The Kansas State Wildcats entered Saturday with an opportunity to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2006 and the chance to move closer to a Big 12 North title. They will enter next Saturday's contest against Nebraska with those same opportunities, as the Missouri Tigers topped the Wildcats, 38-12. Though some might argue that, in the scheme of the seasonâ€˜s goals, the loss meant little, few in purple hold such a stance.
"I told our team that they are the luckiest bunch of guys in the Big 12," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "To go out and get it handed to you like we did today and still have the opportunity to win a north division title and possibly play in a bowl game. Most teams can't play and coach the way we did today and still control their own destiny."
Missouri (6-4, 2-4) used an efficient and, at times, explosive passing attack to confound the Wildcat defense and build a 26-point lead by the midway point of the fourth quarter. Missouri receiver Danario Alexander, who entered Saturday ranked fifth in the NCAA in receiving yards per game, led the way for the Tigers, catching 10 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns. His scores included receptions of 54 and 80 yards.
"I thought (KU wide receiver Dezmon) Briscoe was probably the best receiver in the conference," Snyder said, "until I saw Alexander last Saturday night."
While the Missouri offense seemed to have big plays to spare, K-State's stalled on drive after drive, leaving the Wildcats (6-5, 4-3) to settle for field goals on four trips into Tiger territory. Even four fourth-quarter chances inside the Missouri three-yard line could not net Kansas State a touchdown. Where was the K-State red zone offense?
"Down in the locker room someplace," Snyder said. "It didn't get to the field today, for sure."
"We didn't execute," quarterback Grant Gregory said. "They made good stops and we had to settle for field goals."
After one quarter of play, the game stood tied 3-3 and the Wildcats were threatening near inside the Tiger 10-yard line, but all soon turned on one game-changing snap. Wildcat receiver Brandon Banks, after catching a pass from quarterback Gregory on a crossing pattern, advanced to the one-yard line before Missouri linebacker Zaviar Gooden knocked the ball free and through the end zone for a touchback.
"I was just trying to make a play," Banks, who finished the day with 128 yards receiving, said. "I was trying to reach the ball over the goal line and the defender just made a good hit on me."
"You never take one play," Snyder said, "and segregate it from everyone else, saying â€˜this is why we win' and â€˜this is why we lose,' but it did have a major impact on the ballgame and on the momentum."
The Tigers now controlled the football in a tie game, but the Wildcats appeared to have their drive shut down just six plays later when a Missouri pass fell incomplete on 3rd-and-6 at their own 37-yard line. The play, however, was ruled pass interference on the Wildcat defense. One play later Missouri grabbed a 10-3 when quarterback Blaine Gabbert connected with Alexander for a 54-yard touchdown. From that point on, Missouri out-scored Kansas State 28-9. Gabbert finished the day with 298 yards passing and three touchdowns.
"It's very disappointing," Gregory said. "Things kind of snowballed. They took advantage of the opportunities that we gave them. They capitalized on the turnovers."
The Wildcat offense totaled 239 yards, but turned the ball over three times. The Tigers scored touchdowns following each Wildcat turnover.
The Missouri defense entered Saturday's contest having allowed just 24 combined rushing yards over their previous two games. They stepped up again on Saturday, limiting Kansas State's Daniel Thomas - already a 1,000-yard rusher on the season - to just 79 yards on the ground.
"Missouri did a nice job of defending us," Snyder said. "They defended quite well with their linebackers and their down linemen. They create a lot of movement and they used that to their advantage."
The Tigers looked nearly unstoppable at the start of their first possession. Gabbert completed six straight passing attempts, the Tigers rushed for 37 yards, and Missouri advanced down to the K-State five-yard line before the offense finally stalled. Kicker Grant Ressel put a 23-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Tigers an early 3-0 lead.
A Josh Cherry field goal tied the game at 3-3 with 5:30 left in the first quarter. Cherry's 47-yard strike tied his career-long, which he set against Kansas just a week ago. The Wildcat kicker was a perfect four-for-four on field goal attempts against Missouri.
The Wildcats play their final regular season game next Saturday in Lincoln. The game will have huge implications for not only the Wildcats' postseason hopes, but also for the Big 12 North standings. It is a game that will receive hype, but, as Snyder said, not one K-State is ready for yet."
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us."