MANHATTAN — The last two times Kansas State and Kansas met, the Wildcats scored 59 points and won handily.
The KU coaches in charge of those defenses are different now, but many of the players remain. So it’s not as if the Jayhawks, who are allowing 439 yards, and their new schemes suddenly strike fear into their in-state rival leading into Saturday’s game.
But there is one area in which Kansas has drastically improved: turnovers. New defensive coordinator Dave Campo put considerable emphasis on fumbles and interceptions when he arrived in Lawrence, and the Jayhawks have responded. They lead the Big 12 and rank fifth nationally with 13 turnovers — seven fumbles, six interceptions.
That caught the No. 7 Wildcats’ attention immediately.
“They can create problems for us if we don’t take care of our business,” K-State quarterback Collin Klein said. “We are going to have to take care of the ball, across the board and finish drives. I know we can make it a close game really quick if we don’t do that.”
K-State players need only look at TCU’s 20-6 victory over Kansas earlier this season for proof. That game showed how important turnovers can be. The Horned Frogs gained 487 yards and were continually in position to score, but ended up fighting until the end because they lost four fumbles.
The Jayhawks benefited from red-zone turnovers and had a chance to pull within a touchdown in the final moments.
K-State coach Bill Snyder has reminded his players this week to make sure they value the ball when they have it, and to be on the lookout for defenders that focus on knocking the ball free rather than simply making tackles.
“They make aggressive tackles, and you can turn the ball over,” Snyder said. “They work diligently to try and strip the ball. You have seen an awful lot of that during the course of their games. If they get somebody to the tackle, then they have the follow-up guys that are trying to strip the ball.”
Not all defenses take those risks. But they have paid off for Kansas.
K-State knows it will have to adjust accordingly.
“We are going to have to play fundamentally sound,” Klein said.