High expectations can do things to a football team.
Some collapse under the added pressure and others rise to the occasion.
Kansas State did a little of both on Saturday, leaving the seventh-ranked Wildcats wanting more from its 56-16 victory over in-state rival Kansas.
The Wildcats, who won their fourth straight over the Jayhawks, cruised to the blowout, but the problem was that it all came in the second half.
K-State (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) led by just seven at halftime at 21-14 and then outscored the Jayhawks 35-2 in the third and fourth quarters.
The first half was marred by missed opportunities on offense and a few surprises from KU that kept the Jayhawks within striking distance.
“We expected more,” said K-State receiver Chris Harper, who led the Cats with 69 yards on four receptions. “We wanted the game to be in-hand already by that time. We expected to be up by a lot at that time, to be honest.
“We were frustrated — and we were up at halftime. That shows you what type of team we are. It was a bad start and we wanted to do more and they played with us for a little bit.”
In the second half, however, K-State and KU looked liked the teams many expected to see on Saturday. The Wildcats ran, and then ran some more, all while using swarming defense to finish with five takeaways, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks.
All Kansas had in the final 30 minutes was a safety. KU quarterback Dayne Crist, who was 14-of-22 for 146 yards passing in the first half, completed just 2-of-5 passes for 43 yards and had two interceptions in the second half.
“I think we played better, reacted a little bit faster and we had more pressure in the second half than we did in the first half and that created some quicker-than-they-would-like throws,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said of his defense. “We created some problems for them.”
The Wildcats controlled the game on the ground in the second half, as quarterback Collin Klein and running back John Hubert both reached the century mark in rushing. Klein, who was 7-of-14 passing for 129 yards and two scores, led K-State’s ground attack with 116 yards on 10 carries — including a 1-yard TD in the second quarter and a 28-yarder late in the third quarter.
Hubert also need only 10 carries to rush for 101 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. The junior scored on carries of 20, 32, 1 and 10 yards — the last three coming in the second half.
“That’s every game… it’s last week, it’s the week before that, it’s the week before that,” KU coach Charlie Weis said of Klein. “The thing about this kid, he doesn’t have to throw it too much for them to be good on offense because two key ingredients with Collin — he can run the ball with power, he isn’t one of those quarterbacks that has to get on the edge and be a read-option guy, and then he causes misdirection problems with Hubert.
“If you spend all your time trying to stop Collin, now he’s handing the ball off. I can’t tell you how many times in this game you saw the running back in space.”
Though K-State was clicking in the second half, it was the Jayhawks who did most of the clicking in the first half.
Kansas had 263 of its 388 total yards in the first half — doing what it wanted at times against the K-State defense, including a touchdown-scoring drive on the Jayhawks’ first possession of the game to take a 7-0 lead.
The Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2) also relied on some trickery to stay afloat in the first half. Not once, but twice on the same drive, KU faked kicks to keep the ball moving. The first came on fourth-and-8 from Kansas’ own 29-yard line when punter Ron Doherty took a high snap and then ripped through K-State’s return team for a 13-yard rush and first down. Doherty later missed a 24-yard field goal.
Then on fourth-and-2 at the Wildcats’ 23, the Jayhawks faked a field goal when holder Blake Jablonski rolled out and completed a 12-yard pass to Toben Opurum for another first down. KU scored four plays later to take a 14-7 lead.
Kansas ran 49 plays in the first half to the Wildcats’ 22 and more than doubled the Wildcats in time-of-possession. The two key fourth-down conversions didn’t help matters for the tired K-State defense.
“It can be tough mentally,” K-State linebacker Tre Walker said. “But physically, it’s football. Things are going to happen. It’s not always going to go the way you plan, so you just have to be able to fight back. That’s what adversity does to you.”
K-State tied the game at 14 on a 34-yard pass from Klein to a diving Tyler Lockett in the back of the end zone with 11:54 left in the second quarter. The Wildcats then gained their first lead when Klein punched the ball in from 1 yard out with 9:35 to play in first half to go ahead 21-14.
The Wildcats, who had 475 yards of total offense, squandered an opportunity at the end of the first half, though, with a chance to go up two scores on their feisty rivals. Nigel Malone intercepted Crist — the first of three on the day for the Wildcats — and returned it to the Kansas 5 with 16 seconds remaining.
K-State then called its last timeout of the half to set up a play that came up just short when Klein rushed to the left side and was stopped at the 1-yard line as time expired.
Snyder said his team was angry at halftime.
“I think that is probably the best mental approach and emotion they could have at that time,” he said. “The collective emotion was one of being upset about what had taken place and how we played.”
Snyder didn’t know the reason for the slow start and whether coming off a bye had anything to do with it, did say he hopes Saturday’s first-half dud serves as a lesson going forward — starting with Iowa State next Saturday in Ames.
“Hopefully the second half of the ballgame brought some understanding back in their mentality and focus,” he said. We’ll just have to see how we respond.”