Many K-State fans who could not make it to Bill Snyder Family Stadium Friday night watched their Wildcats lose 24-21 to North Dakota State on the new Fox Sports 1 Network. Craig Bolerjack handled the play-by-play with Joey Harrington on color and Ryan Nece providing sideline insight. From best to worst, here’s an analysis of the ups and downs of that telecast.
Color analyst insight: Harrington, a former college and NFL quarterback, several times displayed his understanding of the offensive side of football, and particularly as it pertained to the development of Jake Waters. On Waters’ second quarter 45-yard touchdown pass, Harrington noted that Waters’ ability to buy time in the pocket prompted North Dakota State’s strong safety to momentarily pause, allowing Tremaine Thompson to blow past the defender. “The moment he stopped his motor he was done,” Harrington said.
A few minutes later, with K-State backed up against its own goal line on a third and long, Harrington speculated whether Waters would “have the presence to say I may not be able to get this one?” and play for a safe, short gain followed by a punt. Waters did not; he forced a throw, and it was intercepted.
Bolerjack also had his moments. On the Cats’ 56-yard Waters to Tyler Lockett TD, he noted the critical pump fake in real time. The fake was a key element to the success of the play. On the next series, Bolerjack touted quarterback Daniel Sams’ skills as a runner immediately before Sams raced for KSU’s third touchdown.
Review speculation: There were four reviews, and Harrington accurately predicted the outcome of all four. They included one reversal, one confirmation, and two in the “can’t tell” category.
Keys: At the game’s outset, Bolerjack and Harrington identified ball control as a North Dakota State key. They looked smart when the Bison won the possession battle 36-24, including an 8:30 fourth quarter drive for the game-winning touchdown.
What viewers learned that they might not already know: 1. That the North Dakota State nickname may be spelled B-i-s-o-n, but it’s pronounced B-i-z-o-n. Not very important, but worth a point in Trivial Pursuit. 2. That last year KSU made a habit of scoring on the first possession of the second half, a fete they repeated Friday night to less end-game gratification.
Yeah but that was then, this is now. Following a KSU interception, a Fox Sports graphic noted the Wildcats’ huge turnover margin last season. By game’s end, however, the Wildcats had committed two turnovers; that interception was the Bisons’ only one.
Glaring omissions: 1. Any shots of the stadium expansion. To Fox Sports, that was a non-story. 2. Harrington especially was noticeably weak when called on to analyze defensive performance. On the Bison’s last second, game-winning touchdown run, his commentary seemed to fault KSU middle linebacker Blake Slaughter, but he never explained how Slaughter had erred. 3. Bolerjack was quick to note North Dakota State’s strategy of kicking away from Kansas State’s dangerous returners, but falsely linked that to giving the Wildcats a field position advantage. To the contrary North Dakota State’s average drive start was at its own 36-yard line; K-State’s was its 28-yard line.
Sideline non-insight: Nece provided none to speak of. He gave no bench updates, and he notably did not deign to advise how either side appeared to be coping with the heat. He was content to serve as a second color commentator, merely tossing his opinions atop Harrington’s. He was, in other words, superfluous to the telecast.
Production oops: 1. At the game’s outset, the play clock for the team moving toward the north end zone was only partially visible on the TV screen; the play clock for the team moving south was readily visible. The obscure clock was quickly taken down, and the problem was not fixed until late in the second quarter. 2. The game’s first commercial break ran too long, causing a missed play that was not replayed.
Headscratcher: This from Harrington on North Dakota State’s second possession: “They’re taking K-state’s best shot and giving it right back.” Hey, the season’s only five minutes along…how is it possible to know what anybody’s best shot looks like?
Scoring would be bad? Toward the end of the third period Harrington actually suggested it would be better for K-State NOT to score quickly. “Sometimes you don’t want the big play … because it’s going to put the ball in the hands of North Dakota State against a tired defense,” he said. Leading 21-17, the Wildcats had the ball at midfield at the time. They did not score quickly; in fact they did not score at all, eventually punting. Here’s a good rule of thumb to follow in football or any sporting activity: take the points whenever and however quickly you can get them.