Manhattan Kansas State has spent two weeks stewing over a victory.
That’s what happens when it takes about 59 minutes to finally put away Eastern Kentucky.
The Wildcats had last week off due to a quirk in the schedule, so they’ve had more time than usual to dissect and digest their 10-7 escape-job in the season opener. And while the taste was bitter, they believe it taught them a few things before facing Kent State on Saturday night.
“Not having as much confusion, being able to relax and play ball,” offered B.J. Finney, the lone underclassman on the offensive line.
“We can’t have roller-coaster performances where we play great one game, terrible the next,” said defensive back Tysyn Hartman.
“We had to improve our tackling this week,” added defensive end Jordan Voelker, whose two sacks against Eastern Kentucky was a rare bright spot. “Throughout the rest of our games we’re going to be playing bigger and faster backs than what we saw two weeks ago.”
Probably not this week. Definitely next week.
Kent State was hammered by Alabama in its opener, and lost at home last weekend to lowly Louisiana-Lafayette. The Golden Flashes bring to town one of the worst offenses in major college football — they rank 119th out of 120 teams in rushing, 114th in passing and 119th in total offense — and a defense that has been spotty at best against the run.
It should be the perfect tune-up for the Wildcats before they hit the road for a non-conference showdown against Miami. Then again, nothing is a sure thing.
“We’re more focused, a more focused team,” running back Angelo Pease said. “I’m not going to say we underestimated Eastern Kentucky, but I guess we’re just coming in more focused than we did for the first game.”
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has earned a reputation over 20 season in Manhattan of being able to make major headway during a bye week. While he acknowledged that having a little extra time so early in the season isn’t ideal, he also admitted that there was plenty of work to do.
“You concern is that they see an open date as a time that improvement is not the focus of their attention, and that’s what concerns you,” he said. “It’s so easy to kind of put things off and let it be same-old, same-old, until you get into game week. We got an opportunity to improve ourselves during that week off, so to speak. Whether we did or not remains to be seen.”
Just about everybody on the roster pointed out a few things accomplished during the bye week, and Snyder had his own list: the offense installed the rest of its playbook; the defense is identifying some guys who can develop into leaders; execution on both sides of the ball took a dramatic step forward; and a realization set in that Kansas State is fortunate to be 1-0.
Eastern Kentucky held the Wildcats off the scoreboard into the fourth quarter two weeks ago, and if not for a long touchdown pass by Collin Klein in the closing minutes, would have stolen one of the biggest victories in the history of its program.
“When we struggle, we’re going to struggle together,” said Klein, who was made the starter early in fall camp but had problems running any semblance of a cohesive offense on Sept. 3.
“When we play well, everything’s going to be clicking together,” he said. “It’s the beauty of football in the fact that it’s such a team sport, so hopefully we can help each other out.”
Kent State, under first-year coach Darrell Hazell, will face Kansas State for the first time in school history. The former Ohio State assistant was given a tall order in rebuilding one of the worst programs in college football, but there are already signs of movement in the right direction.
The Golden Flashes forced Alabama into five turnovers in a 48-7 defeat, and held Louisiana-Lafayette to 159 yards of net offense in a 20-12 loss.
Now, they get to face a team in Kansas State still angry about a victory.
“I believe that we’ve made progress,” Finney said. “We’ve had some good practices. We just went back to the grindstone even harder than before because we had a wake-up call with Eastern Kentucky. I think we’re just trying to give a better performance and keep growing as a unit.”