'We have to find those inches': Little things continue to cause big problems for Kansas State
MANHATTAN — Chris Klieman keeps insisting that his Kansas State Wildcats are on the verge of curing what ails them.
Ditto for quarterback Skylar Thompson.
But bottom line, following their 33-20 loss to Iowa State on Saturday night at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, the Wildcats are quickly learning that the devil is in the details.
"We have to execute better. We have to find those inches," Thompson said after the Wildcats fell to 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the Big 12. "There are a handful of plays in the game that are dictating the outcomes of the game and we are not making those plays."
Sure enough, the Wildcats can find plenty of examples where a play here or there could have altered the course of the game. But as was the case in losses at Oklahoma State and two weeks ago against Oklahoma, it was Iowa State that had all the answers when it mattered most.
"We played well at times," Klieman said. "We didn't make enough plays, bottom line, offensively and defensively, to win the game."
On the other hand, Iowa State (4-2, 2-1) needed just 12 seconds to set the tone when running back Breece Hall turned the game's first play from scrimmage into a 75-yard touchdown run. It was an uphill battle the rest of the way for K-State.
"It was a shock because we didn't see that type of blocking before," defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah said of Hall's opening dash.
While the defense adjusted and held Iowa State in check the rest of the quarter, a miscue by the offense led to three more points for the Cyclones. Thompson overthrew Malik Knowles on the Wildcats' second possession and Greg Eisworth intercepted to set up a 44-yard Andrew Mevis field goal.
Even so, K-State had a chance to tie the game or even grab the lead after Thompson found Phillip Brooks in the end zone on a perfect 40-yard strike with 3:58 in the opening quarter and the defense came up with another stop.
But a series of mishaps squashed that opportunity and it was downhill the Wildcats never recovered.
On a first down at the Iowa State 22-yard line, Thompson threw incomplete to Tyrone Howell in the end zone. The Wildcats claimed pass interference but did not get the call.
On the next play following a false start penalty, Brooks picked up a first down inside the 10, only to have it overturned when the video review showed that Thompson's pass hit the ground. Then on fourth down from the 15, Taiten Winkel had a chance to tie it with a field goal, only to miss wide right from 33 yards.
"They reviewed the one play. If not, we've got a chance to go up 14-10, and then we don't get any points out of that and I thought that was critical, to not get points out of that to at least tie it up if not take the lead," Klieman said.
Instead, Iowa State answered with an 80-yard scoring drive and 1-yard Hall touchdown run, and then tacked on a 41-yard Mevis field goal as time expired for a 20-7 halftime advantage. K-State never got within single digits again.
"It's frustrating, because we're close," Klieman said. "But we have to be able to make plays on both sides of the ball — offense, defense (and) a little bit on special teams as well.
"We've got to be able to make some of those critical plays. Obviously we're capable. We've seen it early in the season. The last three weeks, even though we've played really, really good teams, we haven't made the plays."
The problems compounded for K-State to start the second half, when after picking up an early first down, the offense stalled. Iowa State then ate up the next 10 minutes, 2 seconds with an 18-play, 93-yard drive by converting five times on third down.
"It was tough, only because we made too many mental mistakes that allowed them to keep going," safety Reggie Stubblefield said of the 10-minute drive. "We've just got to continue to clean up the things that we're beating ourselves on and execute."
Iowa State, on the other hand, did execute. Quarterback Brock Purdy completed 22 of 25 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Hall ran for 197 yards and two scores on 30 carries and Mevis was perfect on four field goal attempts, all from 40 or more yards.
Contrast that with K-State's turnovers, missed assignments and failure to cash in on limited opportunities when they did arise.
"Which to me just tells me that those little things, whatever they may be, we need to lock in and focus on doing the little things the best we can and make those plays," said Thompson who was 15 of 23 passing for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but only after completing his last six attempts with the Wildcats' fate already sealed. "It's obviously frustrating. I hate to lose."