MANHATTAN, Kan. — The number of times Kansas State threw the ball in the second half of a victory over Baylor last week could be counted on the right hand of quarterback Jesse Ertz.
Five times. That’s it.
Part of it was due to the score, with the Wildcats building an early lead and then trying to control the second half in their 33-20 victory over the Bears. But part of it was ongoing trouble in the Kansas State passing attack, which first surfaced against Charlotte, reached a nadir in a humiliating loss at Vanderbilt and didn’t get a whole lot better in the Wildcats’ Big 12 opener.
“It was very, very inconsistent,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of his offense, which returned most of the key pieces from last year and was expected to be among the league’s best this season.
“We made a few big plays, but we need to be more of a big-play offense,” Snyder continued during his postgame breakdown. “Not collectively a big-play offense, but that needs to be a part of the balance that we have, and we did not have quite enough of those.”
And those big plays tend to happen a lot more frequently in the passing game.
The Wildcats were supposed to have more balance in their run-dominated offense, particularly after Ertz underwent offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder. Snyder and offensive coordinator Dana Dimel were effusive in their praise of the quarterback, pointing out several times during training camp that he was delivering the ball quicker and with more accuracy than ever before.
It showed in their opener against Central Arkansas, too. Ertz was 10 of 16 for 333 yards with four touchdown passes and no interceptions — precisely the kind of play Snyder expects.
But he was just 16 of 21 for 178 yards the following week, when the Wildcats ramped up their run game to the tune of 304 yards and five TDs against Charlotte, and then came an abysmal night in Nashville. Ertz was 10 of 28 for 76 yards and two interceptions in a 14-7 loss to the Commodores.
If he was hoping for a bounce-back game against the Bears, it never really happened. He was just 7 of 17 for 119 yards and a touchdown. And in the second half, when the outcome was still hanging in the balance, Ertz threw just five times while the Wildcats churned away on the ground.
They finished with 225 yards and two touchdowns. Ertz ran for 95 of them.
It didn’t help that his wide receivers dropped seven passes against the Bears, pushing the Wildcats’ total to more than a dozen — unofficially — over a two-week span.
“It was the play-calling. We were up and the running game started working well in the second half, so we went with the run game more,” Kansas State wide receiver Isaiah Zuber said. “Running backs started breaking away, so we just turned into blockers.”
Even the success on the ground still didn’t make the hard-to-please Snyder happy, though.
“We just have to be better,” he said. “There are a lot of things that I can go through and define that are issues or problems that we had, as I could in any other ballgame. Those are the things that we have to go to work on. Sometimes they are the same and sometimes they are totally different from the previous ballgame. It is the nature of the game.”
The Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) will have a stout test to their work Saturday, when they visit a quickly improving Texas team that’s coming off a dominant defensive performance against Iowa State.
The Longhorns, who rank second in the Big 12 at stopping the run, held the Cyclones to just 10 yards on the ground. Running back David Montgomery carried nine times for 34 yards, while quarterback Jacob Park was under duress all night and finished with minus-25 yards rushing and three interceptions.
In other words, it would be a good time for the Kansas State pass attack to show up.
“It’s just being focused on doing the little things right,” Snyder said. “So it’s just going back and doing what you do and trying to put from our standpoint a little bit more drill work than what we do and keeping the mental approach to it positive.”