It took more than 58 minutes into the first game a year ago for Kansas State to score its first touchdown of the season and subsequently take its first lead of the season — against Eastern Kentucky.
Last season’s opener — a 10-7 win — was nearly the kind of dud that can derail an entire season.
It’s understatement to say K-State head coach Bill Snyder would like for his Wildcats to get off to a better start this year when they open the season at home Saturday against Missouri State at 6 p.m.
“I’d be hard-pressed to believe that the quality young people we have in the program wouldn’t have real genuine interest and commitment and passion for starting off well and playing well in this ballgame,” Snyder said Tuesday. “But I don’t know. That’s how I would like for them to feel like, but that doesn’t mean that’s going to happen.”
That win a year ago fueled a season full of close victories as the Wildcats won 10 games — eight victories decided by seven points or less.
But the circumstances a year ago were different than this season. K-State had a bye week immediately following that lackluster season-opener and then trounced Kent State in Week 3 before traveling to Miami for what became another slim victory at 28-24, a game decided at the end with a goal-line stand.
“Last year it sent a very clear and distinct message and they rectified it,” Snyder said. “But they also did it with a two-week window of preparation. They had an opportunity to correct issues, whether it was mental or physical or attitude. Then we played Kent State and then the third ballgame with Miami. Really, before we got to Miami, we had three weeks to repair things.”
Such isn’t the case this year, though, as No. 21 K-State turns around to host those same Hurricanes next week, allowing very little time to correct any season-opener mistakes.
“I don’t think we can afford that because we don’t have that kind of time,” Snyder said.
And as close as the victories — and some losses — were a year ago, it’s the not final point total that has Snyder cautious this year. It’s when the points were scored last season that the longtime K-State coach has been focused on during the offseason.
Last year K-State was clearly more productive in the second and fourth quarters of games than they were in the first and third quarters. The Wildcats scored 85 more points in the second and fourth quarters — including 22 points in overtime — than they did in the first and fourth quarters. In the second quarter alone, K-State scored 138 points, compared to just 81 in the first.
Getting off to a quicker start in both halves is the plan Saturday.
“We have attempted to put on some emphasis on what we do in practice and how we address the players about being able to get off to better starts,” Snyder said. “One of the things I’ve brought to their attention is that over the period of time we’ve been here, is that our record when ahead at halftime is 149-5. Now, I worry about the five, but by the same token, it does send a message.”
K-State senior quarterback Collin Klein said its key for this year’s Wildcats to carve out its own identity and became a better starting team in the hope of avoiding the need for so many late-game heroics.
“The 2011 team was amazing, it was a great run, but it was last year,” he said. “It was a special group of guys and we have a special, but different group of guys this year. We did a lot of great things last year and we’re trying to build and improve on that this year by maybe not putting ourselves in some of those tough situations in the fourth quarter where we had to pull one out.”
Whether it was the case a year ago or not, Klein said this year’s team absolutely cannot afford to overlook anyone on the 12-game schedule, especially in Week 1, even though it is against a Missouri State team that was just 2-9 last season.
“We can’t beat ourselves, we can’t turn the ball over, we cannot have penalties that put us behind the chains or we’re going to have to make some plays,” Klein said. “They’ve prepared and gone through camp and they’ve prepared just like we have. They’re going to be hungry too, this is their first game just like it is ours and we’ve just got to play very hard, we have to play smart and do that for four quarters and we’ll be alright.”