This was a stunner.
The Kansas State football team lost to Tulane 17-10 on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium despite entering the game as a heavy favorite and playing in front of a large home crowd.
K-State (2-1) dropped its first game of the season mostly because of lackluster offense. The Green Wave (3-0) held the Wildcats to 336 yards and one touchdown. K-State was at its worst on money downs. It went 2 for 15 on third-down conversions and 1 for 5 on fourth-down conversions.
Give Tulane credit. Coach Willie Fritz had his team ready to go and made it difficult for the Wildcats to move the ball. The Green Wave also came through with a clutch scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
K-State will look for answers as it prepares for its next game against Oklahoma on the road.
Here are five key takeaways from Saturday’s action:
K-State really struggled on the money downs
If you’re looking for just one reason to explain why this game was closer than expected you don’t have to search very far on the stat sheet.
K-State was abysmal in short-yardage situations, which led to an awful conversion rate on both third down and fourth down.
The Wildcats went 2 of 15 on third down and 1 of 5 on fourth down.
Getting first downs isn’t usually difficult for K-State in those situations. With star running back Deuce Vaughn in the backfield, moving the chains is often as easy as giving him the ball and getting out of the way. But he was ineffective against Tulane’s defensive front and only rushed for 81 yards on 20 carries.
Vaughn also dealt with cramps or an injury in the middle of the game and briefly left the field before finishing things out.
The worst conversion attempt of the afternoon came midway through the fourth quarter when Martinez failed to pitch the ball to Vaughn on an option play and lost 4 yards rather than picking up a first down in Tulane territory. The Green Wave responded by scoring what turned out to be a game-clinching touchdown moments later.
Daniel Green made the biggest play of the game
Things could have gone much worse for the Wildcats had K-State linebacker Daniel Green not come up with an important interception near the end of the second quarter.
Tulane was driving and about to enter field-goal territory when Green stepped in front of a pass from Green Wave quarterback Michael Pratt and returned it 49 yards.
Talk about a momentum change.
Just when it looked like Tulane was going to go ahead 10-7 or 14-7, K-State was suddenly in control. The Wildcats took advantage of excellent field position and took a 10-7 lead into halftime thanks to a field goal from Chris Tennant.
Green’s turnover was worth at least six points. The Wildcats needed all of them.
Not to be outdone, Kobe Savage came up with a vital interception of his own near the start of the fourth quarter when Tulane was driving. K-State was only in this game because of its defense.
Tulane shut down Deuce Vaughn
The streaks are over.
Vaughn had rushed for a touchdown in nine straight games and eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in eight straight games with the Wildcats.
Neither of those things happened on Saturday. Tulane bottled him up for an average of 4.1 yards per run.
Another mixed bag from Adrian Martinez
Adrian Martinez has been Kansas State’s starting quarterback for three games, and fans are still waiting to find out exactly what he brings to the offense as a passer.
It’s not an encouraging sign that the jury is still out on his arm.
There was good and bad to take away from the way he played against Tulane. First the positives: He celebrated his first touchdown pass in a K-State uniform when he found Kade Warner in the corner of the end zone in the second quarter. It was a quality throw from Martinez and an even better catch from Warner.
Martinez has also yet to commit a turnover since enrolling at K-State.
Now the negatives: He seems hesitant to take chances down field. Even when he is trying to convert on third-and-long he mostly throws short of the sticks and hopes his receiver can move the chains with a broken tackle. I opted mostly for check downs on Saturday, and few of them resulted in meaningful yardage.
K-State fans weighed in on the offense by booing at the end of several drives.
Martinez finished the day with 150 passing yards after totaling 154 in his first two games.
He also failed to lead a game-tying drive when K-State needed him to.
He will likely need to do more if K-State hopes to spring an upset against Oklahoma next weekend.
For many years, K-State football has been known as a team that doesn’t beat itself with excessive penalties.
So it was strange for everyone in attendance to watch the Wildcats repeatedly get flagged for pre-snap penalties such as false starts and off sides against Tulane. K-State jumped off sides three times on defense in the first two quarters and also committed a false start before half time.
The defensive flags could be explained by crowd noise, as the stadium was rocking with Tulane’s offense on the field. But they still felt out of the ordinary.
That is something Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman will need to address moving forward.