The No. 24 Cowboys fell against No. 2 Kansas State in Manhattan on Saturday night, 44-30.
QUARTERBACK: Falling (0)
Bad news: The Cowboys were forced to play third-string quarterback Clint Chelf when Wes Lunt went down with what appeared to be concussion-like symptoms. Good news: The Cowboys might have the deepest trio of quarterbacks in the nation. They combined for an impressive 417 yards and two touchdowns. But the negatives outweighed the positives Saturday night. Lunt threw three interceptions; Chelf added one in OSU’s final drive. This was supposed to be a learning season for Lunt as he moves forward, but it’s turning into a year-long injury-filled struggle. Chelf can play, but he’s not the future.
GROUND GAME: Falling (+2)
For only the second time this season, Joseph Randle failed to gain 100 yards on the ground in his lowest output of the year. It didn’t help that the Cowboys were forced to throw most of the second half with a 14-point deficit. Randle had 43 yards on 15 carries with no touchdowns. Chelf was the Cowboys’ second leading rusher. He was 10 yards behind Randle. That pretty much sums it up this week.
AIR GAME: Rising (+1)
This was the one surprising bright spot this week for the Cowboys. The OSU receiving corps combined for 417 yards and two touchdowns, with eight players recording at least one reception. Austin Hays (four catches, 81 yards) and Charlie Moore (seven catches, 135 yards) each caught deep balls for touchdowns. Josh Stewart continued to show he’s the Cowboys’ No. 1 option for targets, recording eight catches for 92 yards. Blake Jackson had a drop in the red zone late in the game, but this was still a solid outing for the unit as a whole.
FRONT SEVEN: Falling (+2)
This was supposed to be a statement game for the Cowboys’ front seven – the chance to show they might be the best in the Big 12. But the Wildcats rolled through them, as they have done to nearly every team they’ve faced this season. Collin Klein, who left the game in the second half with an injury, hit near his game-average rushing total, with 64 yards and a rushing touchdown. John Hubert added two touchdowns. This unit is falling, but still remains a team strength moving forward. The linebacker core is still solid, with Tyler Johnson recording OSU’s lone sack on Saturday.
SECONDARY: Falling (+1)
This continues to be a semi-shock this season – the OSU secondary is struggling mightily with one-on-one coverage. Bill Young did the smart thing against Klein by packing the box and forcing him to throw. The problem was that Justin Gilbert, Brodrick Brown and the rest of the OSU secondary was unable to contain receivers. They kept big plays in check, but four Wildcat wide receivers had at least four catches and more than 50 yards receiving. But it’s the lack of turnovers that really hurts this group. The Cowboys’ have been in need of defensive game changers. They haven’t gotten many from this group all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Falling (0)
Finally, the Cowboys had their first special teams touchdown when Desmond Roland took an 80-yard kick return to the end zone. The problem was the Wildcats had taken the previous Quinn Sharp kickoff for a touchdown. And throughout the game, OSU’s kick coverage was awful. The Wildcats were consistently starting drives near or past midfield. Sharp was solid, three-for-three on field goals, but special teams played a big role in the Cowboys’ loss.
OVERALL: Falling (+1)
The Wildcats are the nation’s second-ranked team for a reason. They have legitimate BCS Championship dreams. Bill Snyder’s team play mistake-free football and capitalize on every opportunity. That’s exactly how the Cowboys didn’t play on Saturday. Mistakes, injuries and missed opportunities have plagued OSU all season long. Keeping everything in perspective, it would have been a massive upset had the Cowboys won, but that’s not really the issue here. OSU didn’t give itself a chance to win in the final minutes of the game, down two possessions. With continuing quarterback injury drama, it’s a no-brainer this week. The Cowboys are falling.