Guggisberg: Defense still lacking consistency

By Grant Guggisberg

If the loss to North Dakota State alarmed some fans two weeks ago, Saturday night’s 37-7 win over lowly UMass should put them in full-on crisis mode.

Let’s start with the obvious.

This defense can’t stop anybody — not for four quarters, anyway.

If there was one game you could circle and predict defensive success for this team, the UMass game was it. Instead, K-State struggled in the first half, allowing 190 yards and failing to force even one three-and-out.

The second half was better — K-State forced a pair of quick punts — but not great. The Wildcats managed to keep the Minutemen off the scoreboard, but still gave up yards in chunks, both on the ground and in the air. With 81 yards, UMass running back Stacey Bedell had a solid game and you could argue Minutemen quarterback AJ Doyle had the best night of any signal caller, finishing with 186 yards and completed 67 percent of his passes, though his two interceptions were costly.

K-State head coach Bill Snyder said the defense was improved, quoting the oft-repeated phrase, “bend, don’t break”

“We let them move the ball up and down the field and utilize a lot of snaps and a lot of time,” Snyder said. “But fortunately, we were good when we had to be and got them stopped.”

Defensive lineman Ryan Mueller was less than thrilled about Snyder’s assessment, even if the stops came eventually.

“We just try and go out there and get three-and-outs,” Mueller said. “Everytime we’re out there, that’s our goal. We’re trying to do our best to get off the field, it’s just something we have to work on. I think we’re improving as a defense, every single game.”

Clearly, it’s not for a lack of trying. Snyder’s players are almost always diligent in their desire to improve. But the results just haven’t been there through these first three games.

Against UMass, forget the final score, it’s largely irrelevant. This was not a game K-State was going to lose. The folks in Vegas don’t know everything, but they’re good at what they do, and the spread on this one was 40 points for a reason. K-State was going to win comfortably no matter what — the real question was how dominant would they look?

The numbers speak for themselves.

The K-State defense allowed the Minutemen offense to set season highs in total yardage (309), rushing yardage (123), yards per carry (3.2), time of possession (30:29) and number of first downs (17).

Needless to say, if Saturday’s defensive dud is a barometer for the rest of the year, it makes for a gloomy forecast. 

The unit is young and everybody expected growing pains this season. Losing nine starters generally has that effect. But struggling this much to stop UMass wasn’t supposed to be part of the equation. If you can’t look dominant against a team that’s lost 16 of its last 17 games, what hope do you have against Big 12 offenses?

K-State travels to Austin, Texas, next week to face the Longhorns, a team that proved its weakness against the run in losses to BYU and Ole Miss, but whose offense is as capable as any the Wildcats have seen so far.

And that’s just the Big 12 opener. Following that are two games against top-25 teams in Oklahoma State and Baylor. We’re three games into the season in a year where the Big 12 looks genuinely wide open, but how many games can be circled as definite wins? The home game against winless Iowa State? The finale at Kansas? Past that, the sure bets are few and far between.

Regardless of performance Saturday, Mueller says the defense is prepared to take on the Big 12 slate.

“We’re ready,” he said. “We’ve had three games under our belt, we’ve improved every week. We’re looking forward to the challenge next Saturday, it should be a good one.”

Whether the offense can find an identity and score enough points to win games this year is a topic for another day. But if Saturday night’s performance is any indicator, the defense won’t be making the job any easier.

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