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Sams makes Cats go on the ground, despite heavy workload

By Joshua Kinder

A little piece of the defense dies every time a running quarterback like Daniel Sams picks up a first down.

Kansas State is just hoping the same can’t be said every time Sams takes a hit.

There’s no doubt Sams can stress a defense, especially when he runs for 199 yards and three touchdowns like he did against Baylor two weeks ago. But getting yards like that also puts a lot of stress on the quarterback. Just ask Collin Klein, who took as much of a pounding as he dished out the past two years leading the Wildcats in rushing.

Sams is nearing Klein-like carry numbers in K-State’s last two games — rushing 27 times for 118 yards at Oklahoma State and then carrying the ball 30 times for 199 against the Bears. The most rushes Klein had was 35 — a K-State record — against Texas A&M in 2011. Allen Webb carried it 34 times against Nebraska in 2004.

“He’s tough,” K-State redshirt-freshman fullback Glenn Gronkowski said. “Just how hard he runs and the hits he takes, I know that can’t feel too good in quarterback pads. The number of rushes he has, you have to be tough in order to do that. But he loves that. He’s in there getting everyone hyped, getting everyone going. He’s loving it out there.”

For the Wildcats’ sake, they better hope Sams can stay out there doing what he’s doing, because since he’s taken a bigger role, the offense has began to move in the right direction and at a pace K-State coach Bill Snyder seems to prefer — chewing up clock and methodically grinding out first downs. Sams has done this despite still sharing the quarterback duties with starter Jake Waters.

“I don’t go out there to try to get massive stats,” said Sams, who has a team-leading 522 yards and seven touchdowns this season. “I’m just trying to make plays, play like myself, and play for the team. I didn’t try to go out and get over 199 yards, but in the end I just wanted to make a play.”

It’s a safe bet to expect another healthy dose of Sams running the ball this Saturday when the Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) host West Virginia (3-4, 1-3) at 2:45 p.m. — televised on Fox Sports 1.

Snyder said he believes Sams can handle the heavy workload, if the game continues to call for it.

“Well, he did it so I would like to think that he is capable of it,” Snyder said. “I have never thought otherwise, never believed that he couldn’t.”

That doesn’t mean Snyder has his concerns with Sams taking so many team’s best shots every time he breaks past the line of scrimmage.

“I’m always concerned,” he said. “I’m concerned about our offensive linemen that take 70 snaps a ballgame or a defensive lineman or anyone else. They all get hit. It’s a physical game, as is evidenced. We have a bunch of players that have been out for a period of time and it has taken a toll on their health as well. It’s the nature of the game for everyone else as well, not just us.”

But not every team’s quarterback takes the kind of punishment that’s required to play at K-State. Klein battled numerous injuries his junior year and didn’t even practice the final month of the season. Seemingly held together by duct tape, Klein never missed a game that season.

Last season, the former Heisman Trophy finalist was knocked from the Wildcats’ game against Oklahoma State, after rushing for a touchdown.

“I wasn’t worried about taking hits at that time,” I was trying to win the game,” Sams said following his big day against Baylor. “It was working. So if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

That appears to be Snyder’s philosophy as well, saying this week that he doesn’t anticipate making this two-headed quarterback system a party for one anytime soon. If that’s truly the case, one has to assume Snyder will continue to use Waters and Sams like he has the past two games — Waters starting, but Sams getting more snaps in an attempt to control the game on the ground.

“I think we understand how they play,” Snyder said. “I don’t think we ever had any doubt. In fact, we have understood from the beginning. It’s just a matter of getting them to understand the system — trying to get them to do the things we are doing without making mistakes.”

The biggest mistakes lately have come at the end of games, specifically mistakes that involve Sams throwing the ball to the wrong team in the fourth quarter. He did it twice at Oklahoma State and then again against Baylor — all three interceptions ruining any chance of a K-State victory.

“We’re progressing, slowly, but surely,” Sams said. “I haven’t been finishing, as far as the interceptions late in the games… that’s something that we can’t have.

“We still have areas that we need to improve, but I feel like we will get there.”

Finding better offensive balance was a goal for K-State following its loss at Texas to open Big 12 play when the Wildcats looked predictable and out of sorts using two quarterbacks. Snyder has seemed to find that right mix for now, but stresses a lot of how K-State plays offensively is dictated by what the defense presents. Against Baylor, the Wildcats rushed for 327 yards and passed for 118. They were more balanced at Oklahoma State when they rushed for 144 yards and passed for 192.

“In some areas, I think we have the balance, in other areas we don’t,” Snyder said. “In some of the tendencies that people keep track of, perhaps not, but overall probably a little closer. Again, it is truly defined by how somebody lines up and plays on defense. As I have said so many times, if they line up and take certain things away, then if you have some balance, in other words the capacity to do a number of different things — you can move on to whatever seems to fit the moment so to speak.

“I think we have been able to do that to a certain degree, not totally successfully because we have lost four ballgames.”

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