Don't get it wrong: Chris Klieman said Kansas State's special teams is "not poor by any means." It's just that he expects more from the unit.
"We need to be better, bottom line," Klieman said during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
Klieman's high expectations stem from the fact he believes the Wildcats emphasize special teams to an extent nearly unparalleled in college football.
"We put in as much time and effort as anybody in the country, I believe — and any place I've ever been — into special teams work," he said, "and we're not seeing the dividends of the time we're putting in. We talked about that as a staff. We talked about it with the guys (Monday) that we're not playing poorly by any means, but we need to make a difference."
Taiten Winkel, in his first season as the team's starting placekicker, is 2-for-3 so far. Yet after last week's win over Southern Illinois, Klieman lamented Winkel's lone miss: a 24-yarder in the fourth quarter of the victory. Ty Zentner is averaging 42 yards per punt (on five attempts) in 2021 — an average that ranks fifth in the Big 12 among players with at least five kicks.
In the return game, Phillip Brooks' opportunities have been few and far between.
A junior wide receiver, and more importantly, a preseason All-America selection by multiple outlets (CBS Sports, Phil Steele, USA Today and 247Sports), Brooks has returned three punts for touchdowns during his career, tied for second most in school history and sixth in the Big 12's annals.
Yet this fall, he's returned just two punts for 7 yards. He's also had one kickoff return for 31 yards. (Fellow wideout Malik Knowles has K-State's only other kickoff return this year, gaining 17 yards.)
The Wildcats' averages — 7 yards on punts, 24 on kickoffs — are middle of the pack in the conference. K-State is fifth in the 10-team league in kickoff return average, one spot ahead of its punt return mark.
Solid numbers, all.
Just not the conference- (and at times) nation-leading numbers K-State has made part of its identity dating back to the beginning of Bill Snyder's first tenure in 1989.
Not good enough for Klieman, either.
"We need to flip a field. We need to get a touchdown. We need to do something that provides us seven points, or a simple thing — we've got to pin the ball inside the five when we have a chance to pin the ball inside the five," he said. "Those are the hidden yards that really exceptional special teams units — like I think we have, that I believe we have — will do. So for us, we're going to continue to work at it like we have been, and I'm looking forward to even better gains on it.”