Wildcats Take Down the Herd

The Kansas State /Marshall game was an emotional rollercoaster with numerous momentum swings- the last in favor of Kansas State. The Thundering Herd came out in front of the biggest home crowd in their school's history and a game they have had circled on their schedule for some time.

There was a heavy fog that covered Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington West Virginia, early before the game between the Wildcats and the Marshall Thundering Herd. Soon after the 9:30 AM Kansas time kickoff and almost before anyone had finished their morning cup of coffee the Cats seemed to still be in a fog as they found themselves quickly down 10-0. If you could script a worse start for a youthful team on the road, this was it. The poor start was much to the delight of the hometown crowd of Thundering Herd supporters going crazy with their version of thundersticks in front of a national television audience.

The Wildcats shook off the fog however and hung tough - scoring all of their points in the first half before eventually outlasting the Herd for an exciting 21-19 victory that went down to the line. Down to the line and in such a fashion that will have many Wildcat and Herd fans left to wonder what if? I can hear their cries even now, fans twisting in irony and agony as they second guess their prospective coaching staffs and decisions late in the game.

But coaches coach and players play and these Wildcats found a way to eek out a win. Ugly or not there were players in this game who gave their notice there is a team spirit that has taken over this team and it is infectious. The Wildcats wanted to improve on their opening season win and get their young team some road experience in what was a very hostile environment and the way to win games like this is hustle. Let's talk about Justin McKinney never giving up and creating the turnover on a kickoff that would have put the Herd in excellent field position. Or let's discuss Tearrius George sticking up for his teammates and putting his helmet right into someone else's grill.

But it was not only Herd fans who can lament today, look around the country at ugly wins and then talk to Tulsa who all but had the game in hand only to have Oklahoma escape on the tailcoats of super sooner Peterson. Or the Maryland fans who found a way to give up 10 points late in the 4th quarter and you will realize how beautiful this Win is for K-State. Beautiful win, ugly game.

After faltering early on misfires and missed opportunities, the Cats offense really turned it up a notch, scoring 3 consecutive touchdowns to take a surprisingly quick 21-10 lead. Thomas Clayton scored on a 35 yard run (anyone else seeing a pattern developing) and Webb connected with Jordy Nelson for a score to then follow up again with another Thomas Clayton romp on a pass from Webb. This was an impressive performance from the Wildcat offense in such a short amount of time and young or not these Cats will bite.

For the game, the Wildcat offense was 9-16 in third down conversions which went along way in helping Kansas State come out on top. Marshall on the flip side only converted 2 third down attempts in the game. Think about that, the Herd was only able to pick up two third downs throughout and although they bent - the defense did not break and made the big plays to win the game when they needed.

The much suspect and young offensive line, the same one that Bill Snyder seems to not want to speak of very much other then to say they are growing up…..were very solid allowing the Wildcats to gain over 200 yards rushing on the Marshall defense. Sure the Cats didn't take advantage of some of the opportunities they had on offense but the maturity of the offensive line is beginning to take shape already. Thomas third and short for the first score is proof as well s the time that Webb had to play checkers in the pocket.

This however didn't stop the Kansas State offense from looking very sluggish for the rest of the game following the 21 point outburst. Allen Webb threw an interception in the second quarter and still I am left to wonder who was supposed to break off their pass and where the nearest Cat in the vicinity was but I digress. This costly Interception led the Wildcats into a conservative offensive mind set and they finished the half with two straight three and outs. Prior to the pick I found myself nodding my head in the approval as Del miller was calling a whale of game catching the Herd in numerous blitzes. You could see the letdown and if you thought Pamela Anderson got roasted, you missed the earful Coach Snyder gave Webb on the sidelines following the play.

