You might be hard-pressed to find a more locked in player on defense right now in the Big 12 than Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman.
The junior, as of late, almost looks like he knows what opposing quarterbacks are going to do before they do it.
There might be a reason for that too, actually.
The former greyshirt, who has interceptions in all four of the Wildcats’ Big 12 wins this season, starred at quarterback for Junction City and briefly played the position at K-State before moving to defense.
“It was my feeling that he had the skill to play that position and play very quickly,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said this week. “There are a variety of positions you like to have quarterbacks, and that happens to be one of them.”
Snyder said Zimmerman’s experience at quarterback, along with being a great athlete, has allowed him to have a special understanding of what offenses do from his safety position.
“What I appreciate about Ty so much is that he has a tremendous capacity to have a global understanding of both defense and offenses,” he said. “You have a much better understanding of what offenses do and what they’re trying to do and how they go about doing it.”
Snyder said it’s Zimmerman’s natural instincts, coupled with more experience in the pass-happy league, that’s allowed the former Centennial League standout turn in an All-Big 12 and perhaps an All-America season so far.
“He’s a better player today than he was at the end of last season and better today than he was at the beginning of this season,” Snyder said. “He’s committed to that improvement we talk about all the time.”
Quarterback Collin Klein, who made a switch from QB to receiver and then back to quarterback, has a great appreciation for what the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Zimmerman has done for the No. 4 Wildcats.
“The first day they shifted him over to defense, he still had the green (quarterback) jersey,” Klein said. “I remember how quick that transition was. I remember on the first day, like, ‘wow, he really sees the field and reacted quickly.’ He was making tackles 2 or 3 yards down field and at the line of scrimmage.”
Making plays is all Zimmerman has done since starting all 12 games and earning Freshman All-American honors for the Wildcats in 2010, finishing his debut season with 74 tackles and three interceptions.
“He has a very good mind for the game as far as knowing what’s going on around him and what he and his unit is trying to accomplish,” Klein said. “He plays extremely hard and makes plays. He makes plays all over the field, makes tackles for loss and is still able to cover and be back where he needs to be.”
It’s paid off for Zimmerman, who is in his third year as a starter for a defense that ranks fourth in the Big 12 and second in scoring defense, allowing just 16.1 points per game this season.
Zimmerman has been a big part of that, picking off three passes inside his own 20-yard line this season, directly putting the end to three scoring drives by Oklahoma, Iowa State and West Virginia.
K-State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) turned in its best defensive performance of the season last Saturday when it held the Mountaineers to just 243 total yards and seven points. The Wildcats, ranked third in the BCS, corralled quarterback Geno Smith to just 143 passing yards and intercepted the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year twice, including one by Arthur Brown that ended Smith’s streak of 273 passes without a pick.
“To hold West Virginia to zero score in 52 1/2 minutes on defense is really a feather in their hat,” Snyder said.
But really the Wildcats have been pretty good all season defensively — something that will need to continue Saturday when K-State hosts No. 14 Texas Tech at Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 2:30 p.m. K-State has allowed 21 or less points in each of its first seven games this season. The last time K-State did that was in 1998 — also the last time the Wildcats had an undefeated regular season.
Again, Zimmerman deserves a lot of credit for that — anchoring a secondary that’s keeping the deep ball in front of it this season. In fact, the longest play K-State has allowed in four Big 12 games is a 31-yard pass by Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist on Oct. 6.
“He’s meant a lot to us,” senior cornerback Nigel Malone said. “He’s one of our leaders on defense and he’s definitely the composer of the defense, making sure everybody is doing the right thing, making checks for us.
“He does a good job for us and really is an underrated talent.”