NASHVILLE — The high-powered offense and fortuitous plays that were prominent throughout Kansas State's first two games disappeared during a 14-7 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Without them, the No. 18 Wildcats went from blowing out teams at home to looking outmanned against a team they were favored to beat, especially in front of a friendly road crowd that was half purple.
The Commodores took advantage of a dreadful passing effort from K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz (10 of 28 for 76 yards and two interceptions) and made just enough plays to stay undefeated.
The way Ertz and Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur played in their first games, an aerial showcase seemed possible. It was more of an offensive struggle.
After scoring 55 points against Central Arkansas and Charlotte, K-State punted seven times against Vanderbilt. Ertz rushed for 126 yards, but that was the only reliable source of offense the Wildcats could find. Vanderbilt kept running back Alex Barnes in check. K-State receivers suffered from drops. The offensive line didn't look sharp.
Little went right.
That was perhaps best illustrated on K-State's final drive, a last-gasp attempt to tie the score in the waning moments. The Wildcats got all the way to the Vandy 12, but Ertz couldn't find a receiver on fourth-and-long and came up two yards shy on a scramble attempt with 52 seconds remaining.
Vanderbilt wasn't much better on offense, but it was good enough. Shurmur completed 14 of 23 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown, but he struggled to give the Commodores many scoring chances.
Still, he cashed in on two of them, and that was enough.
The first came on a short pass to C.J. Duncan in the first quarter that gave Vanderbilt a 7-0 lead. The second came on a two-yard run with 8:23 remaining. It was unusual touchdown run, as he intended to pass to his right but ended up running up the middle after barely holding onto a low snap.
K-State had plenty of time to respond, but its offense was unable to tie the score.
Vanderbilt (3-0) celebrated its biggest win of the year. K-State (2-1) trudged off the field with a disappointing loss.
The Wildcats will probably look back at this one and thing of several near misses. Even though they only scored seven points, they came painfully close to putting 24 on the scoreboard.
The most notable of those plays came in the second quarter when defensive back Kendall Adams scooped up an apparent fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. The large contingent of visiting fans cheered what appeared to be Adams' third defensive touchdown in two games, but the play was overturned on video review.
That will go down as a questionable reversal among K-State fans. On the play, Shurmur was lunging ahead for yardage on third down and lost the ball on his way down. Officials decided Shurmur's right knee touched the ground a millisecond before the ball popped out.
Later, defensive back D.J. Reed returned appeared to score on a long punt return, but that score was nullified by an illegal block by Brogan Barry.
Matthew McCrane also missed a 42-yard field goal that could have given the Wildcats a 10-7 lead in the second half.
Everything that seemed to go right in their first two victories went wrong in Nashville.