Bill Snyder only requires five words to sum up the current state of Kansas State’s special-teams units.
“We need to get better,” he said.
For the first time in recent memory, the Wildcats are losing ground on kickoffs and punts. They haven’t pulled off many momentum-shifting plays on special teams since the opener, when Isaiah Zuber returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown. But they have allowed a 90-yard punt return (against Texas) and lost a crucial fumble on a kickoff return (against Baylor).
Throw in a missed field goal and a blocked extra point last week and things have really gone downhill. Instead of winning close games with exceptional special teams, K-State is now finding ways to lose close games with poor special teams.
“To fumble a kickoff (doesn’t help), and it’s not just the guy catching the ball and running with it,” Snyder said. “If you go back and scrutinize the snap, we missed two blocks on the same guy that created the fumble. It’s execution throughout, and assignment throughout.”
That’s something the Wildcats hope to improve starting Saturday against Oklahoma State.
It’s certainly possible. Sean Snyder is thought to be one of the nation’s top special-teams coordinators, and K-State players have shown they can deliver in that phase of the game.
Bill Snyder says the unit is currently struggling with health issues. Several injured players on both offense and defense double as special-teams contributors, forcing the Wildcats to turn to backups and walk-ons on kickoffs and punts.
In some cases, such as a quality kickoff tackle from receiver Landry Weber last week, that hasn’t been an issue. In other cases, like the loss of starting kicker Blake Lynch, it has.
“We’re searching and reaching to get enough personnel,” Bill Snyder said. “We struggle sometimes with that, because you’ve got guys playing out of position and don’t have any real backups right now for them.”
It remains unclear if Lynch will be able to play on Saturday, but K-State will stick with Zuber on kickoff returns. it will take more than one fumble for the coaching staff to lose faith in his abilities.
But Oklahoma State kickoff specialist Jake McClure also has a strong leg, capable of forcing K-State to settle for touch backs all afternoon. Zuber might have to try and make an impact on punts.
One way or another, the Wildcats hope they can pull off some big plays on special teams this week. They haven’t had much luck winning without them.