MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Kansas State coach Bill Snyder gripped the podium, stared into a row of television cameras and offered a sobering assessment of his team’s performance.
The offense played well when it wasn’t going three-and-out to start the second half. The defense was stingy, except for the huge chunks of yards it allowed on broken plays. Special teams were generally solid, other than Jack Cantele’s missed field goal.
The No. 20 Wildcats may have whipped Stephen F. Austin 55-16 in their season opener Saturday night, but Snyder made it clear that there was plenty of room for improvement.
”I probably dwell on the things that aren’t so good,” he said dryly.
No doubt there was plenty of good to go with the bad.
Jake Waters threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns while also running for two scores, and Charles Jones had a pair of touchdown runs. The game was so far out of reach by the fourth quarter that Snyder was able to play most of his backups, giving them valuable game experience.
Good thing, too, because the road is about to get a whole lot tougher.
Kansas State visits Iowa State to open Big 12 play next weekend, then welcomes No. 6 Auburn to Bill Snyder Family Stadium for a high-profile Thursday night matchup later in September.
”I think we’re close,” Kansas State linebacker Jonathan Truman said. ”I’m glad we had this firs game to kind of knock the rust off.”
Stephen F. Austin’s Joe Minden threw for 107 yards in relief of ineffective quarterback Zach Conque, and Gus Johnson had a 30-yard touchdown run after being suspended for the first half.
The Lumberjacks, routed by Texas Tech a year ago, still have never beaten a team from the Big 12 in eight tries. They’re just 3-11 against the Football Bowl Subdivision.
”We’re certainly disappointed but we’re not discouraged,” said Clint Conque, who took over Stephen F. Austin after 14 seasons at Central Arkansas. ”We knew it was going to be a challenge coming in here but we’ll take a lot of positives from it.”
Stunned in last year’s opener by North Dakota State, another team from the Football Championship Subdivision, Kansas State refused to look ahead to bigger games down the road.
The Wildcats forced an opening punt and quickly went to work, grinding away on a march that ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett. It was the 19th career TD grab of his career, moving him within seven of his father Kevin Lockett’s career school record.
Lockett barely played the rest of the way, and Snyder refused to say why, other than it was his decision. Lockett does have a history of hamstring injuries.
Asked whether he’ll play next week, Snyder replied: ”If I want him to.”
It hardly mattered whether he played Saturday night. Waters capped another long drive by keeping the ball on a read-option for a 5-yard score, and Jones took a carry out of the Wildcat formation virtually untouched for a 15-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead.
Conque benched his son after three poor drives, and Minden quickly led the Lumberjacks to a touchdown. But the quarterback was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct – he ”shushed the crowd,” referee Reggie Smith said – and resumed sitting on the bench until late in the third quarter.
By that point, Waters had scored on a quarterback sneak and thrown a soft fade pass to Cook in the corner of the end zone, and Jones had scored on a 4-yard run to make it 42-10.
The game getting out of hand, Minden went back in for Stephen F. Austin. He completed a pair of passes before Johnson broke loose down the sideline for his crowd-quieting touchdown run.
As the fourth quarter ticked away, Snyder decided to rest his starters, and one of the worst defenses in the FCS still couldn’t stop the Wildcats. Backup quarterback Joe Hubener threw a 15-yard TD pass to Steven West as fans began to empty the stadium.
”We won, obviously. Now we have to check out the film and see how much we can improve,” Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller said. ”We know we have a lot of work to do and we’re going to handle those adjustments.”