Experience to play major factor in K-State’s visit to Norman

Senior quarterback Collin Klein eludes an Oklahoma defender during the first quarter of the Sept. 22, 2012 game at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla. K-State won the game 24-19 and moved to 4-0 on the season. (File photo | Tommy Theis | The Collegian)

K-State head coach Bill Snyder is a man of few words. He drives his points home with meaning, or he recommends you ask someone else. But rarely do you catch a glimpse of the 75-year-old ball coach the way his team did on Sept. 22, 2012 — speechless.

“He was very excited,” former K-State running back John Hubert told reporters that night. “He really didn’t have too much words to say. That’s when you can tell when coach Snyder is excited, when he comes into the locker room and he’s kind of speechless.”

K-State had just knocked off No. 6-ranked Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma 24-19 in front of the 10th-largest crowd ever at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium — 85,276 — 3,000 over the venue’s recommended capacity. Snyder earned his second win over his former pupil, Bob Stoops, that night and his first victory in Norman.

That’s something few teams do — win in Norman. Under Stoops, who’s in his 16th season at the helm of the Oklahoma football program, Oklahoma is 89-5 (.947) at home. During that same span, the Sooners have never lost back-to-back home games to the same team.

K-State (4-1, 2-0) hopes to change that Saturday, as the Wildcats and Sooners (5-1, 2-1) kickoff from Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. on ESPN.

“As I think back (to 2012), it was an awfully close ballgame, and you’re playing in front of a large crowd that is extremely noisy and can be very distracting if you allow it to be,” Snyder said Tuesday at K-State’s weekly press conference. “The discipline element of it comes in (to play), because there’s the ability to overcome the crowd noise by being able to blank it out — like we said, keep the game between the white lines — and I thought our players on both sides of the ball did exactly that.”

K-State enters Saturday’s contest an eight-point underdog according to several oddsmakers, only the second time this season that the Wildcats are not listed as favorites. Of course, the first was less than a month ago against then, fifth-ranked Auburn Tigers, a game that ended in a six-point defeat for K-State.

Similar to that contest, K-State hopes to thrive under the spotlight and deliver another positive performance against the Sooners, this time resulting in a win. Doing so Saturday could lift the Wildcats into a top-10 ranking and a strong case for Big 12 Title contention, both of which happened following 2012’s win in Norman.

“They (Oklahoma) are physical and they are tough, and the tradition they have of winning at home all of the time,” sophomore fullback Glenn Gronkowski said. “It is definitely going to be a tough game, we know that and we are preparing for that. To go out there and play a team like that and get a win would be awesome.”

Twelve players on this year’s roster saw action in Norman two years ago, including four that started. Many more made the trip and had the opportunity to witness the hostile environment from the sideline. Others, like Grownkowski, caught the game on television from the comforts of their own homes.

The hope is that experience will help the team “blank it out,” as Snyder put it, when it comes to crowd noise and nerves that often attributed to young players in big-time games.

“Obviously when it comes to that (big games) there is a lot of pressure sometimes,” Gronkowski said. “Having the experience definitely helps, I think most of our players have been in that position before. So when it comes down to close games, we just have to rely on what we have done before and put it to work.”

Sophomore running back Charles Jones nodded when asked if he felt confident running behind a line that has so much experience blocking in big games, adding that it makes his life “much easier” from a running back perspective.

However, Jones also motioned that young players often aren’t intimated by large away crowds or national spotlight, because “youngsters,” as his coach so regularly puts it, play with a little more passion and emotion that may not take into account the scope of the game they’re playing in.

“Experiencing away games with other team’s fans is a great experience, so I’m pretty excited,” Jones said.