During Bill Snyder’s second stint as Kansas State football coach, the Wildcats have never prevented opponents from gaining 300 yards in three consecutive games.
That could change Saturday.
K-State opened the season by holding Stanford to 272 yards. Then it limited Florida Atlantic to 211. Another strong defensive showing against Missouri State would place K-State in elite company as it concludes the nonconference portion of its schedule.
“It is very important,” linebacker Elijah Lee said of maintaining the streak. “We still have little things to iron out before we get in to league play, and that is something we are going to take day-by-day this week. We have to keep creating turnovers and play hard and physical.”
The Wildcats are one of five teams nationally to hold each of its opponents below 300 yards. The other four: Florida, Miami, Toledo and Army. But unlike those teams, which have played mostly inferior competition, K-State has played a top-10 team on the road.
Sure, it’s early, but all signs point to this being an improved defense. K-State held its own against Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, a Heisman Trophy contender, and created four turnovers against Florida Atlantic. Players say their goal is a shutout this week.
No statistic illustrates the turnaround better than the average yardage K-State allows. The Wildcats rank fifth nationally at 242 yards. They ranked 105th last season (452.2).
“That’s a big achievement,” Lee said.
Of course, it won’t mean much unless K-State continues to shut down future teams.
“Let’s do it in three consecutive games when we get into league play,” Snyder said. “That’s the definitive time of our season. Hopefully, we have good numbers this week. The numbers don’t tell you everything. We’ve played well with the exception of starting in both ballgames. We’ve certainly had our moments defensively, and I hope that continues, and they’re practicing toward that end. But the real test will come when we come into conference.”
If that doesn’t motivate K-State defenders heading into a ho-hum game against an FCS opponent, perhaps a look to the past will.
The Wildcats looked like an elite tackling unit at this point last season, too. They opened the year by limiting South Dakota to 266 yards in a 34-0 victory and followed it up by holding Texas-San Antonio to 229 yards in a 30-3 romp. Players assumed the good vibes were going to last, but things quickly spun out of control. Louisiana Tech lit up K-State’s defense the following week for 451 yards, and things got worse in Big 12 play.
No one wants to go through that again.
“We want to keep going the way we have, and I think we will,” defensive back Donnie Starks said. “I would say this group is definitely better than last year. Our knowledge of the game is a lot higher. We are a much smarter defense.”
K-State gets another opportunity to prove it is also a more consistent defense on Saturday.
“So far we have done pretty good,” defensive end Jordan Willis said, “but I keep bringing it up, we have not been tested the way we are going to be tested in the Big 12. We have to keep plugging away.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Missouri State at Kansas State
WHEN: 6:10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.
TV: None (Internet streaming at K-StateHD.tv)
Other story lines
Running back race: Charles Jones, Justin Silmon, Dalvin Warmack and Alex Barnes all saw action in K-State’s backfield last week. Jones appears to have a hold on the starting spot, but how carries are divided behind him remains a mystery. This will be the final opportunity for backups to prove themselves before conference play. Who will stand out?
Penalty watch: K-State was one of the most penalized teams nationally in its first two games. The flags have angered Snyder, and the Wildcats have emphasized discipline all week.
Countdown to 200: Bill Snyder is six wins away from No. 200. A victory over Missouri State would be the 195th victory of his career.