In an attempt to wake up its passing game, Kansas State turned to a new target Saturday against Oklahoma State.
No, it wasn’t a wide receiver. Or a tight end. It was fullback Jax Dineen.
Yes, Kansas State’s answer for its struggling passing game was to use its fullback more, a position not known for its pass catching or play-making abilities.
To his credit, Dineen made a difference. He caught four passes on five targets for 35 yards. All three categories led the team. Each of his catches came on flat routes within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage.
The routes also opened up opportunities later in the game, as K-State used Dineen as a decoy to allow Will Howard to find tight end Sammy Wheeler for a 58-yard gain on a deep dig route.
Still, even Dineen’s attempts to stretch the field for K-State fell short. Without tight end Briley Moore available, the Wildcats lacked the downfield ability needed to overcome Oklahoma State in Saturday’s 20-18 loss at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“It was everybody on deck today,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “Briley is such an impact to our offense. To not have him obviously hurt us.”
Howard finished the game 10-of-21 passing for 143 yards with one touchdown and one interception. In a game where Oklahoma State clamped down on K-State’s running attack in the second half — 168 rushing yards in the first half to 59 in the second — Kansas State’s lack of pop in the passing game became more evident as the clock ticked down.
So far this season, only two K-State wide receivers have more than 10 catches, with Chabastin Taylor the owner of 17 catches coming into Saturday’s matchup and Phillip Brooks having 10 catches prior to the game.
Taylor was shut out Saturday, while Brooks had two catches for 29 yards and a score. However, he was unable to make a play on K-State’s second quarter two-point conversion, when Howard slightly overthrew him on a flat route.
“You always are trying to get to 14 points rather than chasing it, and let’s be honest, we had a great play called and we just didn’t execute it,” Klieman said. “It was open and we just didn’t execute it.”
With Moore, who was dealing with a back injury suffered against West Virginia, unable to go for the game, Kansas State hoped Wheeler would step up absence. While his 58-yard catch was one of K-State’s biggest plays on the day, it also was the only time Wheeler appeared on the stat sheet.
The Wildcats sorely missed Moore in their trips to the red zone, as they settled for field goals twice.
“We just have to finish,” center Noah Johnson said. “As a whole offense, we have to finish. We can’t get complacent, can’t think we’re driving and in the red zone and going automatically score. We have to finish.”
In the end, it was the lack of passing game that hammered home the nail in Kansas State’s coffin. With no timeouts and 1:47 left in the game, Howard tried to force a pass to redshirt freshman tight end Konner Fox in double coverage. It was easily intercepted by safety Tre Sterling. Fox, who doesn’t have a catch yet this year, likely was playing the position Moore would have occupied had he been healthy.
“We’re not good enough yet,” Johnson said. “But we’re going to keep working and stay together as a group, as a team. We’re going to learn from it.”