MANHATTAN — The statistics show an improved defense. The scoreboard does, too. But if you’re looking for the truest sign that Kansas State’s defense is a different unit than the one that couldn’t get off the field against North Dakota State and Texas, simply listen to the Wildcats talk about their upcoming game.
They aren’t the least bit intimidated by No. 25 Texas Tech’s high-flying offense, which averages 538.4 yards.
After going toe-to-toe with No. 6 Baylor and No. 14 Oklahoma State, and then dominating West Virginia and Iowa State, they seem ready for any challenge.
“To play in the Big 12 you have to have a lot of confidence playing against all these great offenses,” safety Dante Barnett said. “We have that, and I would say our confidence is an A. It’s high.”
K-State defenders have reason to feel that way. They allowed 249 yards and seven points against Iowa State. They held West Virginia to 367 yards and 12 points. And they kept Baylor and Oklahoma State well below their usual output. The Wildcats have allowed an average of 348 yards and 21.8 points in their past four games and they have surrendered two touchdowns in their past eight quarters. That’s a big improvement from the first four games, when they allowed 377.8 yards and 22.3 points against significantly weaker competition.
Defensive end Ryan Mueller has led the way up front, coming through with a sack in four straight games, and senior safety Ty Zimmerman has anchored the secondary, averaging nearly 10 tackles while knocking down pass after pass in the past four games.
K-State is finally creating turnovers, and big plays are becoming the norm.
“I would say that the defense likes being out there,” Mueller said. “We love playing the game, no doubt. I am definitely that way. I would rather have the defense score points and have the offense sitting on the bench instead of us. That is just kind of the person that I am and a few guys on this defense are like that.”
The improvement has been steady, much like Zimmerman expected.
“Coming into the season, we lost eight or nine starters,” Zimmerman said. “It was kind of tough there for a while. I think we have built our trust in one another these last four or five weeks. It has really shown on the field.”
Still, it feels like K-State’s defense has something to prove. Its past two performances, though impressive, came at home against two of the weakest teams in the Big 12. The Wildcats haven’t won on the road this year, and they haven’t defeated an offensive-minded opponent.
A victory over Texas Tech, which averages more passing yards (414.2) than every team in the nation other than Baylor, would end that drought. Jace Amaro leads the team with 79 catches for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns at tight end. But Eric Ward, Jakeem Grant and Brad Marquez have all topped 477 yards.
The Red Raiders can beat you with deep throws and short passes that turn into long gains.
“They have the ability to do all that,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “(Big plays) are a major concern week in and week out. A team like Tech is probably as big a concern as you’re going to find.”
K-State defenders understand the challenge.
“There is a mindset we have now that we are a little more confident in what we do,” former Kapaun Mount Carmel linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “It really goes back to our preparation. Coach Snyder goes back to it all the time. Preparation helps build confidence. If we are working good in the film room and in practice we are going to be a little more confident. I think that has a lot to do with it.”