K-State's defense making more big plays each week
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
To call Kansas State a big-play defense was not always a compliment.
More often than not, the Wildcats were victims, not perpetrators when it came to impact plays.
But in recent weeks, including a 35-12 victory over West Virginia last Saturday, that has started the change. The numbers certainly have improved drastically and K-State coach Bill Snyder is pretty sure he knows why.
"I think we've been playing better week in and week out," Snyder said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. "I think we've begun to eliminate some of the things that have given us problems, like giving up big plays.
"We gave up a couple of big plays in this ballgame and no one ever likes that, but at least the numbers are coming down. So we're becoming a little bit more conscientious in regards to big play."
West Virginia did go deep on the Wildcats with pass plays of 50 yards in the second quarter and 43 in the third to set up its two field goals. But their lone touchdown came on a 47-yard drive following a short K-State punt into the wind.
"We talked about it going in, that we can't give up the big plays," senior safety Ty Zimmerman said after the game. "That is what hurt us against Baylor.
"We went to work on it this week in practice, but we still have to make corrections on the one that we gave up."
Baylor did torch the Wildcats for touchdown passes of 93, 72 and 54 yards two weeks earlier to rally for a 35-25 victory. But even then the then-No. 15-ranked Bears fell more than 300 yards and 35 points short of their per-game averages.
West Virginia finished with 367 yards total offense but just 146 in the second half when K-State took command and pulled away.
"I think (against West Virginia) was the most mature we played as a defense in our entirety," said senior linebacker Blake Slaughter, whose nine tackles, including two for losses, trailed only Zimmerman's 12 stops for the Wildcats. "We're just growing, understanding the game and the pace of the game and the way the game goes and how emotional you have to be. I see young guys coming a long ways and making strides in that area, and that excites me going forward."
Even when they have allowed big plays in the passing game, the Wildcats have shored up their run defense significantly. They gave up 144 rushing yards at Oklahoma State, then followed that with 114 yards against Baylor and 103 in the West Virginia game.
After Texas rushed for 227 yards and racked up 452 total in the Big 12 opener Sept. 21, the Wildcats ranked 89th nationally against the run and 54th overall. Even facing Baylor since then, they have improved to 53rd in rushing defense and 44th in total yards allowed.
"I really feel like that's credited towards our coaches, (defensive coordinator) Tom Hayes, (defensive line) coach Mo Latimore, (linebacker coach Mike) Cox, and (defensive ends) coach Blake Seiler," defensive end Ryan Mueller said. "Just building confidence within each individual player, as coaches they're just doing a great job working with us and giving us confidence that we can make plays out there."
Snyder agreed that it has more been a matter of steady improvement than earth-shattering changes.
"It's not anything that's overwhelming, just gradual progress throughout the course of the year," he said. "Being able to identify what issues we really had to be able to correct.
"I think our coaches and our players have done that."
Zimmerman on list
K-State senior safety Ty Zimmerman is one of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back.
The list was announced Monday by the Jim Thorpe Association. The three finalists will be named Nov. 25 and the winner will be announced during the College Football Awards Show on Dec. 12.
Zimmerman ranks second on the Wildcats and is tied for fifth in the Big 12 this season with 55 tackles. He returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown against Louisiana and his 11 career picks tie him for sixth in school history.
Breakfast in Lubbock
Kansas State's Nov. 9 game at Texas Tech has been scheduled for 11 a.m. and will be televised by ABC, the Big 12 announced Monday.
The league also announced that Kansas at Oklahoma State that day will kick at 3 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
This Saturday, both K-State and KU will kick off at 2:30 p.m., the Wildcats at home against Iowa State on Fox Sports 1 and KU at Texas on the Jayhawk Television Network.