And then there were the believers……

Marcus Watts continues to pay dividends and seems to be getting better and better. Raise your hand on the delayed blitz up the middle in the second half on third and long if you like what he brings to the table. A play very similar to the one Watts made against Florida International that accounted for the only sack of the game. Watts was burned for what looked like a Thundering Herd touchdown when the sophomore safety stripped the ball loose from Marshall wide receiver Matt Morris and it was recovered by linebacker Ted Sims. Then Watts once again was involved hitting Bradshaw on a play when Marshall was marching the ball down the field and threatening. Watts did the right thing by hitting the Thundering Herd receiver and causing the ball to pop loose and at least early on, "the switch" from offense to defense is a hit with playmaking ability in the making.

Watts admitted after the game the first play when he stripped the football that he wasn't even in the right defense- we media types call that a blown assignment. That may be the case but this converted safety is a player that seems to have the ability to make a big play at the most opportune time and change a ballgame.

Early in the 3rd quarter there was another unforeseen problem when Kansas State lost it's head set communication between the sideline and the press box. This wasn't a big problem for the Kansas State defense because this year Defensive Coordinator Bobby Elliott is on the field leading the defensive charge.

Players resorted to using the phone that worked sporadically at best and while the team used walkie talkies there is a danger of having the signal intercepted by the other team. All communication problems aside, this was a game of numerous other mistakes and shortcomings that staff is going to take to fix. Frustrating at times but again, this team is there for one another and never gave up on each other. Through it all the mantra that was preached and will be heard over and over again this season- teamwork, team, spirit- this was never in short supply.

In the Big 12, there is a gentlemen's agreement that if there are communication problems, the other team shuts down their system as well. There is still no conformation if Marshall abided by that agreement but in the end it is a mute point. The Cats grew up a little more today and despite the roadblocks did it as a team.

Open Range……

Thomas Clayton had another big game for Kansas State with 3 catches for 45 yards to go along with a 151 yards rushing. He coughed up the football late in the game and K-State recovered and while dominated the 4th quarter of play it was what happened after the ball stayed with the Cats that tells people why this team is different. Clayton, before heading back to the huddle, had junior running back Victor Mann in his ear talking to him until the full back himself went to the sidelines. Little things like that show the leadership difference with this years' team. The experienced players are stepping up and accepting their responsibilities as leaders and are leading. This is the right tone and this is what you need to happen if you are to win the ugly games.

Justin McKinney intercepted two passes in the game. Remember McKinney is the same player who said he wanted to make the coaching staff proud and everyone who believed in him proud that Kansas State stood by him- and he did.

It was the same McKinney who was burned on the play that seemed to have put the Wildcat hopes for a win in jeopardy. He came back on the very next play to make an interception off of a tipped pass with 2.8 seconds left in the game that sealed the victory for the Wildcats. Another team late in the 4th might not have had the same outcome. Another of example of how this Wildcat team never says die.

The Wildcats held on and celebrated on the field in front of the Purple Horde who had braved the early start time and made their way to the game. This was something the Thundering Herd took exception to it and post game punches were exchanged as the Cats danced about in victory. Unfortunate is that the coaches for Marshall were also involved in the incident and this required Bill Snyder and the team to receive a police escort off of the field.

Bottom line……

This didn't overshadowed what was an exciting game of ups and downs and while this young Wildcats team made mistakes that nearly cost them the game they hung on and survived. This gave Kansas State the confidence that they can make the big time plays at crucial moments of the game. Wins like this build momentum and character, both battle tested traits that Big 12 contenders have in spades. You never know how your team will respond when it is down and more then once today, I saw K-State not even blink and respond to what could have been knock-out punches.

Tale of the Tape…..

The Wildcats had 10 penalties to go along with mental mistakes that are the calling card of youthful teams. Witnesses were growing pains with a team that is having to mature at a quick pace with new players and new positions. Last seasons team perhaps would have folded up the tents and went home after falling down 10-0 early in the contest. Not Today!

Folks…this is the 2005 Wildcats and they seem to have a never say die attitude developing already at the early point in the season. Winning a season opener was important but going into an environment like the one they saw today at Marshall today and coming away with a victory going into a bye week is just the medicine this young team needs.

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