MANHATTAN — It doesn't take a football mastermind to point out Kansas State's biggest weakness.
The Wildcats, who have allowed an average of 222.8 rushing yards through 11 games this season, have struggled mightily to stop the run. How dreadful are those numbers? Out of 120 Division I teams across the country, only three have given up more.
By now, opposing coaches have caught on to those deficiencies and are exploiting them each week. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez ran for 241 yards against K-State, Baylor's Jay Finley for 250, Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter for 143 and Colorado's Rodney Stewart broke free for 195 yards on Saturday.
All four runners led their teams to victory against the Wilcats, and K-State defenders know their 6-5 record is a direct reflection of their failings. And if K-State is to defeat North Texas in Saturday's season finale, they'll have to do it by stopping a team that averages 193 yards rushing per game.
"The goal of the team is to win," said junior safety Tysyn Hartman. "That's something we've fallen short of in the last two weeks. Not stopping the run has contributed to that."
K-State coach Bill Snyder has used different lineups — at times moving offensive players to the defensive line, and trying safety Emmanuel Lamur at linebacker — and experimented with different strategies. Against Colorado, Snyder blitzed from the edges and dropped eight back into coverage at times. Nothing has worked throughout a full game.
"We are always confident," said freshman linebacker Tre Walker. "Sure we slip up at times and, sure, we make our mistakes, but we're always going to maintain our confidence."
An injury to Alex Hrebec and the regression of defensive end Brandon Harold have hurt matters, but Snyder thinks K-State's defensive woes go deeper.
"We just have not been able to mature enough to develop the consistent self discipline, focus, concentration — however you want to address it — that is necessary in order to play snap after snap after snap," Snyder said. "Seeing what you're supposed to see, being where you're supposed to be, doing what it is you're supposed to be doing and doing it that way for 70 snaps of the ballgame. That's where we get into a little bit of a pickle."
Senior defensive end Antonio Felder thinks the problems are mental. When going up against Daniel Thomas and other K-State running backs throughout the week, he says the defensive line regularly penetrates into the backfield and is in position to make key tackles.
But against other offensive lines, something changes.
"We want to disrupt. We didn't do that," Felder said. "We're working hard and we fit right in practice, but we just make mistakes in games. It's kind of surprising."
Is it something that can be fixed in the next few days? Players say that is their main goal, and without classes this week to distract them from practices they will have adequate time to do so.
"With as many mistakes as we've had," Hartman said, "the only way to go is up."