MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State kicked off its season in dominating fashion Saturday, notching a 34-0 win over South Dakota. What stood out to Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder, however, was the abundance of room for improvement.
“It was great to get a shutout,” Snyder said. “No matter who you line up and play against, those are not easy to come by in this day and age, so I was proud (that) as iffy as we played defensively that we still managed to do that. That was a plus.”
Kansas State overwhelmed its FCS opponent from the first play of the game, when Morgan Burns returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The coach had a unique takeaway from that play, one of the most electric of the game.
“What I saw was we missed a block,” Snyder said, “but we managed to still - we missed a double-team block, everybody else did a nice job and helped him immensely, and obviously he did a nice job as well.”
The most visible negative for the Wildcats, however, was the loss of starting quarterback Jesse Ertz, who came up limping after only two snaps. He was replaced by Joe Hubener, who completed 9 of 18 attempts for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Dominique Heath led Kansas State receivers with three catches for 54 yards. The Wildcats used a committee approach in the run game, with Justin Silmon grinding out 51 yards and Charles Jones and Hubener adding 39 and 38, respectively. They also relied heavily on their fullbacks in the red zone, giving the ball eight times to Dimel, who finished with 29 yards and punched in touchdowns from the 2 and the 1.
As he did when talking about the defense and the touchdown return, Snyder hardly went overboard in his praise.
“They ran okay,” Snyder said. “I don’t think we did anything fantastic. You’d like to think that one guy can’t tackle one guy, and yet that happened more often than you’d like for it to . We need to be more aggressive runners.”
South Dakota’s Ryan Saeger converted 18 of 30 passes for 205 yards, but the Coyotes struggled offensively all game.
“For us to have success we have to get our running game going, and they were too much for us,” South Dakota coach Joe Glenn said. “We could not run against them. None of our guys averaged anywhere near what we need to, so it was just total dominance of our running game by a good Kansas State defense.”
Kansas State amassed a 24-0 advantage in the first half despite failing to capitalize on a pair of red zone opportunities early.
The first drive led by Hubener included a 35-yard pass and punishing runs by Glenn Gronkowski and Dimel, and the Wildcats made it to the brink of the end zone with about three minutes remaining in the first quarter. Hubener fumbled on the 1-yard line, however, and the Coyotes recovered.
South Dakota did nothing on the ensuing drive and punted from deep in its own territory. Heath reeled off a 31-yard return that set Kansas State up at the 25-yard line. The Wildcats worked their way to the six-yard line before defensive tackle Sean Bredl tipped away a third-down pass to Kyle Klein, and Kansas State had to settle for a field goal.
“We did the things that hurt a lot of offenses,” Kansas State tackle Cody Whitehair said. “We had turnovers and penalties, so overall we’re not where we want to be yet. We’ve got a little work to do, and we’ll fix that next week.”
The Coyotes had several missed scoring chances as well, as they failed to convert on two first-quarter field goal attempts, one from 55 yards and the other from the 42.
Kansas State scored its first offensive touchdown about 6 minutes into the second quarter. With 45 yards between them and the end zone, the Wildcats kept the ball on the ground, handing it to Silmon for three straight rushes of 18, 12 and eight yards and then turning to the fullbacks. Gronkowski bullied his way to the two-yard line, and then Dimel battered in for the score that gave Kansas State a 17-0 lead.
The Wildcats scored again with about six minutes left in the first half. After recovering a fumbled punt return by South Dakota, Kansas State took over on the 24-yard line, and Hubener immediately threw a strike to Deante Burton, who fought off a defender before snagging the ball in the corner of the end zone.
Kansas State is now 22-2 in season openers under Snyder.