STILLWATER — Oklahoma State had to overcome injuries, a sluggish offense and an opposing mobile freshman quarterback to escape with a 20-18 win Saturday against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas.
The Cowboys found themselves already down before the game even kicked off.
Star receiver Tylan Wallace, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, was out with an injury – along with starting safety Kolby Harvell-Peel, who didn’t make the trip to Kansas – and there was even a report that running back LD Brown might be out for the game.
However, Brown ended up playing and proving to have a pivotal role in the victory.
The senior tailback gave the flat offense – which was shutout in the first half for the first time since Nov. 15, 2014 against Texas – a spark in the second half. Brown busted off a 50-yard run after a short punt by Kansas State that put the ball at the goal line.
“We were just waiting for that moment of somebody popping a big one. We’ve won a lot of football games on explosive plays, and we were waiting for an explosive play,” offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. “LD provided it right at the right moment, and certainly changed the outcome for us offensively having not been able to move the ball.”
After a couple of negative plays – including a false start – Oklahoma State drew up a play to use true freshman Brennan Presley on a jet sweep for a 9-yard touchdown run for OSU’s first touchdown since the 8:09 mark of the third quarter against Texas to cut it down to a 12-10 deficit.
“He’s pretty good with the ball in his hands,” Dunn said. “We wanted to start building a little bit of an opportunity for him to get out there and play, and he’s done a great job at practice, he’s just buried behind two senior starters who have been here for a long time that are really good football players.”
Boosted by the long run that set up the first touchdown, Brown finished with 110 yards on 15 carries – eclipsing the rushing attempts of Chuba Hubbard, who had six carries due to injuries of his own after also missing practices this week.
Prior to the spark from Brown, the Kansas State offense was able to move the ball against OSU’s highly-regarded defense at times by utilizing its read-option running scheme.
After a pair of field goals that capped a couple of 11-play drives that went over 50 yards each, the Wildcats finally punched one with the help of true freshman quarterback Will Howard busting off a 69-yard run on a read-option when the Cowboy defense bit on the fake handoff to running back Deuce Vaughn – who finished with 17 carries for 40 yards.
The score came with 37 seconds left in the first half when Howard connected with Phillip Brooks for a 4-yard touchdown. And in a decision that proved to influential in the outcome of the game, Kansas State coach Chris Klieman elected to go for two in an attempt to make it a 14-point lead heading into the half. However, the pass from Howard was dropped and made it 12-0 at the break.
Oklahoma State finally showed signs of life in the third quarter by getting on the board with the help of a couple of penalties by Kansas State.
A penalty for too many men on the field gave the Cowboys the ball on the Kansas State side of the field – for just the third time in the game – and a scramble by Sanders ended with a late hit on his slide that put the ball down to the K-State 21-yard line.
The Pokes didn’t do much else with the drive, however, and Alex Hale ended the shutout with a 35-yard field goal.
OSU’s offense managed to move the ball at little on its third drive of the half, once again bolstered by a 23-yard run by Brown. However, it stalled out in the red zone and Hale converted a 33-yard field goal to give OSU its first lead of the game.
With the offense sputtering throughout the game, the defense made its biggest play with its back against the wall late in the fourth quarter.
After giving up a 58-yard pass to tight end Sammy Wheeler that put the ball on the edge of the red zone, Oklahoma State defensive lineman Israel Antwine, a Millwood product, stripped Howard on a QB draw and the ball squirt straight into the arms of backup safety Jason Taylor II with a head of steam. The redshirt sophomore out of Carl Albert High School returned it 85 yards for a touchdown to give OSU a eight-point lead with just over six minutes left in regulation.
“I think I almost shed a tear just because of the situation that was happening,” Sterling said of the scoop and score. “I had re-tweaked by ankle and so I was out of the game, and I just didn’t want to let anyone down in terms of not playing and giving up a touchdown or a field goal for them to take the lead.
“And to see Jason do that, step up big in a big game, I was very excited.”
The defense was thrust right back onto the field, however, and Kansas State marched down on an eight-play, 60-yard drive – converting on a third-and-16 with a 25-yard pass from Howard to Brooks to get the ball to the edge of the red zone. Three plays later, Howard – who finished with 14 carries for 125 yards – ran in from two yards out to make it 20-18.
But since Klieman had elected to go for two in the first half, instead of taking the PAT, Kansas State was forced to go for two again. And Brock Martin stripped Howard of the ball to preserve the lead.
After milking Kansas State’s three timeouts, Gundy elected to put the end of the game on the back of the defense in the closing minutes by punting it back to Kansas State with no timeouts remaining.
It proved fortuitous with the rookie QB for K-State turning the ball over, once again, on the first play, overthrowing his target over the middle of the field and it was intercepted by safety Tre Sterling, who had also missed much of practice throughout the week due to being dinged up, to clinch the contest.
“I’m not sure why he threw it, but he threw it and I just have to go up and make the play when the ball’s in the air like that,” Sterling said. “I shouldn’t have went down, but I think I was just too excited. I wanted to show Coach Dunn what I can do at receiver, maybe.”
The Cowboys kept alive their hopes of getting to the Big 12 Championship with the win, maintaining just one loss in league play – tied with Iowa State, which OSU has the head-to-head against, at the top.
Oklahoma State will be off a week before returning for Bedlam in Norman on Nov. 21.