MANHATTAN, Kan. — Defeat is not new to the 2011 Missouri Tigers.
Three times the team has gone on the road to face ranked opponents. Three times it has been defeated.
The difference in Saturday’s loss to Kansas State was how it was defeated.
The Missouri defense was burned through the air in its games against Arizona State and Oklahoma — quarterbacks Brock Osweiler and Landry Jones racked up huge numbers. But Saturday, the Wildcats attacked the Tigers defense on a different front: the ground.
Entering Saturday’s game, Missouri had excelled at stopping the run, ranking second in the Big 12 in rush defense, allowing opponents an average of just 87 yards over the first four games of 2011. Saturday, Kansas State ran for 174 yards.
It’s not necessarily the number that jumps off the page as a team total. It’s actually below the Wildcats’ average for the season.
But that number speaks to the effectiveness of Kansas State coach Bill Snyder’s style and the ineffectiveness of the Tiger defense.
The Wildcats like to run, and it’s no secret. Kansas State has been one of the conference’s premier rushing teams so far this season, gaining an average of 217.2 yards on the ground per game in its first four contests.
Defensive lineman Jacquies Smith said that Missouri’s goal going into the game was to stop the run and force Kansas State to pass. It worked at the start, as Kansas State had just 56 rush yards in the first half.
The paces of Oklahoma, Missouri’s previous opponent, and Kansas State couldn’t have been more different. The Sooners ran plays in rapid succession, and the Wildcats took their time, chewing up time on the ground and huddling in between each play.
But, in both games, the Tiger defense suffered from constantly returning to the field. The Tiger offense hardly gave the defense time to catch its breath.
Missouri’s offense again suffered on third down, converting just four of 13 third down attempts, and one penalty — freshman Darvin Ruise’s roughing the kicker penalty on a Kansas State punt attempt — sent the defense right back onto the field moments after they had earned the right to step off it.
Coach Gary Pinkel mentioned his frustration with the amount of three-and-outs his offense had and the effect it had on his defense. He noted Kansas State’s ability to capitalize on those and run down the clock.
Kansas State’s desire to melt time off the clock was key in its victory, as the Wildcats held the ball for 17 more minutes than the Tigers. In the second half, Kansas State running back John Hubert rushed for 124 yards, mostly in a clock-killing fashion. When the Tigers scored their second touchdown of the fourth quarter and cut the deficit to just seven points, Hubert was instrumental in picking up the yardage required to seal the victory for Kansas State.
Smith said missed tackles by Tiger defenders allowed Kansas State to have so much success on the ground.
“For the most part, I think we did a pretty good job,” Smith said. “We just missed tackles here and there, and that’s when it’s off to the races.”
After the game, Smith and his defensive line teammates were visibly upset. When asked what made Kansas State’s running game so effective, Dominique Hamilton simply said he didn’t know.
“I really can’t tell you,” he said.
Even after the Wildcats had stopped gaining big yards on the ground, the Tigers did not have the answer.