MANHATTAN — On Friday, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said his players lacked anger. On Monday, he said his team needed inspiration. On Tuesday, he was all smiles.
The Wildcats showed Snyder everything he wanted when they gathered Monday afternoon for their first practice following a loss to North Dakota State. Players were more vocal, he said, and there was an obvious rise in energy.
“In some segments of our game we probably practiced better than at any time since we started on Aug. 2,” Snyder said. “That is a positive thing. Really, it was that determination aspect of it that seemed to be on the field. I sure appreciate that from our young guys.”
Moving on from a disappointing loss at the beginning of the season can be tricky. Everyone comes into the year filled with optimism. Tasting defeat, especially against an opponent you were expected to beat, before September can affect a team’s confidence and impact the entire season.
In recent K-State history alone, the Wildcats have responded in varying ways. In 2003, they rebounded from a home loss to Marshall by winning 11 games and a Big 12 championship. In 2004, it suffered a loss to Fresno State and limped to a 4-7 record.
K-State is staying optimistic at the moment. If anything, the Wildcats are trying to spin the loss as a positive by using it as a metaphorical wakeup call.
“I wouldn’t say our confidence has wavered. We still have an opportunity to have something special,” junior center B.J. Finney said. “We all know that yesterday was a reflection of that, guys coming out with spirit and enthusiasm and practicing like we did. My confidence hasn’t wavered.”
K-State addressed several areas in the wake of its opening loss. The offensive line watched a day’s worth of video to figure out how to increase its rushing total (41 yards) when the Wildcats face Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. The defense tried to figure out how to stop more third-down conversions and cover the middle of the field. And the coaching staff planned ways to get backup quarterback Daniel Sams, who scored a touchdown on his first play from scrimmage against North Dakota State, more involved.
Still, none of those adjustments were as noticeable as the Wildcats’ change in demeanor.
So many players were speaking up and challenging their teammates during Monday’s practice, Sams said, that even the scout team was heard.
“Our attitude and morale around the team is different,” Sams said. “We improved dramatically. Heads weren’t down like Friday. Everyone was eager to get to practice and everyone was vocal. I was shocked at that. Scouts were talking it up. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard scouts get vocal and I’ve been here three years.
“Everyone is coming closer. Nobody likes losing, but maybe that loss is what we needed for us to grow as a team. We are still young as far as the quarterback situation and the offense. I feel like taking that ‘L’ is going to make us better. Guys are talking who normally don’t say anything. We are coming closer as a team.”
Snyder’s comments over the weekend were a big reason why.
He opened his postgame news conference by asking, “Now will you believe me when I say we’re not very good?” Then he challenged his team’s passion by saying he didn’t see any angry faces in the locker room. On Monday, he suggested his team needed a new mental approach.
K-State players were surprised to hear those comments, but they responded.
“One of the reasons I think practice went well Monday was because Coach said what he said,” Sams said. “At the end of the day, Coach knows what he is doing. He’s been doing it a long time. I felt like it motivated us. A lot of us were out there like, ‘OK, Coach, if that is really how you feel, I am going to show you. That is why we are coming together. I’m glad Coach said that.”
One inspiring practice doesn’t assure K-State of playing well on Saturday. It needs to maintain that passion throughout the week and carry it onto the field for kickoff.
But it is certainly a step in the right direction.
“A lot of guys were ready yesterday. They had a lot of enthusiasm and spirit,” Finney said. “Some of us were pretty angry about the outcome of Friday. We wanted to change it and that definitely showed.… Practice ran pretty smooth. It was high level of intensity and it was high level of execution. Everybody was into it, and it shows just how fast things can go if we get into it.”