Kansas State football vs. Baylor report card: How we graded the Wildcats in a 20-10 loss

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents, left, knocks a pass away from Baylor receiver Tyquan Thornton (9), during the second half  Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

MANHATTAN — In what could have been a statement game for Kansas State on Saturday at Bill Snyder Stadium, proved to be just that.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the statement was that they are not quite ready to join the upper echelon of the Big 12 just yet.

By K-State coach Chris Klieman's own admission, the Wildcats were beaten by Baylor in all three phases of the game as they saw their four-game winning streak come to an end.

Here is how we graded K-State's 20-10 loss to the No. 13-ranked (coaches poll) Bears: 

Offense: A rough day for everyone but Deuce

Baylor's rugged and physical defense made life miserable for K-State and quarterback Skylar Thompson all game, applying constant pressure up front, and when Thompson had time to throw, for the most part blanketing the Wildcats' receivers.

Thompson, who was sacked three times before departing with an apparent ankle injury in the closing minutes, often had to check down to shorter routes, which all too often were blown up for losses or short gains. He was 15 of 29 passing, well off his 71.6 completion percentage, and throw out a 48-yarder to Malik Knowles and he was well under 10 yards per completion.

One bright spot, again, was sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn, whose 65-yard run late in the first half produced the Wildcats' lone touchdown. Vaughn rushed for 128 yards on just 11 carries, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the season, and also caught a team-high five passes for 37 yards.

It didn't help that Baylor had seven points on the board before K-State's offense even touched the ball and played from behind the entire game. The Wildcats averaged 5.0 yards per carry on the ground, and that included the three sacks and 26 yards in losses for Thompson.

Were the Wildcats too quick to abandon the running game, given their difficulties throwing the ball? In what was at the worst a two-possession game, you could argue that they did.

As Klieman rightly pointed out, they only ran 51 total plays to 83 for Baylor, so the opportunities were limited. But had the Wildcats successfully moved the ball on the ground, they also might have eased the gap in time of possession, which favored the Bears nearly 36 minutes to 24.

Grade: D

More:'Baylor beat us today': Kansas State football team accepts loss, vows to move forward

Defense: Admirable effort, but not enough stops

The bend-but-don't-break formula that served K-State's defense so well during its four-game winning streak was again in evidence against Baylor as the Bears piled up 402 yards total offense but scored only 20 points.

The Bears' first of two touchdowns came on a short field after a Wildcat special teams turnover and covered just 24 yards. But the other three scoring drives — a second-quarter touchdown and field goal, plus a field goal early in the fourth period — all went for over 70 yards.

On a day when their offense was struggling to begin with, the defense needed to get off the field and that proved problematic for much of the game. Baylor converted 7 of 16 third downs to keep the chains moving.

But to the defense's credit, it came up with two big fourth-quarter stops to create scoring opportunities and twice limited Baylor to field goals in the red zone. Senior safety Ross Elder had a career-high 10 tackles including one of the fourth-down stops, and linebacker Daniel Green was a beast again with nine tackles, including three for loss, with a sack.

Not surprisingly, their four losses also were the four games in which the Wildcats gave up the most yards. All but Oklahoma (392) had more than 400 total yards.

That they limited Baylor to 20 points under the circumstances was rather remarkable and a testament to how far the defense has come over the past month-plus, but on this day, it wasn't quite enough.

Grade: B

More:Four takeaways from Kansas State's 20-10 loss to Baylor

Special teams: A rocky start set the tone for a bad day

K-State prides itself on its reputation as Special Teams U, but against Baylor that U stood for Ugly.

The nation's most productive kick return team in the nation by a wide margin over the past 17 years gave the Wildcats nothing and essentially gifted Baylor the game's first seven points.

After the defense forced a three-and-out to start the game, Phillip Brooks was unable to handle a punt near his own 20-yard line and Baylor's AJ McCarty recovered at K-State 24. Five plays later, the Bears were on the board.

Freshman kicker Chris Tennant, who has been inconsistent since taking over the job from an injury-plagued Taiten Winkel, connected on one short field goal but missed a chance to make it a one-possession game when a 39-yard try went wide right.

Punter Ty Zentner averaged just 33.6 yards on five kicks, but did pin Baylor inside its 20 line on three of them.

Grade: F

More:How beating No. 13-ranked Baylor would help validate Kansas State football's recent surge

Coaching: No answers for Baylor

Klieman had no complaints about his team's physical effort in a game where K-State had a chance to show it belonged in the top half of the Big 12. That would indicate that execution and perhaps the schemes were an issue, and that falls on the coaches.

The offense never could establish a rhythm. Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham is at his best as a play-caller when the Wildcats get in a flow where they can be unpredictable, but instead it was Baylor's disruptive defense that dictated things.

Any halftime adjustments didn't make things better. The Wildcats had 139 total yards in the first half and managed just 124 in the second.

Defensively, the Wildcats came up with some big plays, but still allowed Baylor to move up and down the field. The Bears were 7 of 16 on third down and the time of possession was ridiculous.

Suffice it to say the Wildcats were both outplayed and outcoached by a better Baylor team.

Grade: C-