Saturday, September 8, 2012
K-State: The same team it's been, but better
By David Ubben
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Three times, Kansas State and Miami players crammed into a dogpile.
Three times, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was in the middle of it, with the ball inched across the goal line. It's a new year in the Little Apple, but in Saturday's 52-13 romp against Miami, the results looked much the same for Bill Snyder's team.
The offensive line dominated. "Optimus Klein" looked nearly impossible to tackle at times, and Kansas State emerged with the win after a bushel full of Klein rushing touchdowns.
Only this time, instead of stunned Miami fans sitting in silence, Bill Snyder's Wildcats left the Kansas State student section chanting, "Hail Snyder!" which the 73-year-old coach acknowledged with a wave as he left the field. That's an experience tough to duplicate unless the stadium bears your name, which was the case at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday.
The biggest difference on the field? In Kansas State's first real test of the 2012 season, you had to look far and wide to find much sweat on the brows of the folks in purple Saturday.
"I honestly didn't see it coming like this," linebacker Tre Walker said of the blowout.
Last year's heart-pounding contest ended with a game-winning goal-line stand, the second of what eventually would be eight wins by one-score differentials last season. Saturday? No such thing.
Kansas State was better, stronger, faster and more prepared. It showed for all 60 minutes, save a head-scratching disaster of an attempt at a Statue of Liberty trick play near the goal line at the end of the first half.
"It wasn't supposed to look that way," Snyder said of the play that resulted in a 19-yard loss. Kansas State missed a field goal attempt on the next play.
Besides that hiccup, the Wildcats most often made The U look like Football Bowl Subdivision newbie UMass.
Snyder said his offensive line did a "pretty decent job." Miami's defensive line probably would disagree after giving up 289 yards on the ground. When Miami had the ball, it gained just 43 rushing yards a week after surpassing that output on two different Duke Johnson touchdown runs. Johnson finished with just 22 yards on seven carries in this laugher.
"We're not doing anything different," Snyder said of his defense.
Nope. But they're doing what Kansas State does a whole lot better than they did it last season.
Early in the fourth quarter, Kansas State's workhorse -- the "BillSnyder Kleinsdale" -- was back in the barn, ceding to backup quarterback Daniel Sams, who marched untouched for a 15-yard touchdown on his first carry of the day and added another 11-yard score two carries later.
Last week's slow start -- Missouri State played Kansas State to a 9-all tie until late in the third quarter -- was a distant memory. Snyder walked into a team meeting Monday and tried a little dry humor on his team, suggesting it start slow this time.
"He just really said that to say this: I'm gonna back up off you guys and let you play ball," Walker said.
Play ball they did, jumping to a 14-0 lead with points on their first two drives while shutting Miami out in its first quarter.
There was plenty of reason to doubt Kansas State entering Saturday's game.
Does a Big 12 title contender really go toe to toe with Missouri State for three quarters like Kansas State did a week ago before a 35-point, fourth-quarter explosion broke open the game? Can the Cats' ball-control offense really control the ball with three new starters on the offensive line? Was last season's team really that good? It lost to Oklahoma by 41 points, after all.
The answers to those questions will have definitive answers as the calendar pages turn, but for Saturday, Kansas State's answer to all of those questions was clear: Yes.
The other big difference for Kansas State? Klein's arm. The Wildcats' 6-foot-5, 226-pound bulldozer showed big improvement against a speedy Miami secondary. He finished 9-of-11 (82 percent) for 210 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
"He's the same guy. He's just improved at everything because he works diligently to get better at everything," Snyder said. "And he gets better across the board."
His throwing motion still features a Tim Tebow-like windup, but his rushing touchdown totals mimic the current New York Jet, too.
Klein's three rushing scores Saturday were his first three of the season after racking up 27 in 2011, one short of Ricky Williams' Big 12 record at Texas.
"Collin is a great leader and a great quarterback, and when he comes out and makes those plays -- sometimes we say, 'Punt ready,' on the sideline when it's third down -- and Collin busts out an 8- or 10-yard run to get the first down, those things are what separate him from other great players and great quarterbacks," Walker said.
Who knows how long Klein can look the part of a dart-thrower in the pocket, but he stood out on this day.
With only North Texas standing between Kansas State and a road date against preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma on Sept. 22, so did the Wildcats.