Déjà Vu All Over Again

5 Sep

Kansas State found itself at a crossroads going into last season’s Miami game, and this season the situation feels similar.

Although the No. 21 Wildcats defeated Missouri State 51-9 in their season opener, the score did not tell the whole story – not even close. At halftime, the ball game that should have been a blowout was tied at 6. Kansas State did not score a touchdown until midway through the third quarter.

That it took the Wildcats so long to get to full throttle did not please coach Bill Snyder. He made it an emphasis throughout the offseason that the team needs to get going faster this season after winning eight games by a just touchdown or less last year. His frustration was evident in a sarcastic statement after the game.

“I said that when I came back, I did not think there would be any generation gap, but I am beginning to believe there is,” Snyder said. “It seems like we are not very good at explaining what we are talking about. I am going to tell the team to have a really slow start next week and see what happens.”

Kansas State started the 2011 season slow as well, just barely scraping by Eastern Kentucky, 10-7. Though they defeated Kent State 37-0 the next week, the Wildcats had given credence to the prediction that they would finish eighth in the Big 12. When they went on the road to Miami, Kansas State had a lot to prove.

The same is true this year.

The Wildcats’ secondary struggled in 2011 to contain the high-octane offenses of the Big 12, and after losing safety Tysyn Hartman and cornerback David Garrett, the unit looked vulnerable again on Saturday night. Missouri State scorched Kansas State for 323 yards through the air. The team averaged just 176.2 passing yards per game last season, but it had nearly that amount by halftime against the Wildcats.

“We did not necessarily start the way we wanted to, but at the end it is bend but do not break,” said cornerback Nigel Malone. “We took that motto from last year against Eastern Kentucky.”

Offensively, Kansas State failed to score touchdowns several times when it got in the red zone. Kicker Anthony Cantele got a significant amount of practice in the first half, going 3-for-3, but obviously field goals are not going to cut it going forward.

“There were critical downs, a couple third downs [receiver] Chris [Harper] and I weren’t able to get on the same page,” said quarterback Collin Klein. “Third and eight … there’s a drive killer. We weren’t able to connect on the touchdown in the first half, there’s another one. I underthrew [receiver Tyler] Lockett on the one post route down the middle, so there’s always those little things that you look back and it’s like, ‘Darn! I wish I could have that one back.'”

Mistakes were made, but the Wildcats are moving on. Their experience against the Bears could help them with more than just getting first-time jitters out of the way. The no-huddle offense Missouri State runs gave Kansas State real-time practice against the sort of offenses they will see all season long. Miami will be another test in that regard, a higher-level one.

It is a valuable opportunity for preparation considering the Wildcats do not have the tools to replicate the speed of such offenses by themselves in practice. In fact, linebacker Arthur Brown said the coaching staff this season has used a new technique to get the Kansas State defense accustomed to the reactionary nature of playing against no-huddle offenses. The defense has to turn its back to the play, and then when the whistle blows, the offense is already set up and the defense has to scramble to get into the correct formation.

Though the high-tempo offense is not something Kansas State has adopted, the system has its advantages.

“It definitely gives the offense more control over the tempo of the game,” Brown said. “It causes us to react and respond to what they do, so we definitely have to prepare and condition throughout our preparation for those types of teams.”

Against the Hurricanes last season, the Wildcats held a 28-24 lead going into the final minutes of the game. Miami had first and goal at the 2-yard line. Kansas State kept the Hurricanes out of the end zone four straight times, recording a valiant goal line stand that Brown called the defining moment of the season.

This Saturday will mark the first time ever that Miami has visited Manhattan, and the Wildcats hope it will be another one to remember.

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