Kansas State is 4-0 against Iowa State since 2008, but the average margin of victory is less than six points.
“It’s definitely been a fight every time,” K-State senior quarterback Collin Klein said. “We are gearing up for another one.”
There’s a reason why games between No. 6 K-State and Iowa State — who meet Saturday in Ames, Iowa — are often decided late in the fourth quarter. They have similar coaches, similar styles and similar players.
While most teams in the Big 12 run up-tempo spread offenses that prominently feature the pass, Wildcat coach Bill Snyder and the Cyclones’ Paul Rhoads favor balanced offenses. They ask their quarterbacks to run, use tight ends for blocking and want long possessions.
Both teams are strange matchups for most opponents, but there is no element of surprise when they play each other.
“A lot of college football is just matchups and they match up really well against us,” K-State senior tight end Travis Tannahill said. “They are kind of the same team as us, playing with discipline and toughness. Anytime a team does that, they are hard to beat. We are going to have to go up there and play our best to win.”
Rhoads hopes his players take the same approach, but this is always an odd week for him.
He has known Snyder for years, and, in many ways, tries to run his program the same way. It’s impossible for him to hide his respect.
“The No. 1 way to win a football game is not to lose it,” Rhoads said. “That’s Bill Snyder and that’s the Kansas State Wildcats. They’ve been doing it for years. If you start pressing and trying to find a way to win it, because of that you’re going to get yourself in trouble because that’s when you are going to make a mistake when they aren’t making mistakes.
“You’ve got to go out and do the same thing that they do, and we try to. They just do it better than most people.”
How does a team avoid losing? It starts by instilling discipline and limiting mistakes.
Snyder emphasizes error-free football, and he has the results to prove it — a Bowl Subdivision-low nine penalties in five games.
“That’s just one statistical category. I’ve got a whole novel full of them where they prove why they are the smartest team in the Big 12,” Rhoads said. “They prove why they don’t lose football games. They make good decisions. They don’t make risky throws. They have great ball security. You will struggle to find a finer-coached football team and a finer-prepared football team in the country.”
K-State also ranks fifth nationally with three turnovers.
Iowa State tries to approach those numbers. The Cyclones rank third in the Big 12 with 22 penalties and have committed 13 turnovers. But they seemed to turn a corner last weekend during a 37-23 victory at TCU by switching quarterbacks, intercepting three passes and recovering two fumbles.
That victory, and a 4-1 start, helped push Iowa State into the USA Today coaches poll at No. 25, its first national ranking in nearly 10 years.
“They play as hard as anybody you would play against,” Snyder said. “I think all those intrinsic things are in place. They have the attention of their players and their players have a belief in those values, which I think are similar to those values that we have here, and they have been very responsive.”
In a game where both teams are so similar, the winner will likely be decided by simple execution.
That’s a challenge K-State and Iowa State are always up for.
“If we keep executing, keep playing sound football, keep doing the things that the great Bill Snyder-coached Kansas State football teams do — don’t lose games — we’ll have a chance to win,” Rhoads said.