by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

The return in 2009 of grandfatherly coach Bill Snyder to the “Little Apple” can be viewed as nothing but a success. The demanding Snyder has gone 6-6, 7-6 and 10-3 in his three seasons in his Manhattan redux, reaching the bowl season the past two years and defeating Kansas all three seasons (the last two by a combined 118-28 count!). Moreover, last year’s 10-3 campaign has to be judged as a surprise, with rough-hewn 6-5, 225 option QB Collin Klein (left) making key play after key play despite the fact that defenses were focused on stopping him.

Indeed, the big QB ended up accounting for 70% of the Wildcats’ offense, running for 1141 yards (only 3.6 ypc) despite lacking great speed. He also passed for 1918 yards despite his unorthodox delivery. Drew Brees he is not. Yet Klein accounted for 40 total TDs—27 rushing and 13 passing (vs. only 6 ints.). Klein’s season-long heavy lifting can be considered even more impressive considering that K-State’s top RB was pint-sized, 5-7, 177, then-soph John Hubert (970 YR) and that big-play frosh WR/KR Tyler Lockett (two KR TDs) missed the last 3½ games due to injury.

However, when breaking down KSU’s 10 victories of 2011, two of them involved wins vs. punchless Kent State (37-0) and declining Kansas (59-21). The Wildcats’ remaining eight victories were all by a TD or less, an FBS record! While those nail-biters produced lots of excitement among the Purple faithful, they created great angst among Snyder and his staff, the primary reason being a defense that was hard-trying, but not up to previous Snyder standards. The Wildcats gave up 58 and then 52 points in consecutive losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, then 50 more in a thrilling, never-say-die, four-OT, 53-50 victory over Texas A&M in Manhattan. Those consecutive half-a-century allowances caused great disquietude in the K-State coaching offices. Thus, improving the Purple defense and boosting the Wildcat passing attack have been the main priorities in Manhattan since the end of the 2011 campaign, which concluded with a 29-16 loss to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl (K-State trailed 19-2 in the second quarter—the 2 points scored by means of a blocked PAT return).

In spring, an improved aerial attack was in evidence. Klein, one of this year’s captains, was more decisive and confident as a passer than he was last season, when the deceptive QB was often slowish, and sometimes even clumsy in the pocket (KSU gave up 43 sacks). In the spring “game,” Klein focused on the pass, connecting on 47 of 56 for 475 yards and six TDs. However, most of those completions were short tosses vs. a defense not allowed to tee off on the valuable QB. Still, an offseason of work on his throwing will very likely result in improved passing by Klein (only 57.3% last season), who is blessed with a quality corps of receivers. There’s big target (6-1, 230) Chris Harper, 5-8 smurf Tramaine Thompson, the dynamic Lockett, and under-used sr. TE Travis Tannahill. Plus, there’s incoming JC star Marquez Clark (98 recs. for 1939 yards last season). With nine starters back on offense (3 of 5 in the OL), Kansas State (31.8 ppg last season) seems likely to score even more this year, with Klein expected to be better at hitting passes for chunks of yardage vs. opposing defenses stacked to counter his powerful ball-control runs.

It’s the defense that was the major culprit in the Wildcats’ three losses last season. Kansas State was 103rd in pass defense, 76th in pass efficiency defense, 72nd in total defense, 68th in scoring defense, 84th in sacks, and 92nd in tackles for loss. Very un-Snyder-like stuff. Only KSU’s 18 interceptions (vs. only six thrown by Klein) kept the situation from being worse.

However, there is new hope entering 2012. During the prime years of his first tour in Manhattan, Snyder had a knack for cobbling together tough defenses, often exploiting the JC ranks for impact players, because recruiting against the likes of Texas and Oklahoma (and now Oklahoma State ) in the conference for coveted four and five-star high school stars is usually a frustrating proposition. This year’s Wildcat juco haul includes a pair of 300-pound DTs (Wesley Hollingshed & Chaquil Reed), plus highly-touted Kent Gainous (4.4 speed), a safety from Florida. The K-State LBing corps already includes All-American candidate Arthur Brown (101 Ts in 2011) and improving jr. Tre Walker (52 Ts). And Snyder expects to have improved depth at the position thanks to the arrival of true frosh Michael Moore (one of nine early enrollees for spring) and the successful conversion of physical 6-3, 233 backup QB Justin Tuggle to linebacker.

The secondary has sr. CBs in NFL prospect Nigel Malone (7 ints. LY) and Allen Chapman, plus standout jr. safety Ty Zimmerman (2 ints.). Meanwhile, sr. DEs Meshak Williams (7 sacks) and Adam Davis (4) figure to improve those 2011 figures. Thus, barring injury, K-State’s 2012 stop unit will be bigger, deeper, and more experienced overall than last season’s group. Special teams should also be strong, with sr. PK Anthony Cantele (17 of 23 FGs) & sr. P Ryan Doerr both back, plus the elusive Lockett on returns.

Summary...Even though this year’s K-State team should be better personnel-wise, coach Snyder has stated publicly he is wary of complacency as an enemy after last year’s 10-3 mark. He knows KSU’s record eight victories by a TD or less will be impossible to duplicate. And he is well aware that the Wildcats were slugged by a combined 139-78 in their three losses to powers Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Arkansas. This year’s schedule includes difficult road excursions to explosive Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor. Plus home games vs. revenge-minded Miami, potent Oklahoma State, and ascending Texas. With his Wildcats no longer a surprise, Snyder will need all the improvement he can muster merely to capture last year’s total of 10 wins. So KSU might be one of those teams in 2012 that is improved intrinsically, but that might not have a better record than in 2011. The Wildcats have a chance to contend in the new Big 12. But only if the defense improves, the long-limbed Klein stays healthy, and he does indeed develop as a passer. Without a victory September 22 in Norman, however, K-State is likely to be playing catch-up all season.

Note that Kansas State was 7-2 as a dog last year, with the Wildcats going “over” in 8 of their 12 games on the board.


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