Saying goodbye is never easy. Those in Manhattan, Kan., might argue that holds especially true when you fall on the wrong side of a game lost by 35 points. With the Nebraska Cornhuskers set to leave the confines of the Big 12, Thursday night meant possibly the final game ever between Nebraska and Kansas State. The Cornhuskers took their parting shot, topping the Wildcats 48-13.
"We have a lot of things to correct," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.
From the start, the game seemed to take a nostalgic feel. This was bad news for the Wildcats, considering that they once dropped 29 straight games against the Huskers. Nebraska ran past, over and through the Kansas State on their way to 587 total yards of offense. Quarterback Taylor Martinez led the way for No. 6 Nebraska (5-0, 1-0), racing for 241 yards on the ground. The Wildcat defense had no answer for the redshirt freshman most of the night, as Martinez rushed for four touchdowns and passed for one more.
"I knew we'd have trouble with (Martinez)," Snyder said. "We had more than I would have obviously liked. He made it look awful easy."
Nebraska, who entered Thursday night ranking fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game, piled up 451 rushing yards against K-State. Running back Roy Helu, Jr. added 110 yards for the Huskers on just eight carries. The result was one that both defensive end Antonio Felder and safety Tysyn Hartman called "embarrassing."
"It's always frustrating when a team is being successful," Felder said. "You just have to go to the sideline and try to adjust series-to-series."
"We have some things to get fixed," Snyder said, "and we'd better do it pretty quick."
The Wildcat offense struggled throughout the night against the Big 12's leading scoring defense. For much of the night Kansas State's attack, as it has throughout the season, focused primarily on putting the ball in the hands of running back Daniel Thomas. Unfortunately for all in purple, whether the ball was in the hands of Thomas, quarterback Carson Coffman, or even backup quarterback Collin Klein (who alternated with Coffman early in the second half), the results were largely the same.
"We felt like we had a good game plan going in," Coffman said, "but it didn't turn out like we wanted it to."
The Wildcats combined for just 315 total yards, posting 180 on the ground and 135 through the air. Snyder said that the offensive struggles could be attributed not only to a Nebraska defense that ranks as one of the best in the nation, but also to lack of execution on K-State's end. "Maybe we're not quite as good of offensive football team as somebody might have wanted to project at some point in time," Snyder said. "We've got a lot ahead of us. That's something that rests on my shoulders to make sure we do the right things."
Much as one could not pinpoint a single aspect of the game to spot the Wildcats' struggles, Snyder said the team would consider many options in moving forward, including opening up the battle for the quarterback position. "I'm concerned about all of it collectively, and just how good we are in any aspect of the game," Snyder said.
At the start, K-State's offense look like it might be close to displaying a run-pass balance that could create marked efficiency. To the surprise of nearly all 51,015 in attendance, the Wildcats (4-1, 1-1) even threw a pass on the game's first play. The flare to Thomas gained 13 yards and Kansas State proceeded to push the football to the Nebraska 25-yard-line. Faced with fourth-down-and-two from the 25, the Wildcats elected to attempt to convert the first down rather than try a field goal. Coffman's rush came up short and Nebraska took over. In retrospect, did the Kansas State coach wish he had made another decision so close to the end zone? "When the plays don't work, it's always easy to second-guess them," Snyder said.
It took the Huskers just eight plays to find the end zone on their first drive, as Martinez rushed for 30 yards and passed for 31 more. He closed the drive with a 14-yard touchdown carry that resulted improvisation on a broken play.
Josh Cherry put the Wildcats on the board for the first time with 8:47 remaining in the second half. The senior kicker knocked in a 46-yard field goal to pull the Wildcats within four points, 7-3.
With the Wildcats trailing by less than one touchdown, Martinez put his feet to work again, capping an eight-play drive with a 35-yard sprint to pay dirt.
"He's as fast as I've seen at quarterback," Felder said.
The Wildcats return to the field next Thursday when they travel to Lawrence, Kan., to face the Kansas Jayhawks. Snyder said the week of preparation would involve evaluation of all aspects of the game. "We have a lot of things to reassess. We can't continue the way we were tonight."