Klein pushes KSU toward title hopes

Originally Published: September 22, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- Bill Snyder was so excited about Kansas State's history-making 24-19 win at Oklahoma on Saturday evening that his heart rate almost reached single digit. You didn't know whether to congratulate him or check to see if he had dozed off.

This is the Snyder way. Almost nothing flusters him. The 72-year-old coach stood in the middle of a cramped cinderblock hallway, a Styrofoam cup of freshly poured coffee in his hand, and talked in a near monotone about one of the great K-State victories of his long career.

"All wins are important," said Snyder. "Every coach will tell you and every player will probably tell you the same thing."

But this wasn't just any win. This was 15th-ranked K-State ending a 15-year OU chokehold on this series in Norman. This was K-State ending OU coach Bob Stoops' 14-0 home record against ranked teams. This was K-State avenging last season's 41-point loss to the sixth-ranked Sooners.

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesKansas State QB Collin Klein isn't flashy by any means, but he's getting the job done this season.

Didn't matter. Snyder had his postgame face on. Even when a cricket jumped from a TV reporter's forearm to Snyder's left cheek, the Wildcats coach simply flicked the bug away with a bored nonchalance.

But there was one thing that got a small rise out of Snyder. And it had to do with his senior quarterback Collin Klein.

It was an innocent enough question: What's the difference between the 2012 and 2011 versions of Klein?

For a moment -- just a moment -- Snyder's voice rose.

"I don't really recollect that he was a bad passer a year ago," said Snyder. "I mean, people keep saying this to me. Everybody gets a little bit better when they invest themselves in getting better."

And then Snyder recited all of Klein's time investments as a game manager, as a runner, as a passer, as coverage reader.

"Truly, it's meaningful to him to become better in everything he does, whether it's football or something else," said Snyder.

Klein was better than Sooners quarterback Landry Jones, whose Heisman Trophy chances are deader than the crushed crickets dotting the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium concourses. Actually, Klein was better than anybody on the field Saturday night.

"It's a big step," Klein said. "It's a good win. Like I said, credit a lot of players across the board in every facet of the game."

And that's the Klein way, which is basically the Snyder way. Deflect attention. Downplay everything. Practice humility.

The 4-0 Wildcats have moved to the edges of the national championship conversation because of this upset against OU. Klein has a lot to do with that.

His numbers against the Sooners weren't jaw-dropping. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 149 yards and no touchdowns. He rushed for 79 yards and one score.

But Klein didn't throw an interception, as Jones did. He didn't miss a wide-open receiver in the end zone, as Jones did. He didn't take a crucial sack and fumble away the ball, as Jones did.

"Landry's awesome," said Klein. "He's a great quarterback. Made a lot of great throws. It's just sometimes they're gonna get you. And we were able to be on the right end of that."

Thing is, Jones wasn't awesome Saturday. He hasn't been truly awesome for a while.

As scouts from the Green Bay Packers, the New York Giants, the Minnesota Vikings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Buffalo Bills and the St. Louis Rams watched from their seats in the second row of press box, Jones played inconsistently and, at times, skittishly.

"Not very well overall," said Stoops. "But again, I don't think it's fair to say, 'Landry Jones.' I think it's fair to say the guys around him also were inconsistent."

It's also fair to say Klein is a new and improved version from a year ago. His throwing motion reminds you a tiny bit of a right-handed version of Tim Tebow, but my gosh does the guy compete. The next play he takes off will be his first.

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma QB Landry Jones threw for 298 yards but also turned the ball over twice.

"People need to quit being surprised by Collin," said K-State wide receiver Chris Harper. "Collin is Collin. He's got these nicknames and they're all true: 'Honey Badger ... Optimus Klein,' whatever you want to call him, it's all true because he's all of that. He can do whatever he wants to do. If he wants to play for K-State basketball and go out there and start, he could do that.

"People who doubt him, just accept what he is, and that's a great athlete."

Klein walked into postgame media room wearing a white shirt with a purple tie. He had scrape marks on his neck and hands. In his shirt pocket were two small notepads filled with Bible scripture.

At every opportunity, he thanked someone else for what happened against Oklahoma. To hear Klein tell it, he was only mildly more important than the trainer who taped his ankles.

He has been at K-State through thin and thin. So you'll pardon him if he does a Snyder and downplays the victory against OU. He's already moved on to the Oct. 6 game against Kansas.

"I think we have a lot of guys, myself included, who have been here long enough when things weren't this way," said Klein. "We know what it feels like -- and we don't want to go back."

No, K-State is all about moving forward. KU in early October. Then at Iowa State. Then at West Virginia on Oct. 20.

Suddenly, anything is possible for Klein and the Wildcats. It's possible because of what happened here Saturday night.

Just don't mention those possibilities to Snyder and Snyder Jr. -- Klein. They're not listening.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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