MANHATTAN — When Bill Snyder came out of retirement last season, his defensive philosophies changed. They had to.
With modern offenses speeding up and spreading out, he realized more than anyone that his traditional base defense of four linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs had to get faster.
So Snyder devised a plan to get "a little more speed, quickness and athletic capabilities on the field."
He has approached that in many ways, but the most noticeable change has come in his scheme. Since returning to the sideline, Snyder has dropped a linebacker in favor of a fifth defensive back — the 4-2-5.
It's a defensive lineup that he thinks is well equipped to stop spread offenses. On paper the strategy appears sound, and Snyder and his players have confidence in it. But the Wildcats have yet to succeed against a high-powered attack. Each time it has faced an opponent that relies on speed to score points, K-State has been slow to keep up.
Last season, Texas Tech's video-game offense dropped 66 points on K-State, Oklahoma's screen-heavy gameplan scored 42 and Missouri's quick lineup managed 38. This year against Nebraska's quick runners the Wildcats surrendered 48.
All were humbling experiences.
"If you don't go hard every play, you can get embarrassed in front of everybody in the world," cornerback David Garrett said. "I'm going to do everything I can do to make sure that never happens again."
K-State will have the chance to put those frustrations behind them on Saturday, when it will be challenged against a Baylor team that is on the verge of reaching its first bowl game as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
Behind dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin, the Bears are averaging 33 points and 446 yards per game this season. Their best attribute: speed.
"We'd like to think we have some guys who can run a little bit," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "So it definitely helps when we can get some guys in space."
Limiting Baylor’s big plays will not be easy. Griffin can heave the ball deep, he can throw short and let his wide receivers juke tacklers for big gains, and when neither option is suitable he can always run for first downs.
He also has confidence in his teammates. Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway are both capable runners, and the Bears sport five wide receivers that average more than 30 yards per game.
"There's not much they are lacking," Snyder said, "and that's why the numbers are so good. It's not by accident."
Snyder wishes it would take nothing more than improved tackling to slow Baylor, but that has rarely been the Wildcats' problem against high-octane opponents. In those games, K-State defenders have often been out of position and looked slow pursuing the ball.
Nebraska's Taylor Martinez was able to break off long runs without being touched.
"In most cases it was one player not doing his job," linebacker Blake Slaughter said. "It was one player making a mistake in a bad situation. And if one player makes a mistake six times you give up six touchdowns."
After witnessing those mistakes, Snyder has made an effort to help his defenders understand where they need to be at all times. He has also been unafraid to change personnel. He is starting the true freshman Ty Zimmerman over Emmanuel Lamur at safety, and is using converted running back Jarell Childs at linebacker.
Both brought speed to the field and helped K-State hold Kansas to seven points.
It was a step in the right direction, but the Wildcats aren't standing pat. When defending against the spread, defenses never can.