Consistency means everything. Numbers, specifically personal statistics, do not.
Welcome to the life of a defensive lineman.
At Kansas State, they’ve been doing it pretty well this season.
“A lot of these young guys have played an extensive amount of time during the course of our ballgames,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “In a rotation basis, all those guys have been in at critical times throughout the season.
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“Collectively, what they’ve done is they’ve played sound, responsible football. In other words being where you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Everybody’s got a place to fit.”
The numbers show No. 11 K-State, 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big 12, has been as tough up front as any team in the country — the Wildcats have only allowed nine rushing touchdowns and rank 25th nationally in run defense at 126.4 yards per game.
Saturday’s game against Kansas, 3-8 and 1-7, represents a new challenge, however. In their final home game, the Wildcats will be without stalwart defensive tackle Travis Britz, who injured his left ankle against West Virginia.
Britz, a 6-foot-4, 293-pound junior, and his 27 tackles, three sacks and school-record five blocked kicks will be sorely missed. Defensive tackles Valentino Coleman, Will Geary, DeAndre Roberts and Terrell Clinkscales will all have to try and fill that void.
“We’ve got to be about gap control, we’ve got to make sure we don’t get blown off the line of scrimmage,” Coleman said. “We feel like we’ve made leaps and bounds over the course of the season, but we’re still learning. Everybody’s going to have a chance these next couple of weeks, so we need to play hard, play fast and when your number is called, you better be ready.”
The key to the consistency has been the play of the group, but more than anything the unselfishness of one player — senior defensive end Ryan Mueller, a preseason All-Big 12 pick who tied the school record last season with 11 1/2 sacks and was fifth on the team with 62 tackles. His 18 1/2 tackles for loss were ninth for a single season in school history.
Mueller, not unlike a shutdown cornerback who gets thrown away from, has found himself routinely the focus of double-team blocking and running backs chipping off to help on the 6-2, 245-pound St. Thomas Aquinas graduate.
His numbers are down considerably — 28 tackles, three sacks and 7 1/2 tackles — but the wealth is more spread out over the entire unit. Britz, defensive end Jordan Willis and defensive tackle Will Geary all have at least 20 tackles. Coleman has 19.
“If I can get two or three guys paying attention to me, that’s a win,” Mueller said. “Collectively, our defense is better. The experience has carried over really well from last year to this year and I think, overall, we have a more sound unit.”
The players most directly effected have been K-State’s linebackers. Snyder pointed out that they find themselves playing a lot less often with defensive linemen in their laps or guards and tackles coming free at them.
“I’m just so proud of the defensive line, throughout the whole year they’ve done a great job,” said K-State linebacker Jonathan Truman, who leads the team with 95 tackles. “Makes my job so much easier. The defensive line gets that push that doesn’t allow the offensive line to the next level.
“With Ryan’s success last year, all eyes have been on him the whole year. Other teams know he’s the guy they need to block and they’ll do anything they can to sop him. That creates some opportunities for other defensive linemen.”