant and improving in areas that certainly need improvement,” Snyder said. “I thought Jake ran the ball well (against Baylor) and we are trying to bring along his ability to do that, but I thought he had some difficulty throwing the ball.
“We had less turnovers, but the one at the end was a critical turnover in the ballgame. So, we still haven’t mastered everything, but we’re knocking on the door.”
Much of the quarterback play has revolved around finding the right fit for both — the when and where part of deciding how to use Sams and Waters. There hasn’t been a consistent substitution pattern. Waters took all but two snaps in the season opener and then shared time in the first half at Texas, only to have Sams stand on the sideline the entire second half.
Waters started the game at Oklahoma State — just one play — and then was replaced by Sams, who took the majority of the snaps the rest of the way. Both split time again against Baylor, but Sams still saw more snaps.
“I think we understand how they play,” Snyder said. “I don’t think we ever had any doubt. In fact, we have understood from the beginning. It’s just a matter of getting them to understand the system — trying to get them to do the things we are doing without making mistakes.”
On the season, it’s pretty clear to see where each of the quarterbacks have excelled. Waters has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,036 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions, while rushing for 151 yards and two scores — averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
Sams, meanwhile, has completed 69 percent of his passes for 261 yards with two TDs and four interceptions, while rushing for a team-best 522 yards and seven touchdowns — averaging better than 6 yards per carry.
If there’s a cause for concern midway through the season, it almost certainly has to be the amount of abuse Sams has taken by running the ball. Collin Klein was tough as nails and even he broke down eventually. Sams, who went to the locker room briefly and returned against the Bears, has carried the ball 57 times in the last two games combined.
“I am always concerned,” Snyder said. “I’m concerned about our offensive linemen that take 70 snaps a ballgame or a defensive lineman or anyone else. They all get hit. It’s a physical game, as is evidenced. We have a bunch of players that have been out for a period of time and it has taken a toll on their health as well. It’s the nature of the game for everyone else as well, not just us.”
Though K-State hasn’t come away with victories in the Big 12, the Wildcats have seemed to move the ball better with Sams under center — other than his untimely turnovers at the end of games. K-State’s ground production has increased with Sams taking more snaps the past two weeks — allowing the Wildcats to do what the Wildcats do — control the game and the clock.
In the last two weeks against Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Wildcats have averaged nearly 236 rushing yards a game — including 327 against the Bears.
“He allowed us to move the football and be more effective with our offense, but we still had some correctable miscues,” Snyder said of Sams.
K-State made so many mistakes in the loss at OSU, it seemed almost impossible that the Wildcats still had a chance to win the ballgame in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats committed a season-high 12 penalties and had five turnovers, collectively.
Against the Bears, the penalties were cut to just four, but two proved to be extremely costly in the end — a late hit out-of-bounds in the first quarter to extend a Baylor drive and then a 10-yard holding penalty in the fourth quarter to kill a drive, forcing the Cats to attempt a 41-yard field that Jack Cantele missed.
“The ballgame (against Baylor) boiled down to us giving up four big plays on defense and two critical penalties that equated to 21 points,” Snyder said. “That had a major impact on the outcome of the ballgame. Offensively, we scored three touchdowns on six trips into the red zone. That was 18 points left off the scoreboard because we only got a field goal out of it — there’s about 39 points we should have had.
‘Those are the mistakes that you have to overcome and get corrected. It is really that simple. There are certainly some other issues that we need to address, but you take those segments out of the ballgame and you certainly put yourself in a position to win the game.’