MANHATTAN — A two-week break after back-to-back losses has done nothing to change Kansas State's offensive mindset.
If anything, it has hammered the point home even more.
For the Wildcats to be successful when they resume their season at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against TCU at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, they know they'll have to hit the ground running.
After ranking seventh nationally with a 280-yard average through three games — they're still a respectable 27th — the Wildcats (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) rushed for fewer than 130 yards in losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor. And now they face a TCU team (3-2, 1-1) with the No. 18 run defense in the nation and the best in the Big 12, allowing just 101.2 yards per game.
"It's extremely important to establish early, because there's so many things that come off the run game," K-State center Adam Holtorf said. "You can set up play-action passes and all sorts of different other run schemes, but again when you run the ball you can control the clock and keep the ball in your hands.
"That's huge, so there's all sorts of things that come with running the ball."
K-State ranks second nationally in time of possession and TCU seventh, so both teams prefer controlling the ball. The difference is the Horned Frogs have the Big 12's stingiest defense, holding opponents to just 284 yards a game, while the Wildcats allow 344 yards on average and are ninth against the run at 188.6.
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson had a solid game passing two weeks ago in the 31-12 loss to Baylor, completing 22 for 34 for 245 yards and one touchdown. But he also was sacked six times, leading to a season-low 123 rushing yards for the Wildcats.
Moving the ball on the ground could go a long way toward alleviating pressure on the quarterback.
"It's really important," Thompson said. "The run game is a really important part of our offense.
"We want to be physical, and having success in the run game opens up a lot of stuff for our whole offense. So it's going to be important that we get that established and get in a rhythm, more importantly than anything."
Against Baylor, James Gilbert rushed for 94 yards, pushing his season total to 415, but most of his production has come between the tackles. An injury to backup Jordon Brown, the biggest perimeter threat and most accomplished receiver out of the backfield, hasn't helped.
"When you take Jordon out of the mix and Malik (Knowles, freshman wide receiver) out of the mix, now all of a sudden the run game starts getting squeezed because we don't have some of the ability to stretch the field and/or force someone to cover the back," offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham said. "James is still a violent runner and will do a nice job for us, but we have to get it going up front a little bit."
Knowles, the Wildcats' lone established deep threat at receiver, has been plagued by a foot injury that sidelined him for the Oklahoma State game and all but a few snaps against Baylor.
While the offense looks to find its groove in the ground game, K-State's defense has struggled mightily the past two games against the run. They'll face another challenge against TCU and senior back Darius Anderson, who is averaging 106 yards per game.
One glaring issue in the Baylor game was missed tackles.
"We hope it improved. We emphasized it. We did a lot of tackling things (during the bye week)," coach Chris Klieman said. "It still has to be proof in the pudding on Saturday.
"That's the bottom line for us. We have to be much better tacklers. We have to grab cloth and wait for the cavalry to arrive when it's a bigger body and stuff, but it's something that we're emphasizing on a daily basis."