Family reunions aren't for everyone. While Saturday's season-opener featured Coach Bill Snyder's return to the Kansas State sideline, a record crowd in Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and the return of more than 300 former Wildcat football players to witness the Wildcats battle the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, the on-field action nearly saw this reunion turn like Grandma's potato salad. The Wildcats slipped by the Minutemen 21-17, surrendering an 18-point advantage in the process.
"I'm tremendously disappointed," Snyder said. " I would love to have had a far better performance.
"You can see what concerns I have, and there are a lot of them."
After leading 21-3 at the half, a pair of K-State special teams miscues allowed the Minutemen to march back into the game. Massachusetts followed a muffed punt by Brandon Banks with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. Just 88 game seconds later, D.J. Adeoba returned a blocked punt 26 yards for a score, cutting the K-State lead to just four.
With talk of improvement serving as the postgame mantra, quarterback Carson Coffman said the top priority would be making sure all players are assignment-sound. "We had a lot of guys, including me, that didn't make all the proper corrections and audibles," Coffman said.
The Wildcat offense had little luck establishing a passing attack early on. While running back Daniel Thomas pounded his way to 74 yards on the ground in the first quarter, the Wildcats could not locate the end zone due to passing game miscues. K-State advanced down to the UMass 25-yard line in the opening drive of the new Snyder era, but a Coffman fumble ended any chance the Wildcats had at putting points on the board. K-State's next drive began at their own two-yard-line, and the Wildcats pushed out to their own 24 before linebacker Tyler Holmes picked off a Coffman pass attempt.
In his first start as a Wildcat, Coffman completed 14-of-27 passes for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
While the Wildcats out-gained the Minutemen 407-212, just 134 of K-State's total yards came in the second half. Coffman said he was unsure what exactly plagued the second-half offense. "We just came out flat," Coffman said. "We couldn't really get anything going, and we have a lot of work to do this week in practice."
"I think we were a bad, bad offensive ball team in the second half," Snyder said. "It's no more complex than that."
While players and coaches were in agreement that the offense needs polish, Snyder spoke more favorably of the defensive effort. "I was proud of how well we played defensively tonight."
The Wildcats limited the Minutemen to just 28 first-half rushing yards, and allowed quarterback Kyle Havens to complete just 29-percent of his passing attempts for the game.
"We feel like we played pretty well in the first half," safety Tysyn Hartman said of the Wildcat defense.
Early on, Hartman looked like he might make a run at former safety Jaime Mendez's school record of four interceptions in a game. Hartman grabbed a pair of interceptions in the first 16-and-a-half minutes of play, the first coming on the opening play of Massachusetts' second possession. A potential third interception was in his grasp in the third quarter, but Hartman was unable to haul it in.
Hartman, who moved over to safety from quarterback in the midst of the 2008 season said he feels much more comfortable now on the defensive side of the football. "The coaching definitely has us all prepared as a defense," Hartman said. "I feel real comfortable in all my guys out there, that they're going to do their assignments just as they know I'm going to do mine."
Thomas, a junior college transfer from NW Mississippi Community College, led the Wildcats in rushing in his K-State debut, carrying 23 times for 104 yards. Meanwhile, Running back Keithen Valentine embraced the opportunity to reintroduce himself as a player. Valentine, who entered 2008 as a starter only to be buried on the depth chart by the end of the year, served as a complimentary back to Thomas on Saturday. While Thomas struck with force, Valentine attacked with precise cuts and jukes, gaining 89 yards on the evening.
The passing attack did garner a few highlights, as receiver Attrail Snipes used the contest to show that he is capable of having a greatly expanded role in 2009. As a junior, Snipes was used primarily on special teams, catching just one pass for the entire season. Saturday, Snipes caught two passes for 52 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns.
Snipes' second score capped a two-play, 40-yard drive, and, with Josh Cherry's point after, put the Wildcats ahead 21-3 with just three seconds remaining in the first half.
The first lead of the contest belonged to the Minutemen, who took a 3-0 advantage on Armando Cuko's 35-yard field goal with 3:22 remaining in the first quarter.
The Wildcats' season continues on September 12, when they travel to Lafayette, La., to face the University of Louisiana.