MANHATTAN, Kan. — The statistics show an improved defense. The scoreboard does, too. But if you’re looking for the truest sign that Kansas State’s defense is a different unit from the one that couldn’t get off the field against North Dakota State and Texas, simply listen to the Wildcats talk about their upcoming game.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
They aren’t the least bit intimidated by No. 25 Texas Tech’s high-flying offense, which averages 538.4 yards.
After going toe-to-toe with No. 6 Baylor and No. 14 Oklahoma State, and then dominating West Virginia and Iowa State, the Wildcats seem ready for any challenge.
“To play in the Big 12, you have to have a lot of confidence playing against all these great offenses,” safety Dante Barnett said. “We have that, and I would say our confidence is an A. It’s high.”
K-State defenders have reason to feel that way. They allowed 249 yards and seven points to Iowa State. They held West Virginia to 367 yards and 12 points. And they kept Baylor and Oklahoma State well below their usual output.
The Wildcats have allowed an average of 348 yards and 21.8 points in their last four games, and they have surrendered two touchdowns in their last eight quarters. That’s compared with their first four games, when they allowed 377.8 yards and 22.3 points against significantly weaker competition.
Defensive end Ryan Mueller has led the way up front, coming through with a sack in four straight games, and senior safety Ty Zimmerman has anchored the secondary, averaging nearly 10 tackles while knocking down pass after pass in the past four games.
K-State is finally creating turnovers, and big plays are becoming the norm.
“I would say that the defense likes being out there,” Mueller said. “I would rather have the defense score points and have the offense sitting on the bench instead of us.”
The improvement has been steady, much like Zimmerman expected.
“Coming into the season, we lost eight or nine starters,” Zimmerman said. “It was kind of tough there for a while. I think we have built our trust in one another these last four or five weeks. It has really shown on the field.”
Still, it feels as if K-State’s defense has something to prove. Its last two performances, though impressive, came at home against two of the weakest teams in the Big 12. The Wildcats haven’t won on the road this year, and they haven’t defeated an offensive-minded opponent.
A victory over Texas Tech, which averages more passing yards (414.2) than any team in the nation other than Baylor, would end that drought.
The Red Raiders can beat opponents with deep throws and short passes that turn into long gains.
“They have the ability to do all that,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “(Big plays) are a major concern week in and week out. A team like Tech is probably as big a concern as you’re going to find.”
To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/KellisRobinett.