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Kansas State Wildcats look to get Thomas back in stride

K-State Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas (8) tries to break away from Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive back Eric Hagg (28) in the first half. Kansas State lost to Nebraska in Manhattan 48-13. (Oct. 7, 2010)
K-State Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas (8) tries to break away from Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive back Eric Hagg (28) in the first half. Kansas State lost to Nebraska in Manhattan 48-13. (Oct. 7, 2010) The Wichita Eagle

MANHATTAN — Throughout his two seasons at Kansas State, Daniel Thomas has experienced nearly every emotion college football has to offer.

The senior running back has led the Big 12 in rushing, fought through a painful shoulder injury and dealt with the pressure of playing with enormous expectations.

Through it all, he has displayed an even-keel attitude on and off the field. But K-State's star player may be dealing with some frustration this week.

Coming off his worst two-game stretch as a Wildcat — 76 rushing yards against Central Florida and 63 against Nebraska, each on 22 carries — Thomas suddenly looks ordinary.

A trip to Lawrence on Thursday to play Kansas provides an opportunity to get his season back on track. Thomas opted not to speak with media Tuesday, but teammates say he is eager to get back to his old form.

"You can just tell when he's angry about a situation," cornerback David Garrett said. "The last two games he's been under 100 yards. That's just not what he's used to. So he's been practicing real hard this week, and I know he's going to come out and put us on his shoulders Thursday night."

The Wildcats will be a much improved team if he does. Thomas rushed for a combined 552 yards and six touchdowns during the first three games, which K-State won by a touchdown or more.

While being contained by Central Florida, the Wildcats needed a fourth-quarter rally to escape with a 17-13 win. Thomas never got going against Nebraska, and the Wildcats lost 48-13.

Both defenses focused on slowing Thomas, and K-State's struggling passing game offered little relief. There’s now an effective game plan for other teams to copy.

That will make running the ball more difficult, but coach Bill Snyder says Thomas doesn't need to change anything. He says Thomas is not to blame for the recent decrease in production.

"It's not that Daniel did any worse than he had at any particular time during the course of the season,” Snyder said. “It takes 11 people to make an offense work."

Still, Thomas has taken the struggles personally.

"He's doing all right, but at the same time he understands what his situation is," fullback Braden Wilson said. "He needs to come ready to play, and he will."

Responding from average play is mostly uncharted territory for Thomas, but he has been here before. During a lopsided loss at Texas Tech last season, Thomas managed 49 yards on 11 carries. He was a nonfactor.

Seven days later, he rushed for 91 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Texas A&M.

Offensive lineman Zach Kendall, who blames K-State's lack of force up front as a contributing factor, says Thomas has displayed a renewed work ethic this week in practice.

Just like everyone else, he knows if he comes through this week, so will Thomas.

"He is a very unselfish, team-oriented type of a guy," Snyder said of Thomas. "He hurts like everybody else, and wants to help this football team do better.”

Coffman still on top — Snyder reinforced that Carson Coffman is still the top quarterback on K-State's roster. Despite reopening the competition this week, he said Coffman is still his guy.

"He's taken the No. 1 snaps because he's doing the best job," Snyder said before adding, "In all likelihood, Carson will be our starter."

Smith undergoes surgery — Sophomore wide receiver Brodrick Smith of Garden City underwent surgery after suffering a broken leg in the fourth quarter of K-State's loss to Nebraska.

"He's a strong-willed young guy," Snyder said. "He'll get back with us when he's able to. He seems to be in good spirits right now."

Smith was K-State's second-leading receiver with 14 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns. He will miss the remainder of the season, but is expected to be back in time for spring practice.

Faith in the purple — After K-State’s 25-point loss to Nebraska last week it wasn’t surprising the Wildcats’ support in the AP poll diminished.

K-State received 69 votes in the Oct. 3 poll. This week the Wildcats received one vote.

Who was the voter who still had faith in K-State?

It was Mark Anderson, the UNLV beat writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Including the K-State vote, Anderson had either the highest or lowest position for 10 teams in this week’s poll, according to pollspeak.com.

Many of those teams with extreme rankings were Big 12 schools. He was one of two voters to put Oklahoma at No. 1.

He also had Nebraska at No. 8, Oklahoma State at 11 and Missouri at 12.

A Midwest conspiracy? Not quite.

“Until this season, I voted based on my opinion of how the teams should be ranked, with a heavy emphasis on results,” Anderson said. “This season, I devised a points system that takes strength of schedule into heavy consideration and de-emphasizes margin of victory. Based on that system, Kansas State has played a strong-enough schedule to beat out other teams for the 25th spot.

“It's not a great schedule, but it's good enough. No team owns a spot, so that doesn't mean Kansas State will remain in my ballot next week or the weeks to come, but that's where the Wildcats are this week.”

This week was only the second time Anderson ranked K-State this season. He had the 4-0 Wildcats at 22 on the Oct. 3 ballot.

Contributing: Joshua Wood of The Eagle.

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