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October 3, 2013It doesn't take too long for an opposing Big 12 Conference coaching staff to recognize and regurgitate the strengths of a Bill Snyder-coached Kansas State team during game week. After four games, there's perhaps little secret when it comes to the Wildcats' offensive plan. Some things change, but the philosophy has remained intact for the 73-year-old head coach since his return to the sideline in 2009.
During Snyder's second stint, K-State has established a consistent identity and respectable reputation that, although predictable at times, has been hard to stop. So when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was asked to compare this K-State team filled with fresh faces to the previous squads, it was no surprise the answer had a familiar ring to it.
"The same. They're style is similar," Gundy said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference earlier this week. "They have the transfer quarterback that's running their offense. They want to spread you out and get the extra guy in the quarterback running game and use the back as an extra blocker and try to get an extra number.
"They want to be good. They have good returners in the kicking game. They want to be sound. They want to use the clock and minimize the total number of plays."
Herein lies the problem: The same formula that proved successful in back-to-back double-digit win campaigns just hasn't been as effective so far this season. Sure, the Wildcats have shown glimpses of potential, but the offense that's been known for its discipline, ball control and time management, has been plagued by penalties, turnovers and stalled drives. Meanwhile, the bend-don't-break defense has snapped numerous times, hasn't created turnovers, and hasn't displayed the trademark hard-nosed mentality of the previous two campaigns.
In fact, even the special teams units haven't yet routinely shown the dangerous edge that's been known to mightily assist the Wildcats through the years.
Such inconsistencies across the board have hampered K-State as it attempts to find its groove in 2013.
Now, K-State, 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the Big 12, travels to face No. 21 Oklahoma State, 3-1 and 0-1, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Stillwater, without a true identity.
The good news? The Wildcats had the luxury of a bye week to get their house in order before a daunting start to October, which starts against the Big 12 preseason favorite Cowboys and continues next weekend against No. 17 Baylor.
"I think (the bye week) really helped us with an identity," junior wide receiver and co-captain Tyler Lockett said. "I think it helped us because we were able to start focusing on getting off the ball faster, we were able to start working on managing the play clock and also not waiting until the last minute for the play clock to go down. We just tried to work on some of the little things that have been hurting us."
The little things that K-State has routinely been accustomed to utilizing against its opponents have seemingly worked against the Wildcats this season. The Wildcats rank in the bottom half of the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing offense, rushing defense and time of possession, and rank 113th out of 123 FBS teams in turnover margin.
Maybe teams are starting to exploit K-State's tactics due to its inexperience. Perhaps a bye week is exactly what the Wildcats needed.
"Every week we're trying to make our identity be known and grow each week," sophomore linebacker Mike Moore said. "I think this week, and for us having a week off, it just gave us more time to prepare."
Discovering an identity to mesh together the rest of the season is undoubtedly still a work in progress. Snyder, who's famously been through rebuilding campaigns before, understands the method toward finding a remedy.
"I think that's something that has to come from within," Snyder said. "It's easy to say, do this, do that, et cetera, but the bottom line and at the end of the day, it's how they feel and how they believe and what is truly significant to them and how they respond to it.
"If there's dialogue about, 'Who are we and what's our rallying point?' I think that's something that they have to do. How significant that is, I don't know. That's something they define collectively I think or individually and it grows collectively when guys kind of reach out and say, 'Hey, that makes sense. Let's do this. Let's accomplish this. Let's be this.'"
"It really just depends on what we want it to be," he said. "If it is what we want it to be, but it's not so in the game that we play then we also have something to lean back on as well whether it's passing or running."
The week off seemed to be beneficial, too. Players believe they cleared up lingering issues on the field and grew closer during the time away from official competition.
"I feel like we came together more," sophomore defensive end Travis Britz said. "We might have lost sight of what the goal was but I think this week we really got back on track and we're working hard."
"I would say passion really," sophomore safety Dante Barnett said of the biggest difference this week. "When you start losing football games you develop that passion and the passion comes out of a lot of players who really don't like to lose."
Fortunately for K-State, plenty of season remains for it to implement an identity to salvage success even despite an uphill climb to start October.
The bad news? This matchup against Oklahoma State on paper seems wholly unfavorable. But nonetheless, it's a best place to start.
"We haven't been doing the things we really, really feel like we're supposed to," sophomore defensive end Marquel Bryant said. "We feel like from here on out it's on. We have to bring more to the plate and it's a big deal for us. We're still holding the Big 12 title. We just have to ball out these next few games."
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