MANHATTAN — As an offensive lineman, there is nothing Nick Puetz enjoys more than hearing his quarterback call rushing play after rushing play in the huddle.
"That's smash-mouth football," said Puetz, a Kansas State junior. "You're basically telling the other team you're just going to try to push them around and they need to come stop it. We're running right here, right now. Come stop it."
Puetz experienced that thrill over the weekend during the K-State's 37-0 victory over Kent State. The Wildcats rushed the ball on 42 of 66 plays, with coach Bill Snyder continually asking the offensive line to block and create running lanes for quarterback Collin Klein.
But how long can that remain the game plan?
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Though Klein rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, Snyder would like to lighten his workload. Not only did Klein absorb more hits than he would prefer against the Golden Flashes, K-State's offense became predictable in the second half. That's the last thing Snyder wants his offense to be when the Wildcats take the field at Miami on Saturday.
That means they will likely need to open up their passing game, and rely on more traditional rushing plays that involve handoffs to running backs.
Not an easy task considering K-State has lost two starters on its line to injuries — Manase Foketi at left tackle and Shaun Simon at center — and only right tackle Clyde Aufner will start the third game of the season where he opened the year.
When asked about the depth of his front five, Snyder said: "It went from feeling reasonably good about it to having a concern about it, which I do. On what scale, I don't know. We're definitely concerned about it."
Senior Zach Hanson will fill in for FoketiThough he performed up to Snyder's expectations against Kent State, Hanson's presence means the offensive line is adjusting to new personnel for the third straight game.
That's difficult on everyone involved.
"We really can't think about it too much," redshirt freshman center B.J. Finney said. "We've just got to line up and play football. That's one of the things we can't control, and so we shouldn't even worry about it. If somebody goes down, they go down. The next guy in line just has to be ready to step up and play."
There are concerns in other areas.
Overall, K-State's running backs have contributed little, combining to rush for 177 yards. On Saturday, John Hubert and Robert Rose led the way with 29 yards apiece. Angelo Pease never got on track, and hyped transfer Bryce Brown didn't play because of a minor injury.
Snyder said Brown is now healthy, and will be in the mix at Miami. He is unsure who will start, but it will take more than Brown's presence to get the running game going.
A year ago, Klein added a nice punch to K-State's running game behind a veteran offensive line and next to standout running back Daniel Thomas. In order for K-State to continue playing the smash-mouth football its offensive line loves so much, it will need all three ingredients again.
With constant changes on the offensive line and in the backfield, its hasn't been easy. But in a strange way, it could help in the long run.
Finney says the offensive line has grown closer through its setbacks, and several players think the competition at running back will benefit everyone in the long run.
For now, everyone is simply trying to improve.
"We just got to execute our blocks a little bit better and hold them a little bit longer before we try and jump off to somebody else," Finney said. "It's just the little details that matter with trying to make the big plays. I think we're getting there."
Dirty work — Bill Snyder knows how to practice for road games. For years he has pumped artificial noise into practices to simulate the crowd noise his team will experience away from Manhattan. But he isn't sure how to go about simulating something the Wildcats will see on Saturday: Dirt.
Miami plays its home games at Sunlife Stadium, which is shared by the Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins. The Marlins have a baseball game scheduled for Monday, which means a baseball infield will be part of the football field. At times, players will have to play on top of patches of dirt.
Snyder plans to run some practices on K-State's grass fields this week, and joked that he may take his team to a nearby park to simulate dirt.
Big man — More than any other player on Miami's defensive line, Snyder has noticed defensive tackle Darius Smith. The junior is big. At 6-foot-2 and 360 pounds, he might be the largest player K-State goes up against all year.
How do you get around a player like that?
"You just try to throw the ball way out there, make him run from sideline to sideline 10 times," Snyder said.
Recruiting trip — Though Snyder does not prefer to play nonconference games away from Manhattan, this weekend's trip to Miami could offer a recruiting boost. Florida is one of Snyder's favorite states to recruit in.
"We are hoping to make some inroads down there," Snyder said.