Last Saturday evening, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein answered my questions with an extra bit of blandness following the KSU win against North Texas. There were general questions about the game and inquiries into the offense’s unending quest for absolute balance.
Waist-deep in vanilla-frosted nothing, Klein and I wrapped our minute, but as I was set to walk away, he added one noticeable cap to the conversation.
“Sorry about that,” Klein said with a small, apologetic smile, knowing he had gone above and beyond in his effort not to say much of anything.
It isn’t as if Kansas State football has a reputation for divulging information. Still, the lack of, well, anything, really, stood out. The clichés were even more cliché-y. Tre Walker, normally good for at least a couple of quotes, seemed focused on repeating reporters’ questions back to them in answer form. Tyler Lockett explained his game-changing kickoff return in detail but offered little else past that. Senior defensive tackle Javonta Boyd stood very large in the room, but his comments were very small in terms of substance. And, because of their injuries suffered against the spirited if not very talented Mean Green, Arthur Brown and BJ Finney weren’t available to talk at all.
For a team that head coach Bill Snyder has shown confidence in and loosened his reins on the past year and half in terms of speaking more freely, it was clear some sort of shut-it-down edict had been delivered.
While a bit of a pain to those who want information, the timing of such a thing seems well-played because this team, though 3-0, hasn’t seemed to fully grasp the core concept of a-little-better-every-day. The wildly up-and-down, flip-of-a-switch performances between Missouri State, Miami and last Saturday indicate as much. That said, focus wasn’t needed in two of those wins. Playing at Owen Field in Norman is a different deal, of course.
Snyder has given stories this year of his changing his pregames speech and his messages to the team leading up to games, in attempt to set the kind of tone that the ‘Cats need to 1) start fast and 2) play consistent football for four quarters, regardless of the opponent. The players may be making it completely clear that it largely doesn’t matter what even a legendary coach says at those times; that it is much more about the name on the opposing team’s jersey. Snyder has even expressed his amazement at his inability at times to reach and dial in his players’ mindsets.
Last Saturday, that focus was no more evident than on the offensive line where the same group of guys, who a week earlier shoved Miami’s defensive line up and down the field from the start, never seemed to have the same intense drive against UNT. And, that was before Finney went out. We could argue Dan McCarney is 5x better at coaching/game-planning than Al Golden. We could argue, perhaps not lightly, that UNT would flat beat Miami. But, from the KSU standpoint, the effort and focus just weren’t the same.
That said, a properly motivated KSU offensive line would be an issue for the Sooners, despite what they’re saying this week. It would open the door to long drives and winning time of possession —something K-State didn’t do against North Texas (losing big in that battle, 37:04 – 22:56). That, logically, keeps Landry Jones, Damien Williams and the rest of the Sooners offense off the field.*
*K-State ran just six plays in the first quarter against the Mean Green, which led to my asking Snyder and Klein what it does to a team when you have to sit what amounts to sometimes 30 actual minutes or more between series. “It’s very hard, and we have only ourselves to blame for that,” Klein said. “Two three-and-outs, we can’t do that, period. It was extremely hard, trying to stay warm, and end of the game, it took a little while to get in the flow.”
“That’s a lot of time to be standing on the sideline sucking your thumb,” Snyder said. “Then we got on the field and sucked our thumb. When you have 20 minutes in the locker room, then you come back outside and have all that time doing nothing, that has an impact, or can if you let it. That depends on mental strength and mental toughness.
“In the games themselves, and I know we have to have TV and all of that, but you look at all the timeouts. Those are three-minute deals, and there are four of them in a quarter. The [first] quarter lasted for an hour, and [the offense] was on the field for 60 seconds.”
The caveat to this “advantage” is health. If Kansas State had its full offensive line intact, I’d even go as far as to say there was an outside shot at a truly convincing win for the Wildcats. That’s not to say a small-digit win on Saturday, which would move Bob Stoops’ Owen Field record to 78-4, wouldn’t already turn even more heads (by the way, Klein’s mug was on both ESPN’s and SI.com’s homepages on Thursday, so the “no respect” card should be shuffled to the bottom of the deck for this week at least). What I am saying is that if Boston Stiverson and Nick Puetz were starting, and BJ Finney was 100-percent healthy, this line would have had a chance to blow Oklahoma’s weakest defensive line of maybe the last decade off the ball.
However, the preseason starting guards are out, and Finney is hobbled. That reality minimizes KSU’s strength, but to what degree ultimately nobody will know until Saturday. A focused, productive offensive line this weekend would go a long way toward a possible win in Norman for the first time since 1997 and toward blowing wide open the doors to another magical season.