With Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon and Josh Stewart piling up receiving yards in recent seasons, it was sometimes easy to forget that Oklahoma State also had dynamic playmakers in its backfield.
But there is no denying that former workhorse running backs Kendall Hunter and Joseph Randle — who are both now in the NFL — made a major impact. By rushing for 2,741 yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons before turning pro, Hunter kept the Cowboys balanced. Randle, a Southeast High product, took things a step further by running for 3,085 yards and 40 touchdowns in three years.
They both caused headaches for opposing defenses. Stopping Oklahoma State’s explosive passing attack was difficult. Keeping Hunter and Randle in check, too, was nearly impossible.
But Kansas State will face a different type of running attack when it plays Oklahoma State on Saturday at Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys no longer have a featured running back. Quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs are all getting touches. Through four games, eight players have carried the ball for 639 yards and 10 touchdowns. Opponents now have to focus on multiple running threats.
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Will that hurt or help K-State? All the Wildcats know for sure is that playing defense against the Cowboys will be different.
“There are a lot of different ways that they can approach the running game and they have done so by formation as well as personnel,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Their quarterback is actively involved in the run game more than they have been in the past, so it makes it more varied and more diverse.
“They are very, very capable. … It is a great deal of variety, which causes problems for you because you have to prepare for so much.”
Added linebacker Mike Moore: “It’s real different. You have to stop the run. Even when it’s passing time, you’ve still got to stop the run by making sure you get a pass rush, because the quarterback can run.”
Oklahoma State hasn’t always utilized mobile quarterbacks, but J.W. Walsh has proven he is a true dual-threat player. With 234 yards and two touchdowns, he is Oklahoma State’s top rusher. But he isn’t afraid to hand the ball off to running backs Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. Smith has rushed for 177 yards and six touchdowns, while Roland has added 135 yards and one touchdown.
“Reading your keys is the most important thing,” safety Dante Barnett said. “You can’t fall asleep reading your keys when you are going against a running quarterback. If you do, the next thing you know the quarterback will pull the ball down and run for 40 yards.”
The Cowboys are averaging 159.8 rushing yards, which ranks 71st nationally and fifth in the Big 12, so their production is down from previous years. And West Virginia bottled them up for 111 yards on 40 carries.
Still, they out-muscled Mississippi State for 286 rushing yards in the season opener. They have talent, and find unique ways to use it. Stewart has already carried the ball six times on misdirection plays.
K-State is allowing 185.5 rushing yards and surrendered 227 rushing yards to Texas in its last game, a 31-21 loss.
“Their quarterback is a talented player, and so is their running back and their offensive line,” Moore said. “We have to do what our coaches tell us and read our keys and be on top of everything if we want to succeed.”
Talk is important, and cheap — During a team meeting last week, K-State coaches asked players to share their weaknesses and to explain how they planned on correcting them. Players said the exercise lasted nearly an hour and brought the team closer together.
Defensive end Marquel Bryant vividly remembers what fellow defensive lineman Ryan Mueller told everyone.
“It was very beneficial, but at the same time one of the players said, ‘Talk is cheap.’ Ryan Mueller said that,” Bryant said. “He was saying, ‘Live by your word.’ I think that is a big deal. If someone steps out and says that you need to be a man by your word, then you notice.”
Bryant said players tried their best to back up what they said in the meeting during practices.
“Now we need to see it,” Bryant said. “I think that was very beneficial for him asking us to do that.”
A familiar foe — K-State defensive ends will go up against their former position coach, Joe Bob Clements, on Saturday. Clements, a former K-State player and coach, left the Wildcats after last season to take over as Oklahoma State’s defensive line coach.
Snyder said the Wildcats will disguise the way they line up and attack the line of scrimmage with Clements looking on.
“There are just some things that you have to change,” Snyder said. “We have tried to identify what we need to change.”