Some call it boring.
Kansas State calls it winning.
Moving down the field like a waltz, K-State’s offense is based on precision, patience and flawless execution — led by quarterback Collin Klein.
A run-based attack centered around the QB, mixed in with calculated passes, the Wildcats have orchestrated their system with near perfection this season, showing no real hurry to find the end zone, but yet lighting up the scoreboard nearly every week.
“If you can get the ball in the end zone, you’re offense can look pretty flashy, no matter how you get it there,” K-State coach Bill Snyder this week. “They have the mindset that its not important how it gets there, just that it does.”
By contrast, the Wildcats’ opponent this Saturday — No. 17 West Virginia — has wasted little time scoring points in bunches, racking up gaudy numbers almost every week with a high-octane attack engineered by quarterback Geno Smith.
If the Mountaineers are running a sprint, the Wildcats are clearly running a marathon.
In fact, the sixth-ranked Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) probably hope Saturday’s matchup in Morgantown, W.Va. turns into a marathon, one that K-State intends to win with its slow, methodical and tactical approach on offense — the goal to keep the Mountaineers’ offense off the field.
Perhaps K-State fullback Braden Wilson said it best Tuesday.
“We’re going to have to play defense with a good offense, but that’s our game,” he said. “We’re just going to try to do what we do best.”
K-State was at its best last Saturday when it dominated the time-of-possession in its win at Iowa State. The Wildcats possessed the ball for more than 40 minutes and had three scoring drives of at least six minutes, one taking more than eight minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter.
“For that to happen, we have to be a well-balanced offense,” Snyder said. “That’s just the nature of it. If we become one-sided in our approach then it becomes more complex for us and that much easier for your opponent to defend one side of the approach.
“But if you can hold onto the football for a long period of time, move it, and have some success with it, so you’re getting the ball in the end zone and at least being able to create some field position for your defense, then those are significant things.”
On Saturday, K-State was able to turn a five-play and a seven-play drive into field position for its defense when punter Ryan Doerr buried the Cyclones at the 1- and 3-yard lines in the second half. In the Wildcats’ win at Oklahoma, Doerr planted all five punts inside the Sooners’ 20-yard line.
But a lot has to happen for the offense to be productive in terms of points scored and creating defensive field position. There’s more to it than just snapping the ball and running.
Other teams do that.
K-State relies on patience and lets the play unfold before making its move, something that is hard to teach and few rarely master.
Klein has done exactly that and often when everyone in the stadium knows what he’s going to do. It’s no secret.
“They know what’s coming at them,” K-State running back John Hubert said. “He’s just very physical and a hard-nosed player. He’s a grind to stop.”
The senior quarterback isn’t the most fleet-footed on the field most days. Yet, Klein often seems to run past defenders with ease, picking his way through opposing defenses for tough first downs, sometimes when it seems there is no hole at all to run through.
“I’ve probably gotten more patient as I’ve gotten older,” said Klein, who has 510 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground this season. “I know that it’s a balance. Sometimes you have to wait and feel your way through it. Other times, you got to go because it can go from bad to worse.
“It’s a feel thing, but I’ve probably improved just by understanding the blocking schemes better and knowing exactly who is accounted for and how each one of them will be blocked and all those little things that maybe give you half a step.”
Sometimes that half step is all Klein needs to make his move, a skill that’s very difficult to develop.
“He has patience, but he has patience in life,” Snyder said of Klein, who works in concert with Hubert on the Wildcats’ carefully-executed and often used read-option. “It’s a carryover value that Collin possesses, so it kind of fits right in on the football field. It’s not an easy value. You see a lot of running backs or quarterbacks that don’t have the kind of patience to wait and kind of pick your way.
“John is getting better at that too and he’s made some improvement. I think he’s replicated Collin some in that respect. But easy, no, not at all.”
The Wildcats’ read-option has proven potent this season between Hubert and Klein, knowing when to keep the ball and when to give the ball up to Hubert.
It’s all about timing and knowing what the defense will allow you to get.
“We’ve practiced it quite a bit — last season, spring, summer, camp,” Klein said of the zone-read. “When you do something as much as we have done it, I would hope that there are no mistakes. But there’s some human decision-making involved, so we’re not perfect all the time where the ball should go. But we do the best we can.”
K-State’s best has been pretty good this year, as the Wildcats are second in the league in rushing offense, averaging nearly 250 yards a game and in turn scoring more than 40 points a game doing it — three times scoring at least 51 points in wins over Missouri State, Miami and Kansas.
But the Wildcats have also gotten the job done throwing the ball, despite it not being the focal point of the offense. K-State, while ranking last in the Big 12 in passing offense, has been efficient when it has gone to the air. Completing nearly 67 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions through six games, Klein has shown that he can throw the ball to win.
Against the Cyclones, Klein completed a pair of third-down passes for first downs in the fourth quarter — a 10-yard pass to Tyler Lockett on third-and-5 and then a 15-yard pass to Chris Harper on third-and-8.
“Nobody gives Collin credit for throwing the ball,” said Harper, who leads the Wildcats with 19 receptions for 258 yards this season. “And his efficiency is really good every week. Nobody gives him credit because we don’t throw the ball 50 times. We don’t need to throw the ball 50 times. Our running game is so effective.
“Collin’s throwing gets overshadowed by his throwing motion. Everyone’s a quarterback coach and everyone played quarterback and was All-Pro and All-American and they tell him how he needs to throw.”
But at the end of the day, Saturday’s game will come down to one thing — the winner will be who scores the most points — and there could be plenty of those to go around.
“The first goal on our goal board is to score one more point than they do,” Klein said. “However, whenever we have to do it, its just going to come down to that.”