Those on Kansas State’s side had lots to like about the group’s 48-41 win over Oklahoma on Saturday: Skylar Thompson and his four touchdowns. The balance of the Wildcats’ offense, which included running back James Gilbert racking up 105 rushing yards. Even K-State’s defense, which held Oklahoma at bay long enough to secure a win.
Yet one of the Wildcats’ more forgettable plays provides a window into an area of the game those on the sideline only can observe from a distance: Penalties, and how the team reacts to them, during the game and after it.
Results of penalties are generally straightforward — a loss of yardage in some capacity — but the Wildcats’ reactions sometimes can shape the way they approach the rest of the contest.
We’ll start with offensive lineman Scott Frantz’s false start penalty early in the third quarter against OU.
It came on one of the eight straight drives K-State scored on at one point. Gilbert had just broken a long 21-yard gain, and the Wildcats were in business, even after Jordon Brown got stuffed for no gain on the next play.
Then, Frantz was flagged for a false start.
When the team retreated 5 yards and reconvened to call the next play, a few offensive linemen gave their starting left tackle a message.
“‘Hey man, we can’t have that,’” they told Frantz.
“I’m like, ‘You’re right, man. We’ve got to be better than that,’” Frantz said. “There’s definitely a sense of accountability in the huddle. Those easy penalties to fix, like my false start, are penalties that we can’t have if we want to be successful.”
For their parts, the Wildcats are one of the least-penalized teams in the country. K-State ranks No. 33 nationally in that department, with 38 penalties for 239 yards this season, which translates to 47 penalty yards per game. That’s also good for second in the Big 12, behind only Iowa State.
But the penalties do happen, and the Wildcats are averaging about one more penalty for 3 more yards than last season, so how the team reacts matters.
The Wildcats greet penalties on the more innocuous side — calls for holding and false starts, for example — with a general let’s-keep-it-moving mentality. They would rather have avoided the penalty, of course, but the damage is done at that point.
“The biggest thing,” tight end Blaise Gammon said, “is to try to move on to the next play and get ready to roll.”
Then there are the penalties that come with more severe consequences, like personal fouls, which result in a 15-yard markoff. Those, Gammon said, are the ones the Wildcats and their coaches have less patience for.
“Something where someone loses their head or something,” Gammon said. “Obviously, you get a hold, you get a false start, you can’t have that, but they understand that certain stuff does happen. I think when people would lose their composure would be only the time when they might get a little more upset.”
Things are a little different on the defensive side.
According to senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon, if a player gets called for a penalty, they’ll get subbed out for the rest of the series to “cool down” if they’re upset over the call.
That’s just what happened to Dishon against Oklahoma. Toward the tail end of the Sooners’ third drive of the game, officials handed Dishon a facemask penalty — a personal foul. It gave Oklahoma the ball half the distance to the end zone, which meant 13 yards.
Oklahoma scored two plays later. Dishon, who said he was “fired up about the call,” couldn’t do much from the sideline.
Even so, he said he likes the approach.
“I think that’s good, especially when we get defensive penalties,” Dishon said. “We don’t want guys out there thinking about what call the ref made, good or bad. Just making sure their head is focused on the next play and that they won’t make a mistake.”
That’s new this year, Dishon said. In previous years, K-State didn’t make many substitutions, so players usually only sat out a play or two when they were penalized.
Now, under first-year head coach Chris Klieman and his staff, the Wildcats can afford to sit players longer because they make so many substitutions and they feel confident in the second-stringers. Earlier this season, Klieman compared the strategy to a hockey line change.
That’s not the only change the new coaching staff has made, though.
“I think in past years, people have pointed fingers and stuff,” K-State tight end Sammy Wheeler said. “This year, we’ve made an emphasis on, ‘OK, you screwed up. Everybody screws up. Go get the next play.’ I think that’s definitely a positive.”
The numbers tell a lot about K-State’s tendencies on the penalty front. For example: The Wildcats are averaging 21 more penalty yards in the two road games they’ve played this year than in their five home games. They’re also averaging 1.5 more penalties in losses than in wins.
The constant is this: When you get penalized, the official reads your number out on the public address system.
The worst reason for recognition on the field.
Just don’t think it affects Dishon.
“Some people would probably take it as, ‘Oh, that’s embarrassing,’ you know what I mean?” Dishon said. “But you can’t sit there and think about your opinion about whether the call was good or the call was bad.”
Gammon said he agreed, adding another important note.
“You never want to hear that,” he said, “but you try not to compound one mistake into another. You try to clear it and get ready to go for the next play, because at that point, that’s all you can do.
Which brings us back to Frantz’s false start penalty. He echoed what many of his teammates said: Nobody likes penalties, but when they happen, it’s time to move on.
The example he cited works perfectly here.
“There’s also a sense of, ‘All right, we’ve got to make it right,’” Frantz said. “That’s exactly what Skylar did. He threw a first down on third-and-15, and he made everything right.”