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October 11, 2012

Wildcats have been more than proficient at avoiding, forcing turnovers

MANHATTAN, Kan. — “High and tight” is a popular expression on the Kansas State practice field.

Quarterback Collin Klein once used the phrase to describe a recent haircut, but usually he is referring to the way coaches instruct players to hang onto the football, tucked snugly in the crook of their arm and high enough to make it hard for defenders to make the strip.

The prevalence of the “high and tight” mantra is one reason the No. 6 Wildcats lead the Big 12 with a plus-10 turnover margin. Kansas State (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) has only lost two interceptions and just one fumble while forcing 13 turnovers by its opponents.

The Wildcats have scored 59 points off turnovers. Opponents have been shut out.

Coach Bill Snyder has always emphasized taking care of the football, and an offense based around the ground game — and averaging 262.8 yards rushing per game — does it better than most.

“Sometimes you can fret about it too much,” Snyder said of turnovers, “and you become a little paranoid about it. I don’t think our players are. I think there’s just the right amount of attention that’s put upon it, but we practice diligently towards that.”

Snyder wasn’t kidding, either. Tight end Travis Tannahill estimated that players spend 10 minutes of nearly every practice in some sort of intense anti-turnover drills.

“They’re pretty physical,” Tannahill said. “You’re usually holding onto the ball, not running, but knees bent, kind of waddling almost, and you’ve got at least two guys on you either hitting you or poking the ball out or trying to distract you. It’s a good drill.”

Besides those high-pressure repetitions, coaches constantly holler at receivers, tight ends, running backs or anyone else who may have the ball to keep it “high and tight.”

As Tannahill pointed out, carrying the ball Snyder-style means foregoing the more stylish way that running backs might carry it in the NFL — at least, that’s the case with Klein and running back John Hubert, who have combined for 149 rushing attempts this season.

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