Picking up the pieces after another loss, Wildcats work to avoid 0-3 start in Big 12

By Joshua Kinder

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said it best following last Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State.

“We’ve had a lot of tests,” he said.

The longtime Wildcats coach is so right. K-State, now five games into the season, seems to have more questions now than it had even before the season started. And nobody seems to have the answers, yet.

K-State was tested following its season-opening loss to North Dakota State and then again following the loss in the Big 12 opener at Texas. The tests just keep piling up though. The problem is that there’s no clear end in sight — not with No. 15 Baylor on its way to Manhattan for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff on FOX.

The defending Big 12 champions are now 2-3 overall and on the brink of falling to 0-3 in conference play if they can’t figure out how to slow down a Bears offense that could rank among the best the college game has ever seen.

“And a lot of people are going to pay attention to exactly what kind of response our football team has,” Snyder said.

Though it’s easy to make this week all about stopping a Baylor (4-0, 1-0) team averaging more than 70 points and nearly 800 yards of offense per game, it’s really about the Wildcats and fixing the uncharacteristic mistakes that have plagued K-State all season.

Even though K-State had its chances to win the game in Stillwater last week, it’s pretty easy to see why it didn’t. A team built on doing the little things right, one that doesn’t beat itself, did exactly that against the Cowboys — just as it did against North Dakota State and Texas before that.

“Nothing has changed in 20-some years,” Snyder said. “We have an identity — toughness, discipline, those 16 goals and the values that it takes to create an opportunity to become successful. And we just have to have guys who understand that and buy into it. When that doesn’t happen, that’s my fault.”

The Cats committed a season-high 12 penalties for 92 yards — 10 in the first half alone — and turned the ball over five times against the Cowboys. That’s after committing a season-high eight penalties and turning the ball over three times at Texas just two weeks earlier.

“We, in our history, haven’t been that kind of a football team,” Snyder said. “We haven’t always been extremely good, but we haven’t turned the ball over and we haven’t gotten penalized and it’s always given us a chance to win.”

So what gives?

“I’m not getting the message across about the discipline that it truly takes to play the game,” Snyder said. “And bigger than that — it’s not just about the game — it’s about doing things right, being consistent… It’s having the discipline to do those things.

“This isn’t about talent. This isn’t about how fast you run, how much weight you can lift. This is about doing all those things that give you a chance.”

K-State turned the ball over 12 times last season — that’s 13 games. This year, the Wildcats have already turned the ball over 14 times in five games.

“It is crazy to think about that, but it’s also not because last year we were 5-0 at this time and now we’re 2-3,” K-State sophomore receiver Kyle Klein said. “It’s not hard to see where the train left the tracks.”

Redshirt-freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski said the mistakes a week ago were especially frustrating because the focus during the bye week was simple — to play more disciplined football.

“All week — that’s what we worked on all week,” he said. “We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to. We talked about it all week. We had too many mistakes, weren’t disciplined — after we talked about all week.”

Nobody has been immune to the issues either. Quarterback Jake Waters fumbled twice in the fourth quarter at Texas and then again in the second half at Oklahoma State. He’s also thrown five interceptions compared to just four touchdowns. Running back John Hubert dropped an easy option pitch at Texas too. The other quarterback, Daniel Sams, had a fumble last Saturday, to go along with three interceptions — two in the fourth quarter.

As for as the penalties, they vary — everything from false starts, facemasks, to delay of game calls, pass interference and several personal fouls.

“If you look at last year’s team and the 2011 team, we did those little things,” K-State junior receiver Curry Sexton said. “We’ve been the least-penalized team in the Big 12, turned the ball over fewer than anybody in the Big 12.

“And this year, we haven’t been able to do that. I don’t know what it stems from. We need to focus on the discipline, doing the little things. The most-disciplined team will win almost every time. We need to get back to doing that. You show your true character in times of adversity. That’s going to be the biggest thing, how we respond to this.”

Senior safety Ty Zimmerman said he doesn’t think the problems are because of a lack of effort.

“Last year we won so many games because we didn’t make mistakes,” he said. “We took care of the ball, didn’t commit penalties and played a lot more together.

“I’m not saying guys aren’t giving effort because I feel like guys are doing that — going out there and flying around and making plays. We have just too many mental mistakes that have to get corrected if we want to continue to improve.”

The penalties that have occurred across the offensive line are especially concerning considering the Wildcats returned all five starters from what was easily one of the most efficient and productive lines in the Big 12 a year ago.

“You might remember at our first press conference, back in August, and I was asked a question about having returners on the offensive line,” Snyder said. “You guys asked me if there were any concerns. I said my biggest concern is that we don’t take that for granted.

“And I think that we’ve kind of taken for granted that we have experienced guys who had some success last year. My concern was, are we going to get better, because we still needed to get better and sometimes we’re not.”

Though there are still seven games remaining this season, the issue of becoming bowl eligible has to be considered. K-State still needs four wins to reach that magic number of six — that’s with home games still against Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma and two road games at Texas Tech and Kansas. Those seven teams are a combined 22-11 this season, including undefeated records for Baylor, OU and Tech.

“Panic has never entered into (Snyder’s) vocabulary, which is a good thing,” Klein said. “It’s just about keep working, keep improving and focus on the mistakes we made and correct them. It’s not a time to panic.

“You have to keep fighting,” receiver Torell Miller said. “When things aren’t going in your favor, you have to really lock down and focus. You have to keep working at it and don’t give up. Whatever life throws at you, you have to keep going. That’s discipline, someone who can still fight when things aren’t going their way.”

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