At Kansas State, football players wait for feedback from their coach.
Bill Snyder can tell a lot from what he sees on Saturday, and he supplements that knowledge with statistics. But he does not issue final judgment until he watches several replays of the game.
For that reason, Jordan Willis was curious to hear his evaluation earlier this week. Willis, a junior defensive end from Rockhurst High and Kansas City, made enormous plays against Louisiana Tech, including 2 1/2 sacks and a fumble recovery, so he expected a positive review. Still, he was not certain. Snyder remembered the big plays, but mostly ignored them on second viewing. Instead, he looked at what Willis did the rest of the game, when things weren’t going his way.
Snyder liked what he saw.
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“There was a clip on there in which he didn’t get a sack, but he got to the quarterback and it was probably the best pass rush I have seen him make since he has been here,” Snyder said. “He is making headway.”
That may be an understatement. Willis looks like K-State’s top pass-rusher. He leads the team in tackles for loss with 5 1/2 and sacks with 3 1/2 . He has also forced and recovered a fumble while making 11 total stops.
He was at his best against Louisiana Tech, continually wreaking havoc on the Bulldogs’ backfield. He helped bring quarterback Jeff Driskel to the ground three times, at one point sacking him on back-to-back plays that resulted in 18 yards in losses.
Willis beat defenders in many different ways. On one sack, he darted inside and created a lane to the quarterback by shoving the right guard off his mark. On another, he outran the right tackle and used his long arms to tackle Driskel.
“I was just being relentless,” Willis said. “Our defensive line coaches talk about that all the time, just stay after the quarterback. There are a lot of times I am rushing, and at first it doesn’t seem like it is open, and then it opens up again. You just have to keep going.”
Snyder likes his energy most of all.
“He played consistent, graded out very high,” Snyder said. “The most significant thing was very few missed assignments. He plays hard all the time. He is focused on anything and everything that he does.”
Willis contributed immediately as a freshman, playing in nine games and making one sack. And he started every game a year ago, making four sacks. But now that Ryan Mueller is in the NFL, he is stepping into the spotlight.
Willis, 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, is big and athletic enough to beat most offensive linemen and he is smart enough to read offensive formations.
Sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee, the team’s leading tackler, thought so much of his play last week that he told Willis to save plays for the rest of the defense.
“He is a consistent player, so it didn’t really impress me that he made big plays, because he is capable of doing that all the time,” Lee said. “I said to him, ‘Man, you are on a roll. I have got to catch up.’”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett