MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State replaced nine starters from a defense that was among the best in the Big 12 last year, including its entire defensive line, two linebackers and three defensive backs.
It only stands to reason that there’d be growing pains this season.
In the opener against North Dakota State, the Wildcats (3-4, 1-3) couldn’t stop the lower-division school from marching downfield in the closing minutes, and backing into the end zone for a touchdown that stunned the defending Big 12 champs and sent a ripple through college football.
Things didn’t go a whole lot better the next few weeks as the Wildcats tried to gel, but the past three games — narrow losses to Oklahoma State and fifth-ranked Baylor, and an impressive win over West Virginia — has brought a sense of optimism to the unit.
“Consistency is a part of it,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “A product of repetition and the discipline that it takes to be where you’re supposed to be time in and time out.”
Discipline and repetition — never getting too high or too low — is something that has become a hallmark of Kansas State under Snyder. The program routinely had some of the best defenses in the nation during the 1990s, and that was the case again a year ago.
But with stalwarts such as Arthur Brown gone to the NFL, it’s been a slow process of getting back to the same level of smash-mouth defense. The Wildcats shut down West Virginia in a 35-12 blitz last week, and will try to take another step against Iowa State (1-6, 0-4) on Saturday.
“I think we have made strides,” Snyder said. “I think the degree of toughness with which they play has been enhanced, not over just the last game-and-a-half, but over the course of the season I think it has gradually moved in that direction.”
The fleet-footed and high-octane offense of Baylor came to town next, and Kansas State’s defense fared better than anybody else against the Bears this season. Not only did it hold them to a season-low 35 points, it also allowed Kansas State to carry the lead into the fourth quarter.
“It definitely gives our guys confidence that we’re playing one of the best offensive teams,” junior defensive end Ryan Mueller said.