Kansas State University

K-State defense finally gets in a rush

MANHATTAN — The numbers didn't seem so funny at the beginning of the season.

But now that Kansas State's defensive line is sacking opposing quarterbacks with some consistency, Coach Bill Snyder can look back and laugh.

"We had what, minus-80 sacks for the first six ballgames or so," the K-State football coach quipped this week.

No, the Wildcats' pass rush was never that bad. But their front four sure did struggle early.

It took them four games to record a sack against a Bowl Subdivision team, and even when factoring in the four sacks made against two Championship Subdivision opponents, they entered the second half of the season averaging one sack per game.

With nothing but stronger, faster conference teams left on the schedule, there was no reason to expect those numbers to improve. Especially with Snyder announcing that sophomore defensive end Brandon Harold had reinjured himself.

But here the K-State defensive line is today, owners of 10 sacks in the last two games, .

"We've gotten better in the last two weeks," Snyder said."... The numbers would indicate that we've made some progress, and I believe we have."

That improvement has been two-fold.

It started with senior defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald taking on the role of vocal leader prior to K-State's home game against Texas A&M. Snyder challenged him to take not just his game, but the game of his entire unit, to the next level.

Fitzgerald leads the team in sacks with six and has four in his last two games.

The other change has been with K-State coaches gaining confidence in their starting lineup. After mixing and matching seven linemen throughout the early part of the season, they have stuck with Fitzgerald and Antonio Felder at defensive end, Daniel Calvin and Prizell Brown at defensive tackle in the last two games.

Brown is a converted tight end, and backups Joseph Kassanavoid, Hansen Sekona and Chidubamu Abana started the season listed at other positions.

With Fitzgerald running wild and the scrappy defensive line around him now accustomed to each other, K-State's pass rush has improved considerably.

On top of recording 10 sacks in its past two games, K-State has come up with 10 turnovers.

"I don't think you can get a better correlation than that," sophomore safety Tysyn Hartman said. "It starts with the pass rush. They have really stepped up, which has helped force turnovers."

The question now is can K-State's front four continue playing so well against top-notch competition?

After six sacks in six games, 10 against any two opponents will sound incredible. But the Wildcats couldn't even come within shouting distance of Texas Tech quarterback Steven Sheffield when that game was in doubt.

Snyder thinks K-State will face its toughest offensive line when it travels to Oklahoma on Saturday. Fitzgerald thinks considering the line's slow start, it's ready for anything.

"We've made a lot of headway," Fitzgerald said. "We're making a lot more tackles, getting to the quarterback more than last year. We're doing a lot better. Now we have to continue on that. We can't get lackadaisical. We have to repeat those efforts in the weeks to come. Going out there trying to compete against the best possible opponent, I really get up for that."