K-State head coach Bill Snyder etched his name into college football history again on Saturday as he became the 11th coach to collect 175 wins at the same school. The 49-26 win for the Wildcats over the Texas Tech Red Raiders greatly improved the likelihood of Snyder leading his team to a bowl game at the end of the year.
“We’re still trying to get to that bowl game, so you know we’re out for blood,” sophomore guard Cody Whitehair said.
K-State needs just one win in their final three games to officially become bowl eligible. After starting 2-4, chances of K-State making their fourth straight bowl game looked very bleak.
Turnovers, penalties and other mental mistakes left the Wildcats on the outside looking in, but with just one turnover in their last three games, K-State has begun to look like a team nobody wants to play.
The turnaround the Wildcats have shown is remarkable. There may not be a hotter team in the Big 12 right now. K-State has outscored their last three opponents 125-45.
A defense that looked porous early in the season is now shutting down opponents and forcing turnovers. Against Texas Tech, K-State recovered a fumble and intercepted quarterback Baker Mayfield twice.
The Red Raiders’ had two drives that resulted in points at the beginning of the game. K-State’s early defensive efforts looked futile – and senior safety Ty Zimmerman getting hurt and being out for one possession did not help.
When the defense settled down, they were immovable. After the two opening scoring drives, K-State allowed only two yards on the next three Tech possessions. The game was over when the Wildcats made these stops and the offense put up a touchdown after each one of them. The second half numbers weren’t quite as pretty, but they didn’t need to be for an easy win.
Junior defensive end Ryan Mueller has become a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. He had another monster day against Texas Tech, racking up three sacks and forcing a fumble.
The former walk-on leads the Big 12 in sacks, and only needs two more to have the most sacks in K-State single-season history. Getting pressure on the quarterback will always make a defense competitive.
A big reason that K-State’s offense has gotten so much better is the fact that the two-quarterback rotation is finally clicking. Both quarterbacks have proven they can run and pass effectively in the past three weeks.
K-State didn’t take to the air much at all on Saturday, though. They kept the ball on the ground 45 times while only passing on 11 plays. Junior quarterback Jake Waters made a couple of plays with his arm, including a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Tramaine Thompson, but Waters’ big contribution was his two rushing touchdowns.
“I don’t know what kind of statement it made, if any,” Waters said. “But the dudes in our locker room know that I can do both, and Daniel can do both as well. So you know, there was an opportunity for me to run today. You know, I had to take advantage of it and make some plays.”
The key to the improvement of Waters and Sams has been the offensive line. The line struggled early in the season both in run blocking and pass blocking. But the unit, led by junior center B.J. Finney, is now mauling opponents.
“We wanted to run the ball,” Sams said. “Make stuff happen on the ground. Coach Dickey [K-State’s offensive line coach], you know he coach those guys up well. In the huddle, the offensive line was asking to run it. ‘We want to run it. They tired.’ It feels good when you hear your offensive line talk like that.”
Giving Sams time in the pocket, as well as giving Waters room to run is essential. The offensive line is doing it now, and it’s making a difference on the scoreboard. This is an offense everyone expected to be very good, and it’s starting to reach it’s full potential.
“We’re getting there,” junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett said. “We’ll be able to go back and watch film, and see some of the things we need to make corrections on. But I think we’re starting to get there.”
When all three phases of the game come together for K-State, they are a very good team. There’s no doubting the Wildcats’ high potential for the rest of the season.