MANHATTAN — Cody Whitehair might not ever be able to explain why Kansas State’s offensive line, which returned all five starters, was thoroughly outplayed during the first half of the season.
But describing how the unit regained its swagger is simple.
“One big thing we’ve done is we’ve become a lot closer, not only on the field but off the field,” said Whitehair, a sophomore left guard from Abilene. “We are doing a lot more things as a group than we have in the past. That is a big thing. When you are losing, you’ve still got to come together. I feel like that’s what we did. We came together.”
The results have been obvious. After a brutal opening six games in which K-State went 2-4 and averaged 184.1 rushing yards, the Wildcats’ front five is back to winning the line of scrimmage. Cornelius Lucas, B.J. Finney, Keenan Taylor, Tavon Rooks and Whitehair have been opening up huge holes, and several K-State runners have been zooming through them. And they have paved the way for an offense that has averaged 224.6 rushing yards in its past three games, all victories.
A blowout victory over Texas Tech on Saturday was the season’s high point. Senior running back John Hubert went untouched for a 63-yard touchdown run on K-State’s opening series, and the Wildcats finished with 291 rushing yards. They ran the ball so well that they built a 14-10 first-quarter lead without attempting a pass.
“Our offensive line took over and set the tone early,” quarterback Jake Waters said. “When you have the type of guys we have up front, that isn’t surprising.”
It was an offensive lineman’s dream.
“It was great,” Whitehair said. “As an offensive line, that’s what you want to do. You want to pound the ball down the defense’s throat. That’s what I felt like we did.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder could sense the turnaround during a loss to Baylor.
Though the Wildcats lost, they pushed people around up front and rushed for 327 yards. Most importantly, they played with a new attitude.
“They have developed a better sensitivity to finishing plays, going to the whistle, that type of thing,” Snyder said. “The average play lasts about six seconds and you have got to play for six seconds. I thought that we were kind of taking some things for granted, and we probably played about three seconds of every snap, in other words, didn’t finish plays and we weren’t practicing that way.
“But once they kind of got the message and realized that we needed to practice that way in order to play that way, they began to finish plays and practice better and that has carried over onto gameday.”
Those improvements started with something more simple.
During their losing streak, K-State’s linemen began eating together. It started watching game replays together, too. The more time they spent around each other, the better their blocking became.
“On the field, we are communicating better,” Finney said. “We are getting each other’s calls, as far as defenses, and communicating better. We have just been being better prepared all the way around and focusing on technique. It’s just been helpful for us doing that as a group.”