Kansas State football vs. Iowa State report card: Not a pretty night for the Wildcats

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) finds a hole in the Kansas State defense during the third quarter, Saturday night atBill Snyder Family Stadium.

MANHATTAN — Kansas State's Big 12 slide continued Saturday night with a third straight loss, this time to an Iowa State team that had not won in Manhattan since 2004.

K-State took an early punch when Iowa State's Breece Hall scored on the game's first play, but still had a chance to tie it with a short field goal early in the second quarter. The miss from 33 yards was the beginning of the end for the Wildcats, who fell to 3-3 overall, 0-3 in the Big 12.

Here are the grades from the Wildcats' 33-20 loss to Iowa State:

Offense: Too little, too late again

It's easy to look at the final numbers and give K-State a pass on offense. The Wildcats did, after all, put up 342 yards against a league-leading Iowa State defense that had allowed just 234.2 yards on average coming in.

But those numbers were inflated by a 70-yard drive over the final minute, 17 seconds, fueled by six straight completions from Skylar Thompson before time expired. Trailing 20-7, K-State had only 120 yards at halftime, and 202 after three quarters.

The Wildcats had limited success on the ground, finishing with 136 yards, as Deuce Vaughn ran for 87 on 18 carries and Joe Ervin added 60 on eight attempts. And two-thirds of Thompson's completions — he was 15 of 23 for 206 yards — went to the wide receivers, which was an encouraging sign.

Wideouts Phillip Brooks (54 yards) and Malik Knowles (46) each had three catches and a touchdown, while Tyrone Howell grabbed two for 27 yards.

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But the Wildcats produced just one touchdown with a turnover that led to an Iowa State field goal on their five first-half possessions. And they did not help their defense out by losing the time of possession battle by 7 1/2 minutes.

"They did a good job on their side of the ball, keeping us off the field," Thompson said of Iowa State. "That's obviously something that we take pride in and our goal on offense is to get first downs and stay on the field and own the clock."

Thompson, who was effective moving around in the pocket to stay out of trouble against Oklahoma in the previous game, was sacked three times for 26 yards in losses by Iowa State.

Grade: C-

Defense: Problems continue to mount

The inability to control Breece Hall, Iowa State's all-Big 12 running back, and a lack of pressure on quarterback Brock Purdy was a lethal combination for a defense on a downward spiral since the beginning of league play.

The Wildcats bottled Hall up for much of the game, but not enough to make up for the explosive plays, namely a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game and a 43-yarder to set up another score in the fourth quarter after K-State had pulled within 14 points.

Hall had 10 yards in losses, but that was just a blip on the radar compared to his 297 net yards, not to mention five catches for another 35 yards.

As for Purdy, he calmly picked the defense apart to the tune of 22 completions on 25 attempts for 206 yards.

The Wildcats' hands are tied to some degree by injuries to defensive ends Khalid Duke and Bronson Massie, arguably their top two edge rushers. They tried to compensate with a series of blitzes, but produced zero sacks.

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Hall had his two big runs, but Purdy's longest pass completion was 25 yards, as the Cyclones were content to control the ball and protect their lead. They converted three third downs on a second-quarter drive that took 7:08 off the clock and five an 18-play, 10-minute drive early in the third quarter.

In all, Iowa State converted nine of 16 third downs.

"We've got to be able to get off the field on third down and we didn't do it," K-State coach Chris Klieman said.

The result was 418 yards total offense for Iowa State. K-State now has surrendered 1,291 yards for an average of 430.3 in three Big 12 games.

Grade:F

Special teams: Nothing special at all

K-State's special teams had been a bright spot in the losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and the Wildcats figured to have a big advantage against an Iowa State team that has had its issues in the kicking and return games.

Malik Knowles was coming off back-to-back games with kickoff return touchdowns of 90-plus yards, while Taiten Winkel had been money on field goals and extra points.

Knowles did come close to breaking a couple of returns, but his longest against the Cyclones was 32 yards. The Wildcats had no punt return yards.

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And Winkel had a rough night, starting with a missed 33-yard field goal attempt that could have tied the game in the second quarter. He also hit the right upright on a point after.

Ty Zentner did average 51.7 yards on three punts, but only one pinned Iowa State inside its 20 and another reached the end zone for a touchback.

Grade: F

Coaching: Things don't seem to be getting better

With two weeks to prepare for Iowa State, one would have expected a more consistent performance, but things went from bad on the game's first play, to worse.

There were too many mistakes, both mental and physical for a team that has a razor-thin margin for error against good teams.

Both K-State and Iowa State were coming off bye weeks hungry for a win after 3-2 starts, but only the Cyclones reflected that sense of urgency.

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Granted, K-State has faced what arguably could be considered the top three teams in the league to start off — Baylor might have something to say about that when it's all said and done — but that just adds to the frustration. Instead of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State bringing out the best in them, they fell flat.

Now, with the schedule easing up, the challenge will be to rally the troops and get refocused for Texas Tech next Saturday in Lubbock, Texas.

Grade: F