B.J. Finney didn’t need to watch replays of Kansas State’s last two games to understand why the Wildcats struggled to move the ball the way they normally do.
The sophomore center immediately knew what went wrong. The offensive line, which for much of the season was playing as well as any unit in the Big 12, underperformed.
“It’s certainly not helped us at all that we haven’t been able to run the ball,” Finney said. “We’ve had some pretty bad games as far as missed assignments and not executing our game plan well. Obviously we can’t run the ball if we’re not executing well. That’s something we have to fix.”
K-State’s recent struggles come as a surprise when you consider how well the Wildcats moved the ball in the first nine games. With strong run blocking and pass protection, they averaged 191 rushing yards and quarterback Collin Klein was rarely pressured. Then Klein sustained several hard hits in the second half against Oklahoma State. Everyone in K-State’s backfield has struggled since.
The Wildcats rushed for 115 yards against TCU, and Klein was hurried throughout the night. Most expected a rebound against Baylor’s lowly defense, but K-State only managed 76 rushing yards against the Bears. Once again, Klein had trouble getting passes off.
“They threw some different pressures at us at different times in some situations they really hadn’t shown previously,” Klein said of the Baylor game. “Then when we didn’t handle it very well and I didn’t handle it very well, you are going to get more of it as the game goes on. Nothing that can’t be corrected, but we just didn’t make enough plays and combat it well enough to get them out of it. So they just kept coming.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder admires the way Finney has challenged his teammates to improve after back-to-back subpar games, but he isn’t sure the offensive line deserves all the blame.
“I think they are focused on that right now, trying to improve what they are doing and I think they recognize that they didn’t (play well),” Snyder said. “It’s not just offensive lineman, backs have to block in your pass protection schemes as well and we didn’t do well with that. There are a plethora of things that are pretty basic.”
Another basic problem that contributed to the lackluster blocking, at least against Baylor: The Bears taking a 28-7 lead. That forced K-State to abandon its running game in the second half, and made Klein’s job of getting the ball downfield difficult.
Looking back, K-State players say better blocking audibles at the line of scrimmage could have helped. Extra composure and communication would have been nice, too. But they hadn’t been in that situation all season.
“We weren’t able to run the ball or figure out what they were doing pressure-wise,” senior tight end Travis Tannahill said. “They were bringing blitzes every single time and when we are trying to get some long routes down the field it is a little difficult. It’s not easy holding those guys up when they know you aren’t running the ball.”
K-State hopes to use a more balanced approach when it faces Texas on Saturday.
That’s a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of several players. But the offensive line knows what it needs to do.
“I’m always motivated to give Collin more time to throw the ball and to run the ball,” Finney said. “We can’t go out and lay eggs like we have.”