STILLWATER, Okla. — There’s something about watching Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard that can leave those in attendance impressed. It’s his speed, mostly, which he had used to enter Saturday night as the Big 12’s leading rusher.
Kansas State spent a lot of time watching Hubbard on Saturday night in a 26-13 loss to Oklahoma State.
Hubbard gashed K-State for 296 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown, making life hard on the Wildcats’ defense whenever he had the ball.
“He’s a great football player,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “He can run through arm tackles. He gets his shoulders square and can outrun you. ... This is a tough offense to defend because you have to pick your poison a little bit in what you want to do — defending a terrific wide receiver, terrific quarterback and a terrific running back.”
Hubbard was such an unstoppable part of Oklahoma State’s offense — “dynamite,” according to Klieman — that he averaged 11.8 yards per rush. He got downhill quickly. Accelerated with blazing speed.
The awards line up. In July 2015, Hubbard placed fourth overall in the 100-meter sprint, clocking a personal-best time of 10.55 seconds at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia.
It was on full display Saturday.
“They just came out to play,” said K-State linebacker Elijah Sullivan, who made three tackles and recorded an interception. “We didn’t come out in the first half like we wanted to, but he’s a good back. Hats off to him, and the rest of their O-line and their scheme that they’ve got. He’s a good back.”
Klieman said there’s plenty of ways he wants his team to improve. One is obvious enough: Hubbard broke free for an 84-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter.
Another has to do with formations and communication.
“We’ve got to clean up when they were in their three-back set,” Klieman said. “We lost two big plays on that. Once again, seeing it from the field — we think we’re talking it through, but we’ve got to clean it up. Let’s give him credit, too. He ran through a couple arm tackles.”
Even so, not long after K-State’s defense gave up a long chunk on the first play from scrimmage, the Wildcats began to shape the rest of the game in a way they hadn’t been able to in nearly a month.
Sophomore defensive end Wyatt Hubert, who hadn’t played in three weeks because of an undisclosed injury, came up with a sack. He celebrated. Shushed the Boone Pickens Stadium with his finger. Three plays later, Oklahoma State punted.
K-State’s defense was hardly lights-out, but the signs were there. Junior cornerback Walter Neil Jr., like Hubert, also returned from an injury. The Wildcats, though they gave up an unsightly 526 total yards to the Cowboys, clamped down at times in the red zone and forced two short field goals.
The final score won’t reflect well on the Wildcats’ defense, but look at the numbers. Oklahoma State entered averaging 44.5 points per game, third in the conference.
That, in part, is why the Wildcats said they’re leaving Stillwater with something resembling a positive attitude.
“It was a couple times early off, they only got two field goals after that first touchdown they had,” Sullivan said. “So yeah, we did good in the red zone, but we’ve got to do it through the whole game. That’s what I’m pretty focused on.”
The path forward figures to become easier for K-State. The Wildcats, who faced elite running backs in Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill and Oklahoma State’s Hubbard, don’t play any running backs of their caliber the rest of the season.
The closest may be TCU’s Darius Anderson, but the point remains — for the most part, the hard part is over for K-State. At least on the running back front.
Doesn’t mean the Wildcats aren’t hunting out their miscues, though.
“As a defense,” Sullivan said, “we can look at it like, ‘All right, even though they had 500 yards, 600 yards, whatever they had, we still kept us in the game.’ So we've just got to go back and look at the mistakes we made so (stop giving) up those dang yards."