MANHATTAN, Kan. – Chris Klieman gave his defense 100 plays.
Hold No. 14 Oklahoma State under that, he said on Tuesday, and the Wildcats would have a chance. The Cowboys didn’t even hit 70.
But it was a touchdown the defense couldn’t do anything about that doomed K-State (4-3, 4-2 Big 12) in a 20-18 loss to Oklahoma State (5-1, 4-1 Big 12) at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Driving in the fourth quarter down one point, K-State fumbled and an 85-yard return for a touchdown gave Oklahoma State all the offense they would need to close out the Wildcats.
“Our kids battled, they fought, they played their tail off for 60 minutes. Missed some opportunities and give Oklahoma State credit, they capitalized on some opportunities,” Klieman said. “In the end, we had our chances and we didn’t quite finish the job. Make no mistake, I’m pleased because for us the mission is the mission. We’re improving as a football team.”
A K-State defense that has been a strength for the team all season came out with a point to prove against Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys were averaging more than 18 points a game in the first half before Saturday, but at halftime in Manhattan, OSU was stuck at zero.
It started with a defensive line that brought consistent pressure off the edge and shut down one of the Big 12’s top rushing attacks in the first half.
With Wyatt Hubert drawing double blocks after getting to Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders and forcing an early fumble, the Wildcats found a way to keep the Cowboys under pressure.
Bronson Massie chipped in as part of a team sack and Khalid Duke ended the night with two quarterback hurries.
But it was Hubert, even with the extra attention, who played his best game of the season on Saturday night. The redshirt junior finished with 2.5 sacks against Oklahoma State.
“The defensive line takes so much pride in being disruptive and making plays and being the most disruptive unit on the field,” Hubert said. “We practice like that. We practice hard, so hard actually, and we just transition it to the game.”
He dropped Sanders late in the third quarter, with the Cowboys driving, to hold OSU to a field goal and give the Wildcats a chance down the stretch.
“I feel very confident in our defense and the way we played. We got an opportunity to go out there and get a stop and gave our offense the ball to go try and tie the game up,” Hughes said. “That’s what we play for, the opportunities.”
K-State used zone reads and a balanced rushing attack to keep the offense moving in the first half, before settling for a pair of field goals.
Will Howard hit on a huge 69-yard run on his team’s final drive of the half, before the fourth touchdown pass of his K-State career gave the Wildcats a 13-0 lead at the break.
Howard would finish the day 10/21 with 143 yards passing and a touchdown, adding 125 yards and a rushing touchdown to lead players on both teams.
“He’s a heck of a competitor, so he’s going to take a loss like that hard. Everyone on the team took that loss hard,” Noah Johnson said. “The dude played his butt off today. He battled and put us on his back as a true freshman making plays all over the field.”
Even as the Cowboys began to chip away in the second half, the Wildcats refused to give up the explosive plays that can make Oklahoma State so dangerous. That’s why the 85-yard fumble return was such a body blow.
Credit Howard and the offense for getting up off the mat.
A 24-yard kickoff return from Seth Porter and an Oklahoma State penalty set the Wildcats up for their most impressive drive of the game.
K-State marched 60 yards in eight plays, including a huge third-down catch by Phillip Brooks and capped off by a rushing touchdown from Howard.
A failed two-point conversion and an interception on the final drive of the game would seal the game for Oklahoma State.
“Any given Saturday we can come out with our best and put up points and stop anybody in this country,” Hughes said. “I feel good about the direction the team and this defense is headed.”
The loss drops K-State to third place in the Big 12 heading into a bye week. The Wildcats are back in action on November 21 as they head to Ames for a matchup with No. 17 Iowa State.