It was one of those unplanned, as-the-season-plays-out repeat settings in which I found a minute to talk with Justin Tuggle following Kansas State’s 52-13 win over Miami. The week prior, we stood in nearly the same spot, with me asking what issues the defensive line had to overcome in order to get some semblance of a pass rush against Miami.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll mix it up a little bit more, do things here and there differently,” Tuggle said back on Sept. 1.
None of that seemed to indicate installing the kind of nos tanks that belong in “The Fast and the Furious.”
“I just feel like we were out there and relaxed,” Tuggle said. “First game, I felt maybe people out there were tight. First game of the season, there’s so much leading up, so much anticipation.
“Now, we had one game under our belt. The second game, we were going out there, we knew this was a big game last year for us, and we just wanted to feed off that.”
Listed at 6-3, four-inches taller than his five-time NFL Pro Bowl linebacker father, Jessie, Tuggle’s smile was sideline-to-sideline wide following the ‘Cats second win. With his dad in attendance for the second week in a row, Tuggle did his dad proud, registering four tackles, including two for a loss and his first sack.
“It just felt amazing. You could here the crowd go wild,” Tuggle said of his sack. “It is giving me chills right now just thinking about it. It’s just something I want to build off of, and hopefully I have many more this season.”
Overall, it was the senior’s unrelenting speed that stood out most.
In the first quarter alone, Tuggle lined up as an outside linebacker, a rush defensive end and also matched up on the slot receiver. He smelled out plays designed to go away from him and chased them down on the opposite side of the field. Over three-plus hours, his speed, combined with Adam Davis at the other end and Arthur Brown at middle linebacker, appeared to form a perfect triangle of terrible intentions.
“We just wanted to go out there and play fast,” Tuggle said. “We had stuff to prove from last week that we didn’t do to well. We wanted to go out there and make a statement early, and just get after them early. I feel like we did a good job of that.
“We’ve just got to keep rolling, keep making strides off today.”
With the outside and middle both wreaking havoc, Miami’s up-tempo offense had the life of a stroked-out sloth for much of the day, buried under a K-State defensive stat line that included 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles. After a 77-yard kickoff return set up Miami deep in K-State territory, the ‘Canes punched in a late fourth-quarter touchdown — the first TD the Wildcats had allowed this season.
“They did not do anything that really surprised us, they just executed what they wanted to do and you have to take your hat off to them,” Miami sophomore offensive lineman Jonathan Feliciano said.
Scheme execution is honey-dipped manna from heaven for Bill Snyder, who gave measured praise following K-State’s nationally recognized performance.
“Miami is a team that has the ability to run around and throw the ball,” Snyder said. “There were a couple of schemes that we had difficulty with. You are going to give up a little passing yardage, but there were just a couple of schemes that we had difficulty with and Miami was very consistent in being successful with those schemes, which allowed them to get out of those third and longs to keep possession of the ball.
“Overall, I thought we improved defensively. I was very pleased with the progress we made.”
After averaging 19.3 yards per carry against Boston College and getting praise from LeBron James, first-week freshman running back sensation Duke Johnson was held to 24 rushing yards on six carries. He was also squarely popped a time or two during the game. As a team, the Hurricanes managed just 55 yards on 29 carries — a 1.9-yard average.*
*It was reminiscent, to a much, much lower degree, of the same sort of treatment that eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams once received in 1998, when he carried the ball 25 times for 43 yards in a 48-7 win for KSU over the Texas Longhorns in Manhattan.
That said, of the sporadic, half-hearted attempts spread throughout the last seven, eight or 10 seasons, this collective effort felt different. For the first time in a long while, it felt like the Lynch Mob defenses of yore.
K-State had speed, negating most of the supposed Miami advantage. K-State had power, registering more “ooooooooh” hits in one game than I care to think back and try to remember. K-State had discipline, committing just two penalties in the contest. And yeah, ‘Canes quarterback Stephen Morris wound up with 215 passing yards. But, 56 of those came on one play after a correctable Nigel Malone missed tackle that would have kept it around a 10 to 15-yard gain tops.
Folks, this defense was mobbin’.
“Toughness, ” new senior starting safety Jarard Milo said, when asked to describe his defensive group. “That’s one of the things we preach on is toughness, and we just go out there each week and prepare for each opponent the same.
“Basically, just build on toughness and trying to be the toughest and fastest defensive group in the nation. That’s what we’re working on.”
Even two weeks ago, I had questions regarding how long it might take five new starters to adapt to new roles. While much of that attention was turned toward the defensive line, Tuggle’s hybrid-position explosion along with the John Sua/Javonta Boyd combination at defensive tackle has provided plenty.
In the secondary, I wrote about corner Allen Chapman believing he was a playmaker and ready to assume his duties. Milo, on the other hand, was an unknown. A walk-on last season who had some impact in special teams, Milo had just four tackles in two seasons at Butler County Community College, where he also caught four passes on offense in 2009 as a freshman.
The younger brother of former K-State favorite (and four-time letter winner from 1995-98) Brian Goolsby, Milo has started strong in 2012, recording a team-leading 16 tackles. His nose for the football, he says, has been somewhat of a learned trait.
“Last year, watching Tysyn [Hartman], Tysyn was a great player. I kind of wanted to follow what he did. This year, I see the ball, and I just want to run to it.
“Coach [Tom] Hayes preaches running to the ball — pursuit, pursuit, pursuit. That’s what I do. I just want to get there and try to make the tackle.”
On the whole, Milo also said this year’s defense took a lot out of the Cotton Bowl.
“We go back to what happened in the bowl game, and how we came out against Arkansas,” Milo said. “We just go back and look at the speed in that game — how we tackled, how fast we were.
“That’s what we’re bringing into each game this year. We want to tackle. We want to bring speed to the defense. We want to bring coverage to the defense. That’s all what we wanted to bring this year to the defense.”