MANHATTAN — At Kansas State, limiting penalties isn’t enough. Eliminating them is the goal.
Collin Klein needed six words to confirm that mindset this week. When the Wildcats’ quarterback was reminded of his team’s impressive penalty numbers – eight through four games – he responded sternly.
“That’s two per game too many,” Klein said.
Even though K-State has committed fewer penalties than any other Bowl Subdivision team, it realizes there is room for improvement. Bill Snyder wouldn’t have it any other way. While some coaches may accept the fact that occasional penalties are unavoidable, giving away free yards and extra plays isn’t tolerated by Snyder.
“It goes back to that old thing about not beating yourself,” Snyder said. “It’s a true element of the game for anybody. You just can’t afford penalties, turnovers, missed assignments. … All those things really become significant in the long run in terms of how successful you can be.”
Then it should come as no surprise that the No. 7 Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start. Their eight penalties have cost them 66 yards, which puts them on pace to commit 24 penalties for 198 yards by the end of the regular season. The next-closest team in the Big 12 is Iowa State with 17 penalties.
Snyder classifies the low penalty number as “extremely vital” to K-State’s early success, and has worked diligently since coming out of retirement prior to the 2009 season to instill the kind of discipline his players need to stay error-free.
“It’s a level of discipline and a level of focus that has to permeate everybody,” Klein said. “It’s a lot of little things. We focus on the little things. I know up front, Coach (Charlie) Dickey really pushes hard against false starts and things of that nature. If you do it in practice, there are pretty big consequences.”
Still, it took a while for the Wildcats to learn to avoid yellow flags.
In 2009, Snyder’s first year back, the Wildcats committed 84 penalties for 723 yards, up from 67 penalties for 557 yards in Ron Prince’s final season. All those mistakes led to a 6-6 record and no bowl game. Penalties, especially early in the year, had a big impact on losses to UCLA and Louisiana-Lafayette. But Snyder complained about penalties after victories, too.
The following year, Snyder’s influence began to sink in. Their penalty numbers dropped to 64 for 504 yards, and the Wildcats finished with a winning record and a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl.
Last year was even better. K-State led the Big 12 with 61 penalties for 465 yards.
“We are making improvement,” Snyder said.
This season, K-State is on pace to do even better.
That’s what happens when eliminating penalties is the goal.
“There might be a game or two where you can turn the ball over and end up winning the ballgame for some other reason,” Snyder said. “But by and large, if you don’t turn the ball over and you don’t get penalized your chances of being successful are elevated a great deal.”