Special teams success is nothing new for Kansas State football, and that success was needed early against North Texas.
K-State sophomore Tyler Lockett, who returned two kickoff returns for touchdowns last season, is no stranger to the impact a big special teams play can have.
“What gets me excited for kickoffs is just the fact that it’s a game-changer moment,” said Lockett after the Wildcats’ 35-21 win Saturday night. “Just like what happened today. Anything can happen on a kickoff return.”
Since 1990, the Wildcats are 47-15 when scoring on special teams and since 1999, K-State and Virginia Tech have scored 82 non-offensive touchdowns — tied for the most in the nation.
Lockett added No. 83 to the Wildcats’ non-offensive touchdown total and it came at an important time.
Before Lockett returned a kickoff 96 yards down the North Texas sideline to the south end zone with 3:46 left in the first quarter, the Mean Green made a K-State defense that looked unstoppable after last weekend’s Miami rout look very beatable after an 11-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that took 6:18 off the clock.
KSU quarterback Collin Klein — who was nearly perfect against the Hurricanes – wasn’t doing much better.
Before Lockett’s score, the K-State offense — which wasn’t held to a punt until the final minutes of the game last weekend — had just two possessions with two three-and-outs.
Before Lockett’s run-back, Bill Snyder Family Stadium had all the excitement of a flat tire.
“It was major,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “That probably was the difference in the ball game, at the end of the day.”
Snyder said he made sure to tell the entire team how big it was, too.
“That’s what I was telling our players,” he said. “Special teams saved us. We gave up a couple of bad, or bogus returns on our kickoff in the third quarter, but aside from that, I thought we played extremely well with special teams, and it made a difference in the ball game for us.
It wasn’t just Lockett, either.
After a long, seemingly productive offensive drive by the Wildcats that resulted in a John Hubert fumble at the North Texas 5-yard line, the Mean Green took advantage of the turnover and put themselves in position for 45-yard field goal attempt. K-State special teams came through, again, though, and the kick was blocked by senior defensive tackle Vai Lutui with 4:46 to go before halftime.
The field goal — if made — would have given North Texas a 10-7 lead on the No. 15 team in the country.
Still, it was the kickoff return that brought fans to their feet, and Lockett said the thought-process of the return was simple once he found a clearing.
“I thought, ‘Run, run, run as fast as you can… because you don’t want to get caught.’” he said. “Coach called a certain play we were supposed to run and I was just supposed to sit back and just let everything go and follow Tramaine (Thompson). Luckily, we found a hole and everybody made their blocks. Then Tramaine made that great block at the end to allow me to run to the end zone.”
Lockett felt the play was an important moment in what turned out to be an unexpected close battle with North Texas.
“I think it was a big swing because we needed a spark into the game to keep going, because the offense started out slow and the defense started out slow,” he said. “So just to be able to give that little spark, it really inspired a lot of people to keep going, and luckily that’s how we came out with a victory.”