Was the newfound emphasis on the running game an attempt to make the Raiders a tougher, more physical team following what head coach Mike Leach characterized as a "soft" performance against Texas? That is difficult to say. Leach, however, did see some signs that his team is emerging from the lethargy that doomed it against Texas.
"We rose on all three sides of the ball at key times, but then also, we didn't finish the deal on all three sides. I saw some progress, but we need to improve on it."
Nobody could argue either with Leach's assertion of progress, or his claim that the Raiders still have work to do. Penalties, for instance, continue to plague Leach's ball-club. Against KSU, Tech had 10 for 88 yards including a grounding penalty in the end zone by Cumbie in the third quarter that counted as a safety for Kansas State and gave the Wildcats a blast of oxygen when they had been trailing 28-10.
With Tech clinging to a 28-19 lead in the fourth quarter and a rejuvenated KSU in possession of the ball on its own six yard line, linebacker Fletcher Session jumped offsides on an incomplete pass giving the Wildcats a third and one, which they then converted. Fortunately, the Raider defense shut down the drive on the next series of plays.
Additionally, safety Josh Rangel was flagged for a late hit on Kansas State quarterback Dylan Meier after Meier had scored a touchdown to make the score KSU 25 Tech 35 with 2:27 to play in the game. Red Raider safety Vincent Meeks defended KSU receiver Yamon Figurs well on the two-point conversion attempt, however, preventing the game from becoming a one-score affair, and the succeeding on-sides kickoff didn't travel the necessary 10 yards, which mitigated the cost of Rangle's faux pas.
For the Red Raider defense, it was feast and famine in the Kansas wheatfields. In the first half, Tech held the Wildcats to only 100 total yards and a single touchdown. In the second, however, the Raiders often reverted to the form displayed against the Texas Longhorns, giving up 315 yards and 18 points in the process. Dylan Meier, who, to be perfectly honest, is nobody's Vince Young, continued to demonstrate Tech's inability to stop running quarterbacks, lumbering for 84 yards on only sixteen carries. He also had a decent night throwing the ball, with 248 yards on 26 of 41 passing.
In the end, however, the defense bowed up and made a huge play to strongly advance the cause of Raider victory when the game was still very much in doubt. With the score 28-19 and KSU marching into Tech territory, Raider defensive end Adell Duckett applied heat to Meier on an attempted screen pass, scooped the pass out of the air with one hand, and rumbled 24 yards to the Kansas State 43 yard line. Never mind that the big hoss from Mineral Wells was tackled by a staggering Meier when he could have scored a touchdown by cutting rightward off of a vexillation of blockers rather than attempting to run over the quarterback; Henderson had his game-breaking touchdown run the very next play.
Pass protection and catching the ball are other areas that Leach will undoubtedly target for improvement. As already noted, the Wildcats sacked Cumbie four times and were able to pressure him almost at will with the blitz. And Cumbie's receivers sometimes let him down when he did get the ball off, dropping four passes, two of them by Cody Fuller. The absence of tight end Bristol Olomua, who did not make the trip because of an injury, and receiver Nehemiah Glover, who played only the first quarter of the KSU contest because of an apparent ankle injury, did not help matters.
Cumbie was well aware that his offensive unit is still, in Leach's words, "a work in progress."
"We always have to do more. Every week we have to prove our worth as a team, and next week is no different. Tomorrow night's practice, we're going to have to prove ourselves all over again. We're not basing our season on one victory or one loss."
Despite the lapses in pass protection and the dropped balls, however, the Raider offense still packed a nasty jolt. In addition to scoring 35 points (one below the season average), Tech racked up 417 yards of total offense, and Cumbie completed 27 of 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns, and perhaps most important, no interceptions. Cumbie's best buddy against the Wildcats was inside receiver Trey Haverty who compensated somewhat for the absence of Olomua and Glover by snagging eight passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Moreover (and despite two missed field goals), the Raiders finally got a spark from their special teams. With the Raiders leading 21-10 early in the third quarter, freshman receiver Danny Amendola reeled in a long punt at his own ten yard line, cut sharply to the left, found a wall of blockers, and outraced KSU defenders 90 yards for a touchdown to give Tech its largest lead at 28-10.