No. 22 Kansas State’s 48-0 romp over No. 9 Oklahoma State Saturday wasn’t just highly impressive or even merely eye-popping.
It was historic.
No other college football squad has ever shut out a higher-ranked AP top-10 team as dominantly as the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) skunked the Cowboys. It’s also the largest shutout victory that anyone has had against a top-10 team since 1966.
There’s more: it was K-State’s first shutout of a Big 12 opponent since a 23-0 win over Texas in 2014, its first shutout of Oklahoma State since a 10-0 victory in 1992, the Cowboys’ first time failing to score since 2009 and the worst loss in head coach Mike Gundy’s 18-year career in Stillwater.
The Wildcats have held every team they’ve played this season under their scoring average, but Saturday’s difference was by far the starkest.
Oklahoma State (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) entered the game as the nation’s third-best scoring offense at 44.7 points per game. And yet, the Cowboys never really came close to sniffing points at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Their best shot came in the first quarter when quarterback Spencer Sanders completed a pass to Brennan Presley, who took the ball down to the K-State 20 before linebacker Austin Moore punched it loose and defensive end Brendan Mott fell on it.
Beyond that, Oklahoma State got no closer than the Wildcats 38-yard line, where it turned over possession on downs on its first drive of the game.
“I thought our defense was phenomenal and held a really good offense to no points somehow, which is crazy, as talented as they are,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “We played as well as we could play.”
It wasn’t a fluke, by any means. The Cowboys didn’t play their best, perhaps, but K-State’s defense was solid throughout, consistently making plays when the opportunity arose. At times, those plays were of the heroic, drive-ending variety. At others, they were the everyday stops that just need to be made.
That all added up to one of the most incredible defensive performances submitted by any team this college football season.
Despite that, the Wildcats were fairly modest post-game.
“We stayed disciplined; we all did our job,” Mott said. “We didn’t do anything too special, trying to make too many special plays. We just did our job, and trusted our coaches and the scheme that we had this week.”
K-State forced three Cowboys turnovers — Mott’s fumble recovery, and interceptions by Julius Brents and Krew Jackson. They also limited Oklahoma State’s success in critical situations, as the Cowboys went 5-of-15 on third downs and 1-of-4 on fourth downs.
According to Klieman, that was an area of focus after last week’s loss 38-28 loss at No. 7 TCU.
“We were really poor last week on third down, and then you’re on the field way too much,” he said. “We were able to get off the field here. … Getting off the field allowed us to hang on to the football. To have that thing 35-plus minutes compared to 24, I thought that was really important for our team to keep our defense fresh and ready.”
The Cowboys finished the game with just 217 total yards, an average of 3.4 yards per play. They came into the game rolling up 466.9 yards per game, which was 24th-best in the country.
Down its leading rusher in Dominic Richardson, Oklahoma State struggled mightily in the running game. Regardless, the Cowboys still tried to establish a ground attack, but only managed a total of 54 yards on 30 attempts.
“You know they were going to try to run the ball; it’s Oklahoma State,” said safety Drake Cheatum. “Stopping the run game and making them throw the ball (was key).”
But the Cowboys didn’t have much more success in the passing game either. Sanders finished the game completing 13 of 26 attempts for 147 yards and two picks. Mott and Felix Anudike-Uzomah each sacked him once.
Redshirt senior linebacker Nick Allen — who filled in for the injured Daniel Green — led K-State with eight total tackles in his first game playing from start to finish.
“He just personifies what K-State football is,” Klieman said. “He walked on here. It hasn’t always gone great. He’s been beat up a lot. He earned a scholarship from us and has played really good football for us.”
“I wouldn’t really be able to do it without my teammates,” Allen said. “They push me every day. It’s a whole defensive effort, so I wouldn’t have been able to make any of those plays if it wasn’t for them.”
Moore, another former walk-on linebacker, had five total tackles, while Cheatum, Kobe Savage and Cincere Mason had four apiece.
True freshman linebacker Jake Clifton saw significant playing time with Green unavailable and Beau Palmer sustaining a season-ending injury in practice this week. Even with little time to prepare, Clifton still recorded three tackles.
“On Thursday, we said, ‘Hey, by the way, Jake Clifton, you’re going to now be a mike backer,’” Klieman said. “He played a handful of snaps at mike backer, probably about the same amount of snaps he got on Thursday at practice. Shows you the quality of a kid he is and how smart a football player he is.”
The 217 total yards Oklahoma State gained were the fewest the Wildcats have given up so far in 2022. It was their second shutout of the season — the first time they’ve had two in one year since 2002 — and their third game in which they held their opponent out of the end zone.
“It was great to pitch a shutout against that offense,” Cheatum said. “That was a great team that we played. Nobody needs to underestimate them going forward. That’s a great team. We just played our hearts out today and I’m just proud of everybody on defense.”