MANHATTAN — As they linked arms at midfield and jogged into the locker room, Kansas State football players were met with a euphoric reaction from their fan base Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
Just about everyone who came out for the game was still there cheering, and a dedicated group of purple-clad supporters went especially nuts when K-State players tossed their wrist bands into the crowd.
Having just watched the Wildcats maintain their first-place status in the Big 12 North by defeating Colorado 20-6, souvenirs definitely seemed in order.
Kansas State is now 5-3 overall and 3-1 in conference play. It is its best league start since 2000. And with Nebraska losing unexpectedly at home to Iowa State and Kansas falling to Oklahoma, its lead on the rest of the division feels stronger than ever.
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But K-State coach Bill Snyder was in no mood to soak up the festive atmosphere. As soon as the locker room doors closed behind his team and they were all alone, he told them just how far away they are from truly being contenders in the league race.
"It's not about being 3-1," he ranted. "It's about whether your football team gets better. That hasn't changed, and we didn't get better."
Taking the pessimistic approach is nothing new for Snyder. But there was something different about him after this win. Instead of calmly going over his team's setbacks during his postgame news conference, he angrily addressed questions of being in first place and even slammed his hand on the podium in front of him for emphasis.
He used phrases like "it stunk" to describe K-State's offense, which threw for 80 yards and amassed 284 total. And he answered a question about leading the Big 12 North by saying it meant nothing at all.
"If that was the only deal I'd be a happy camper in here and we'd be all smiles," he said. "I'd be saying all kinds of nice things, but that's not what we're about. That's not what we're trying to be about. I don't want us to feel good about playing poorly."
To be fair, K-State only played poorly in one phase of the game — offense. Even then, junior running back Daniel Thomas churned out 145 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. The Wildcats scored 20 points in the first half and took a 14-point lead into the locker room.
They didn't score again, but with K-State's defense playing at a high level, allowing 244 yards and pitching a shutout for the last three quarters, no more points were necessary.
But to Snyder, that's not enough. With a tough road trip to Oklahoma coming up next week and three more difficult games after that, he knows it will take a complete effort for his team to win. It will take a passing game.
Senior quarterback Grant Gregory realizes that, too. He also understands that Snyder is hard on them because he sees potential in this group. So he wasn't surprised by Snyder's anger.
"We owe this one to the defense today," said Gregory, who completed 9 of 18 passes for 80 yards. "We came out in the second half and didn't do very much."
Wide receiver Attrail Snipes, who caught two passes for 33 yards, said, "The defense played well, but the offense was embarrassing."
Kansas State's defense was, indeed, top notch.
Colorado struggled so mightily against the Wildcats that in between a 71-yard touchdown drive to start the game and a 94-yard closing drive that ended with no points, it gained 79 yards on 11 drives. During their middle 11 drives, they crossed midfield zero times.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen and his scrambling ability did nothing. A week after leading Colorado to a win over Kansas, he threw for 89 yards and rushed for negative eight.
K-State junior safety Emmanuel Lamur, who recorded five tackles and made two interceptions, said the defensive gameplan was done to perfection.
"We executed and we won," he said.
Snyder was complimentary of K-State's defensive effort. In particular he praised Lamur and senior defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald, who came up with 1 1/2 sacks despite sitting out practice all week with the flu.
"I thought our defense played extremely well," he said. "... We had three or four guys out there on the defensive side of the ball that didn't practice all week with all this flu stuff going around. They came back and played lights out. I'm awful proud of them."
Senior offensive lineman Nick Stringer is proud of them too. After the game he was asked if K-State could go on and win the Big 12 North.
His answer was similar to Snyder's, just without the anger.
"If our defense keeps playing the way they've played the last couple games, and we clean up a couple mistakes and penalties on offense, definitely."