MANHATTAN, Kan. – A dejected Jim Knowles teetered between the huddle of players surrounding him.
With the sun beaming on his back and across his frustrated players faces, the first-year defensive coordinator talked to them in the waning moments of Oklahoma State’s matchup against Kansas State.
“Missed tackle, missed tackle, missed tackle, then a penalty,” Knowles said. “It’s the little things that matter.”
The Wildcats did said little things, hence their 31-12 victory against the Cowboys on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. K-State (3-4 overall, 1-3 Big 12) didn’t turn the ball over, had fewer penalties and controlled possession against a hapless Cowboy squad.
“Without watching the tape, we just got pushed around in the second half up front,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “Their quarterback did a nice job of scrambling.”
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson, who torched OSU last season in Stillwater, again caused problems. He had 12 rushes for 80 yards, most of those coming on boot legs or scrambles, but it was running back Alex Barnes who petrified OSU’s defense.
Barnes scored all four Wildcat touchdowns, including the final two scores in the fourth quarter to seal K-State’s first back-to-back victories against the Cowboys since 1991-92. He had 181 yards on 34 carries, and he constantly shook defenders with his quirky movements and powerful strides.
Even when OSU (4-3, 1-3) managed to get a hold of Barnes, he broke free from wimpy tackles and paraded his way to another score.
“I thought we came in with a good plan,” Knowles said. “We executed it well.”
When OSU’s offense was on the field, it couldn’t find any momentum because of poor quarterback play and the inability to run the football. Gundy, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and quarterback Taylor Cornelius all said the latter had his worst performance of the season.
Cornelius threw two interceptions, both to K-State corner Duke Shelley. The first one was in the end zone. The ball was underthrown and Shelley caught it off a tip before dragging his foot to maintain possession for a safety.
“We’ve got a lot of football left,” Cornelius said. “A lot more games to play, a lot more games to win.”
The second interception was on OSU’s final drive, sealing K-State’s first conference victory.
Cornelius completed 17-of-35 passes for 188 yards with the two interceptions. He did score OSU’s lone touchdown on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to make it 17-12 in favor of K-State with 14:23 left.
Then Barnes took over.
Penalties again marred the Cowboys. OSU was penalized seven times for 70 yards. Most of them came on big plays when OSU had chances to create momentum.
Cornelius completed a pass to Landon Wolf for a touchdown on OSU’s first scoring drive, but it was called back because of an offensive pass interference call on Tylan Wallace. Before the next snap, left tackle Tevin Jenkins was called for a false start.
OSU went from the end zone to K-State’s 32, eventually leading to a field goal. Gundy said he was confused as to why the offensive pass interference was called in the first place. Wallace said he talked with the official after the play but said he has to be smarter.
In the second half after the Wildcats took a 10-6 lead, running back Justice Hill had an 11-yard rush on third-and-7, but it was called back because of a hold on Shane Richards. Cornelius was sacked the next play.
“I thought we played extremely well,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
Cornelius led OSU with 55 rushing yards and the score, and Hill was held to 41 yards on 11 attempts. K-State’s front seven dismantled OSU’s offensive line as the game wore on, forcing the Cowboys to make a big play.
It didn’t happen.
The Cowboys were held to a season-low point and yardage (311) total. It was their first loss in eight road games. Hill didn’t score a rushing touchdown for the first time since against Texas in 2017. They also didn’t force a turnover, snapping a 33-game streak of doing so.
OSU has a much-needed bye week coming before a home date against Texas for Homecoming. Gundy said following the game he wasn’t considering a change at the quarterback position.
OSU’s next five opponents are at or above a .500 winning percentage. Texas and West Virginia are ranked in the top 10, and both teams come to Stillwater. OSU is 2-5 in its past seven home conference games.
There’s a chance the Cowboys could miss out on a bowl game. The last time OSU missed a bowl game? Gundy’s first season in 2005.
Gundy harped it isn’t time to worry about the season being a lost cause.
“You can’t panic,” Gundy said. “We have to look and see what we are doing, where we are at and what we can do to correct it. We are certainly aware of the situation, and I mean, you don’t have to worry about that.”