K-State's rise precipitated by defense

October, 5, 2011
10/05/11
2:00
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Kansas State gave up 12 plays of longer than 10 yards to Baylor. It gave up five touchdown passes, including four that were longer than 34 yards.

But the Wildcats won, and bulled their way into the Top 25. Despite the struggles, they did it with defense.

"We played really well when we had to play really well," said coach Bill Snyder, "and you’d like to think that’s the entirety of the ballgame, but you know, when our defense had their backs to the wall, they responded extremely well."

[+] EnlargeTysyn Hartman
Scott Sewell/US PresswireTysyn Hartman and the defense have been a big reason for Kansas State's 4-0 start.
Trailing by two, it forced the first interception of the season by the Big 12's most prolific passer, Robert Griffin III. With a one-point lead, it shut down the Bears' offense to win the game.

"The key was getting stops when we need them," said safety Tysyn Hartman.

How'd that happen? The Wildcats had experience under pressure. A late goal-line stand preserved a shutout against Kent State. The Wildcats beat Miami a week later with a goal-line stand.

A bigger, badder opponent on a bigger stage? Same result.

"When the game’s on the line, when the shutout was on the line, we were getting stops," Hartman said. "Whether it be on the goal line or in a key situation, we’re playing well."

The Wildcats are still just 12 total yards behind the Big 12's leader in total defense (Texas), and give up an average of 56 fewer yards per game than the Big 12's No. 3 defense, Oklahoma.

This week, a new challenge: Missouri, whose quarterback racked up almost 400 yards against the Sooners.

"He’s a good quarterback. I know he had a lot of pressure and big shoes to fill behind Blaine Gabbert, and he’s done a great job so far," Hartman said. "Griffin has a lot of speed -- he’s a track guy -- but I think they’re going to use Franklin to run the ball more. He’s a big guy and he can take those hits."

Franklin already has 260 yards rushing and four touchdowns, which ranks 12th in the Big 12.

Last week's win wasn't enough. The defense still enters Saturday's game angry. The Wildcats are ranked and at home, but are 2.5-point underdogs.

"I told our coaches [Sunday] night, these people spend a lot of money and make a lot of money, and they don’t just do it off the cuff. They have ample information to make those decisions," Snyder said. "I told the team I was quite certain we would be the underdog in this ballgame."

If Kansas State hasn't been fully validated by wins over Baylor and Miami, Missouri would be a nice next step to assuming the Tigers' previous status as Big 12 title dark horse.

"We felt like we had a lot to prove last week, but it’s kind of still the same way," Hartman said. "People picked us to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 and we don’t finish there. We’ve had to get used to that underdog role and it’s no different this week."

The road to shedding that role is driven by the Wildcats' defense.

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