COLUMBIA, Mo. — Harrison Mevis’ game-winning 61-yard field goal ultimately decided Missouri’s 30-27 win over No. 15 Kansas State Saturday, but the Wildcats didn’t necessarily lose the game on that single play.
According to head coach Chris Klieman, K-State (2-1) fell in the heartbreaker because of its “missed opportunities” throughout the contest, and there were certainly plenty of those on both sides of the ball.
To be sure, the Wildcats were good often; it would be difficult to have a chance at winning on the road against a quality Power 5 opponent without playing well for long stretches.
But there were other times they weren’t so good, and the offense and defense vacillated between looking sharp and looking suspect.
“We probably missed some plays on offense that we’d like to have back,” Klieman said. “We struggled with the explosive play on defense. We shut it down for a while, and it came back to bite us again.”
Offensively, K-State demonstrated an ability to make methodical marches down the field — its three touchdown drives were 10, 11 and 12 plays each — and it also stalled out with six drives of four plays or fewer.
Furthermore, Wildcats receivers struggled with drops in key situations. Quarterback Will Howard, who played through an unspecified leg injury, threw a pick in the first half that led to a Missouri field goal, and a few times he completed passes short of the sticks when he needed more.
Howard used the same phrase Klieman did to describe the offense: “missed opportunities.”
The defense held the Tigers (3-0) to an average of 2.6 yards per carry and a 3-of-13 mark on third downs, but it gave up six plays of more than 25 yards — three of which went for more than 40 yards.
While the rush defense was once more stout, safeties and cornerbacks miscommunicated in coverage and allowed huge pass plays, something the Tigers took advantage of over and over again.
“I saw more panic than I did confusion, honestly,” Klieman said of his secondary. “We struggled to settle in. We’ve got to go back and look and see why that was. Why did we struggle to settle in? Some of it is they had a couple of good schemes that we hadn’t prepared for, hadn’t seen before. You have to apply rules and principles, and we didn’t do a great job of that. Some of that is just us settling down and communicating better.”
There were mistakes late in the game, too, and those were of more obvious and acute detriment.
On K-State’s penultimate drive, it committed a delay of game penalty ahead of 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line. That backed the Wildcats up to the 8, and after failing on third down, they settled for a game-tying field goal off the toe of Chris Tennant with 5:25 left in the game rather than taking the lead.
“We were really in four-down territory at 3rd-and-3,” Klieman said. “(Offensive coordinator Collin Klein) and I are on the headset, we think we’re going to get the play off, and we don’t. … I’ve got a lot of trust in Will, and Will said, ‘Coach, I thought I could get it off, and I didn’t get it off.”
And then, with the game still tied and the ball back in its hands for a final time, K-State false-started on a 2nd-and-10. Once more, it put the Wildcats behind the chains, and two plays later, they punted the ball back to the Tigers with 1:25 remaining.
Then, Missouri quickly moved the ball into field-goal range — albeit long, long field-goal range — with seven chunk plays between 5 and 9 yards. By the time Mevis trotted onto the field with 3 seconds left on the clock and 61 yards between his holder and the goalposts, K-State had very little control over its own fate anymore.
“This was going to be a one-possession game, and maybe who got the ball last was going to win, even as the second half started,” Klieman said. “We had a chance with 3 ½ (minutes) left to have the ball with the chance to win and just missed a couple of opportunities. We’re going to learn from it, going to grow from it, and try not to let it happen again.”
Klieman said he couldn’t point the finger at one player, unit or coach for the loss; everyone involved with the program was responsible, and everyone needs to be better going forward.
The atmosphere in the locker room was a somber one because the team knew it didn’t make enough stops on defense or seize enough opportunities on offense.
“Nobody’s happy; everyone’s pissed off, upset,” Howard said. “... I know that we’re going to be better because of this. Obviously, this isn’t the way that you want to learn those tough things. You’d rather, obviously, learn from a win, right? This is learning the hard way. It is what it is. You’ve just got to learn from it and move on.”
As unfortunate as an early-season loss is, the Wildcats are fortunate in a few ways. For one thing, safety Kobe Savage said it was better to drop a game and grow from it before conference play begins.
Additionally, this isn’t unfamiliar territory for K-State. Last year, the Wildcats dropped three regular-season games and responded with big wins. They fell to Tulane 17-10 in Week 3 before going on the road and upsetting then-No. 6 Oklahoma 41-34 the following Saturday. The week after K-State fell at TCU, it blanked then-No. 9 Oklahoma State 48-0 at home. The Wildcats lost to Texas and then trounced Baylor 31-3 on the road.
That was last season, of course, but considering his players’ experience with the ups and downs of a college football season, Klieman isn’t particularly worried about their ability to recover.
“If it were a bunch of new guys, you’d be concerned about it; we’ve got a bunch of veteran guys,” Klieman said. “... When you have adversity, you rise up, and that’s what I’m looking forward to these guys doing.
“This one hurts without question. … Oh, man, it stings. But we’ve got to rise above it.”