Players ready to redeem themselves from near-loss in 2011 season opener

1 Sep

Kansas State’s only touchdown of the 2011 season opener against Eastern Kentucky came in the final minutes of regulation. (Photo by Travis Heying / The Wichita Eagle).

Eastern Kentucky.

It is a day most Kansas State football players would like to forget, but far be it from coach Bill Snyder to allow that to happen. Instead, he reminds the team of its near-loss in last season’s opener … daily.

Tight end Travis Tannahill said Snyder regularly uses as a motivational tactic the name of the school the Wildcats almost lost to in last season’s opener. More often than not, the players hear it after less than stellar practices.

“‘Remember Eastern Kentucky,'” Tannahill quoted the coach. “‘You took them for granted, and it almost nipped you in the bud. That would’ve been a terrible, embarrassing night.’”

Of course, winning 10-7 against a should-win, nonconference opponent is almost as bad as losing, particularly when it is the first impression a team makes on its fans.

“It was still embarrassing,” Tannahill said. “Luckily we had that bye week to get things together, but we don’t have that this year. We’ve got to get things together right now.”


Starting fast is one of the emphases for the Wildcats in 2012. The idea is twofold: Kansas State wants a good game to begin the season, and it will also strive for solid starts to each individual game – and each individual half.

Tannahill said the focus on starting well has appeared because the Wildcats did such a good job finishing games last year.

“When Coach first got here, that was his big thing, ‘Finish, finish, finish,'” Tannahill said. “We couldn’t finish any games. We got that under control last year. I think we proved that. Now we’re working on starting, so we’ll see how the year goes. We’re conscious of it. We can’t have any laggy starts.”

With the sluggish performance versus Eastern Kentucky in 2011, the Wildcats put themselves in a position to play catch-up throughout the season. As has been discussed ad nauseam, Kansas State also had to come from behind in many individual games. Obviously, it would be nice to not have to go down to the wire in every single contest this year as well.

“We put ourselves behind the eight ball last year,” said quarterback Collin Klein. “If we were able to start a little sooner, we may have ended even further down the road than we did. That question is always looming. It’s something that Coach has put to us, of making sure we start a little further ahead so we can still progress and end up further down the road.”

That is easier said than done, of course. Snyder said the numbers showed that a disproportionate amount of Kansas State’s scoring happened in the second and fourth quarters compared to the first and third, and as usual, he is a proponent of balance when possible.

Accordingly, starting faster is a goal this season, one that should enable the Wildcats to function with some breathing room from time to time. Tannahill said the execution of that goal comes down to a mindset to take advantage of every opportunity.

“You can’t assume there’s going to be another drive,” Tannahill said. “If we get good field position, we have to take advantage of it right now. If we don’t have good field position, we’ve just got to move the ball. We’ve just got to get it done.”


Needless to say, Kansas State is not looking past Missouri State. Even though the Bears went 2-9 (2-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference) last season, the Wildcats know from experience that anything can happen. The Bears want to win just as much as anyone else, and if taken for granted, they very well could.

“They feel very strongly that they’re going to be a vastly improved football team,” Snyder said. “I would suggest that that’s probably accurate. It’s a defensive unit that returns nine starters. They have some high-quality players within that group. They’re a little different schematically than most of the teams that we play in our conference.”

Snyder describes Missouri State’s defense as one characterized by constant movement and blitzing. He said the setup allows the Bears to cause some negative-yardage plays, but it also makes them vulnerable to big plays. To exemplify this, he mentioned the last time the Wildcats played the Bears.

“We really didn’t move the ball consistently against them, but we manufactured, fortunately, some big plays,” Snyder said. “All of our scores were big plays, long-distance plays. They also slowed us down in regards to continual movement of the football … so they really stopped us from doing what it is we wanted to do. And that’s just the way they play, that’s the nature of their defense, and I think with the experience they have back, I don’t anticipate that that would change.”

As far as Missouri State’s offense – which returns four of five starters on the offensive line – Snyder expects the Bears to try to spread out Kansas State’s defense, play an up-tempo, no-huddle offense and get as many repetitions as they can. To deal with it, the Wildcats need to be alert and well-conditioned.

With what nearly happened versus Eastern Kentucky last season fresh in the minds of Kansas State players, alertness should not be a problem.

“When you have an offense that takes control of the clock, then that’s definitely something you’re going to have to prepare for,” said linebacker Arthur Brown. “There’s no telling what to expect the first game of the season, so we have to be ready for everything.”


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