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Bob Lutz: This is starting to resemble the good ol' days

  • Published Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011, at 8:23 a.m.

MANHATTAN — The old guy is up to something. It's been brewing for a few weeks now as Kansas State's football team continues to get better, continues to win games, continues to correct its flaws from week to week.

Does this remind you of something? Of someone?

Bill Snyder is up to his old tricks. The mastermind of one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history seems intent on a sequel.

After his Wildcats beat Missouri 24-17 on Saturday, Snyder spoke dispassionately about the team's 5-0 record and remarkable improvement, especially defensively.

He's not an easy guy to wow and it's going to take more than a five-game burst to throw him off his straight-ahead, deadpan approach.

You can bet, though, that Snyder didn't approach this season without some boiling blood. You just know that when he's with his team and his coaches behind closed doors there is an intensity in this man, a purpose that most of us have never known.

At 72, Snyder is doing what he does best. And he's still able to get young people — half a century younger — to play football with a collective purpose that rises above what can be easily explained.

Who had K-State being unbeaten after five games? If you did, you're either pathologically optimistic or a wizard.

There is room for only one wizard, however, and Snyder has everything he needs for that role except the hat adorned with moons and stars.

Saturday's game wasn't as close as the score indicates. K-State led 24-3 deep into the fourth quarter before a couple of call reversals following what appeared to be Missouri fumbles allowed the Tigers to keep the football and ultimately score two touchdowns.

(If the goal of "further review" is to get things right, I'm not sure the concept of "further review" shouldn't be under "further review.")

Missouri's comeback stalled, though, when K-State was able to eat up the final 5:02 on its final possession, which included a circus 18-yard completion from quarterback Collin Klein to tight end Andre McDonald on third down.

The Wildcats did just enough offensively — mostly in the way of 174 rushing yards — to win.

Defensively is where K-State stood out, limiting the Tigers — who, by the way, should cease and desist from any flirtation with the SEC — to zero yards in the first quarter and 20 in the third. Missouri, averaging 517 yards before the game, was held to 326.

During a five-game losing streak to the Tigers from 2006-10, K-State's defense gave up 41 points per game.

Obviously, something is up with this K-State team. The talent is better. There is more experience.

Most of all, though, it's Snyder, the preacher of methodical improvement who drills and drills and drills the right way to do things into the heads of his players.

That's not unusual; all coaches do that. What is unusual is the way K-State's players, many of them unheralded and only lightly recruited when they come out of high school or junior college, reflect their coach. Snyder's players do get better, incrementally but noticeably.

It was just more than a month ago that this team needed a late touchdown to beat Eastern Kentucky. Now it's riding a two-game Big 12 winning streak against Baylor and Missouri, with Texas Tech and Kansas to play in the next two weeks.

Both of those games are on the road, but it's entirely plausible that K-State could be 7-0 when it plays Oklahoma here on Oct. 29.

Now wouldn't that be something?

Make no mistake, the Wildcats have some good players. Wichitan Arthur Brown, who had another nice game at linebacker Saturday, has been a difference maker.

But this team isn't about individuals. It's about a concept, a way of doing things. In that way, it's reminiscent of the great Snyder-coached teams from 1993 through 2003, an 11-season stretch when the Wildcats were 109-31-1. This team isn't as talented as those teams were. But there are similarities.

K-State is treading lightly. There are still concerns, still possibilities that the Wildcats could hit an unexpected rough stretch.

With the passing of each week, though, the legitimacy of this team grows.

Statistically, K-State has transformed itself from one of the country's worst defensive teams to one of its best.

Offensively, Snyder is getting everything he can out of a quarterback with average talent but off-the-chart gumption in Klein, a great guy who in short time become the Wildcats' unquestioned leader.

Among the players, that is.

The leader of this team, or this program, is the white-haired guy who retired in 2005 when it appeared the game was starting to pass him by.

Now in his third season back, Snyder is stepping on the gas. Nothing passes him.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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