Ask and few Kansas State players can tell you the last time they turned the ball over. That’s what near perfection can do to a team.
At 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the BCS, the Wildcats know a little something about perfection this season too.
But K-State — ranked No. 3 in the AP — didn’t get there by accident. In fact, playing mistake-free football has been a signature of this team, whether its protecting quarterback Collin Klein, committing only a handful of penalties, coming away with an Big 12-best 24 turnovers or just holding onto the ball.
The Wildcats, who play at TCU on Saturday at 6 p.m., seem to have mastered the idea of doing things right. Simply put, K-State doesn’t beat itself and teams waiting for that to happen have fallen by the wayside.
K-State, coming off a 44-30 victory over Oklahoma State, has just one turnover in Big 12 play — a muffed punt return by Tramaine Thompson at Iowa State on Oct. 13. The last offensive turnover was against North Texas when Klein threw one of his two interceptions this season.
“It’s been a while ago,” K-State running back Angelo Pease said Tuesday.
Indeed it has.
K-State has gone 77 possessions on offense without a turnover. That’s 414 straight plays with no interceptions or fumbles.
“That’s pretty remarkable to not have fumbles happen,” K-State tight end Travis Tannahill said. “You can have the ball exactly where it needs to be and with the wrong hit, that ball is going to pop out. Even the tipped ball, sometimes you can’t do anything about the d-linemen getting their hands up. They put it up at the right time and a linebacker or a safety picks it, which is something our defense has done great at.
“We’ve obviously been fortunate, but our hard work and attention to detail has helped.”
If anyone knows details, it’s K-State coach Bill Snyder. Everything is of the utmost importance to the longtime Wildcats coach. No stone is left unturned when it comes to preparing for football games and the Wildcats are living proof of it this year.
If Oregon has the high-octane offense and Alabama with the shutdown defense, then K-State has perfection on its side with an uncanny attention to detail.
“It’s about us being as safe and protective of the football as we possibly can,” Snyder said. “It’s a mindset with our players and there’s diligent work done in practice to try to reach that goal.”
The Wildcats do this by trying to simulate turnover situations day in and day out at practice. Not only is the scout team or the No. 1 defense trying to stop the offensive side of the ball, but they’re trying to be ball hogs at the same time, putting the Wildcats’ offense in high-pressure situations on pass coverage, hands in the face and relentless ripping at the football.
“There are certain individual drills that players at a variety of positions do that try to simulate, make it game-like conditions, some of the positions you can get into with the ball and some of the things you could do,” Snyder said. “During the team phase of our practices it is important for scout squad groups, or when we’re going good on good, to make an effort to disrupt the offense in terms of trying to strip the ball… It’s a matter of doing the things an opponent would do to make you have an awareness of continually protecting the ball.”
It’s an idea Pease had never experienced before he arrived at K-State two years ago via Hutchinson Community College.
“This is the first time I’ve been a part of this, a (scout) team trying to get you to turn the ball over,” said Pease, who rushed nine times for 71 yards last Saturday and hasn’t lost a fumble this year. “When I was in JUCO we didn’t do that, when I was in high school, we didn’t do it. It’s a good thing. Our scout team goes hard, tries to simulate and strip the ball. It helps us.”
Klein’s improved accuracy and decision-making has also made a difference this season — attempting 140 straight passes without an interception. Some could call it playing it safe, others think its being smart with the football.
“Coach Snyder emphasizes that, maybe more than other coaches,” Tannahill said. “Some coaches want their quarterbacks to take more risks than maybe we do. There’s been some times when I’ve maybe thought Collin could have squeezed that ball in there and he didn’t, instead he tucked the ball and picked up 5 yards.”
Though K-State hasn’t been in the giving spirit, the Wildcats certainly have had no problem taking balls away. The 24 takeaways lead the Big 12 and coupled with just four total turnovers, K-State is a plus-20 this season, which ranks No. 1 nationally.
As significant as K-State’s takeaways have been, it’s what the Wildcats have done with those turnovers that has proven to be even more eye-popping — outscoring opponents 111-0 off turnovers.
“We thrive on those turnovers,” Pease said. “The defense is giving it all they got and we’re going to get it our all every single play. When we start slow, the defense picks us up. When the defense starts slow, we pick the defense up. We thrive off each other.”
K-State has been an equal-opportunity thief too, forcing fumbles on running backs, quarterbacks, receivers and picking off passes.
Last Saturday, Allen Chapman picked off Oklahoma State three times, returning one for a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The senior got his second pick later in the quarter that stopped an OSU drive in K-State territory. His final interception of the game came in the end zone late in the fourth quarter with K-State clinging to a 14-point lead.
“The defense being able to create turnovers has been great — got some hits on the quarterback, fumbles, Jarell (Childs) has had a couple returns, and the secondary has been great… Chapman had a career day,” Tannahill said.
Creating extra possessions, K-State has scored on 17 of the 24 takeaways, averaging more than 12 points a game.
“Anytime the defense gets a turnover, it gets us excited — usually we get a short field or if the opposing team was driving, it saves some points, takes some off the board,” Tannahill said.