First Game Report Card - Victory not so Sweet

The most-used phrase by the players and Coach Ron Prince after K-State narrowly avoided an upset from Illinois State in the first game of the 2006 season was "A win is a win." This may be true, but, at the same time, many issues arose from the 24-23 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium Saturday night.

If these issues are not corrected soon, then Wildcat fans should not get too comfortable seeing the Purple and White celebrating after games and get strapped in what will be a long season.

Don't get me wrong, there were some positives that came from the victory, but they are few and far between.

Positive aspects of the game:

The penalties from the offensive line were cut down drastically from a year ago. The line was called for only one false start and one holding penalty, and no timeouts were wasted by quarterback Dylan Meier at the line of scrimmage while he was trying to audible to a different play, another big problem from last season.

Rashaad Norwood showed flashes of greatness, catching five passes for 53 yards, and Meier might finally have a decent tight end to throw too, something lacking in the passing game since the departure of Brian Casey two years ago. The defense has made huge strides in upgrading its tackling skills and pass-rushing abilities from a season ago. The team registered three sacks and one interception.

The special teams scored twice, once on an 81-yard punt return by wide receiver Yamon Figurs and the other by cornerback Byron Garvin on a nine-yard fumbled kickoff return by the Redbirds.

Probably one of the best things to happen in this game was that running back Thomas Clayton is now done serving his one-game suspension, and will more than likely return to his familiar role lining up in the backfield behind Meier. This should constitute a direct boost in the running game.

Negative aspects of the game:

The offensive production was almost non-existent. Meier threw for only 163 yards and two interceptions, and the Wildcats totaled 44 yards rushing, not exactly a blueprint for success.

The offensive line was constantly getting driven into the backfield on running plays, the guards were having a hard time getting to the linebackers when they were pull-blocking and Meier seemed to find himself on his back every time he dropped back for a pass.

Granted, three members of the o-line, left tackle Nick Stringer, right guard Gerard Spexarth and right tackle Michael Frieson were all making their first collegiate starts on the offensive line, but they better grow up quick if K-State has any plans of establishing a running game any time this season.

On defense, the Wildcats allowed Illinois State running back Pierre Rembert to rush for 116 yards, and quarterback Luke Drone had a field day picking apart the new cover-2 defense, as he was 24-of-38 for 253 yards and three touchdowns.

Wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Pierre Jackson caught 12 passes for 165 yards and three scores, and they always seemed to be wide open. Wildcat cornerbacks Bryan Baldwin and Justin McKinney have a lot of work to do if they expect to be able to shut down wide receivers from the Big 12 Conference.

Player of the game – Ian Campbell

No surprise here, as Campbell recorded three sacks, including two in each of the Redbirds final two possessions, helping preserve the Wildcat victory. He was the most disruptive defensive lineman. He accounted for eight solo tackles, and five of those were for a loss of yards.

Even Prince said after the game that Campbell was the Most Valuable Player from the game.

Surprise Contributor – Byron Garvin

Garvin was suspended after only playing a few games last season, and he came in as a third cornerback in nickel situations and also to spell Baldwin and McKinney at times. His biggest contribution came on the kickoff coverage team when he picked up a fumble by Illinois State's Jason Horton, which was caused by Marcus Perry, and returned it nine yards for a touchdown. The score revived a fairly quiet and concerned crowd, and, with the two-point conversion, put the Wildcats up 24-17 with 8:25 remaining in the game. He also had four total tackles in the game.

Player who might want to start looking over his shoulder – Carlos Alsup

Alsup got the starting nod at running back, but Clayton's suspension and Parrish Fisher's injury might have had a little something to do with that. Clayton returns next weekend when the Wildcats take on Florida Atlantic in Manhattan, and, even though Prince hasn't made it official yet, he will more than likely get his starting job back.

Fisher, who made a spot-start last season against North Texas for the suspended Clayton, became the first freshman in the Bill Snyder era to start a game at tailback. He rushed for a K-State freshman-record 169 yards in the game, earning him Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors. He would probably have fought for the starting job had he not injured his leg during spring practice.

Offensive Grade – D

No offensive touchdowns, 207 total yards and zero running game: Would you give them a higher grade?

Defensive Grade – B-

They gave up big plays, but not when it counted late in the game. Need to stop the running game and work out the kinks of the new defensive scheme.

Special Teams Grade – A+

This was pretty easy considering that without the two touchdowns on the punt return and the kickoff team, K-State would have easily lost. Like they always say, defense and special teams wins football games, and that was never more apparent than Saturday.

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