Special teams critical to K-State’s success


K-State special teams traditionally have been one of the top units in the country. Under the guidance of former coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats heavily stressed its importance.
    Since 1999, K-State ranks only behind Virginia Tech with 64 non-offensive touchdowns.
    It can swing the momentum in a game with the blink of an eye, and coach Ron Prince has continued the tradition built by Snyder.
    The Wildcats are 9-3 when they score a special teams touchdown under Prince. They are 0-3 when they allow the opponent to score a special teams touchdown.
    During Prince’s tenure, the Wildcats have scored 16 touchdowns through their special teams play.
    “Special teams are a big thing to him,” said junior wide receiver Brandon Banks. “I think special teams are more important to him than offense and defense. In today’s game, I think special teams wins games for you. If you’re doing well at them, I think you win.”
    Prince has been pleased with the unit under the guidance of first-year special teams coordinator and former San Francisco 49ers assistant Jeff Rodgers.
    “I think we are doing a nice job in special teams,” Prince said. “It is important to us and we put a lot of effort into it. I don’t have anything negative to say about our kicking game to this point.”
    The Wildcats continue to rank in the Top 25 in many statistical categories.
    K-State’s kickoff coverage team ranks second in the country, allowing only 15.09 yards per return on 32 kickoffs, including nine touchbacks.
    Placekicker Brooks Rossman is a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal attempts and has yet to miss an extra point attempt in the first 16 games of his Wildcat career.
    The K-State punt team ranks 18th in the country in holding opponents to only four yards per return. However, only three returns have been attempted so far on the season, in large part because of the success of the Wildcat offense.
    The duo of George Pierson and former walk-on D.J. Fulhage has been adequate for the Wildcats. They rank 20th in the country with a net average per punt attempt of 38.9 yards, which is the overall distance the punt travels, minus the return yardage allowed.   
    One area that needs improvement is the kickoff return unit, which ranks 56th in the country. The Wildcats only average 21.95 yards per return on 19 returns.
    “Our returns just haven’t been what we expect,” Prince said.
    So far on the year, the Wildcats have three special teams touchdowns. They have blocked two kicks, both against Montana State, which were taken in for six points.
    Deon Murphy electrified K-State’s fan base against Louisville when he returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown in a losing effort.
    Freshman Tysyn Hartman, who switched positions from quarterback to safety last week, has made big plays on special teams. He converted a fourth-down play on a direct snap in punt formation against Louisville, and then converted a crucial 4th-and-2 last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.
    “We go out and practice it every day,” Hartman said. “Ever since I have been here, that’s always been talked about. [Prince] sees it more as people underestimate the role that special teams play in football games.”
    If the Wildcats are to pull an upset over No. 7 Texas Tech on Saturday, it may be due to a few big plays on special teams.