Kansas State coach Bill Snyder doesn't know what style points are. Frankly, he doesn't care.
"It's just the way you go out and play the game and you play it as well as you possibly can," the 73-year-old coach said on Tuesday. "If we're even thinking about that, that's a bad message."
Snyder made it very clear this week that style points rank near the bottom of his secret recipe, but it's hard to deny the fashion in which his Wildcats have won their first eight games this season. And maybe more importantly, with whom he has won with.
Every year, without fail, Snyder's team has at least one unit with a bolded question mark next to it at the start of the year. And by season's ends, the wizard-like coach makes it disappear. This year is no different.
At the start of the 2012 campaign, the underlying question mark stood next to the defensive tackle position. K-State lost starters Ray Kibble and Ralph Guidry from last year's 10-3 squad and senior Vai Lutui was the only returner that made a significant impact against the run. There was a great deal of uncertainty, but Snyder, as usual, has made the doubt vanish.
Through the first eight games, the combination of Lutui, John Sua, Javonta Boyd and Travis Britz have been exceptional against the run. The Wildcats have allowed just 100 yards per game and only six touchdowns on the ground this season, which ranks second in the Big 12 and 14th nationally. They have shut down the explosive rushing attacks of Miami and Oklahoma while silencing the deceivingly solid run games of West Virginia in Morgantown and Texas Tech at home last week. Simply, they've been surprisingly good.
But for as good as they have been, they will need to be at their best this week when the No. 2 Wildcats square off against No. 24 Oklahoma State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.
When it comes to stopping the run, K-State has their hands full this week. The Cowboys' rushing attack ranks 13th nationally and averages 239 yards per contest. Snyder knows this is no easy task.
"They are awfully sound, solid up front and they have good schemes," he said. "They just run the ball well. If you allow it happen, sometimes it's a little hard to do something about. They can line up and run the ball all day.
"They have the capacity to say they're an awfully good rushing football team."
The biggest reason for the Cowboys' success on the ground is junior running back Joseph Randle. The Kansas native has racked up 891 yards on 160 carries and nine touchdowns this season, while his 127 yards per game average not only ranks atop of the Big 12 Conference, but in the top 10 nationally.
"You name it and it's a challenge," Snyder said of Oklahoma State's featured back. "Randle is an extremely talented running back. He runs hard, but he's a smart runner and picks up lanes extremely well."
Needless to say, he's been important to the Cowboys this season.
"It's been good having Joe, thank goodness," OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said earlier this week. "Joe, ever since I've gotten here, is very durable. He stays away from being hurt a bunch and he doesn't really complain. He just works and goes out there and plays."
In his first seven games this year, Randle has eclipsed the century mark six times. It's been nearly automatic for him. Ironically enough, though, he has yet to gain 100 yards on the ground against K-State in his career. He picked up 64 yards on seven carries as a freshman in 2010 and carried the ball 16 times for 79 yards last season. So when asked about preparing for the Wildcats' defense this week, Randle shrugged it off.
"Really, I'm just caught up in the moment," he said. "We're just trying to work as hard as we can. We're trying to get prepared and put out our best effort on Saturday."
Although Randle is the premier back, he is not carrying the load by himself. Both Desmond Roland and Jeremy Smith are good enough to give him a breather. Roland, a sophomore, has 30 carries for 198 yards and four touchdowns this season and Smith, a junior, has 188 yards on 38 carries and five touchdowns. Plus, the Cowboys have an experienced offensive line.
"They're good up front," Snyder said. "They've got three starting returning seniors that were good last year and are good this year."
That doesn't mean the Wildcats can't handle them up front, though.
"I would compare them really heavily to Iowa State's players on defense," junior left tackle Parker Graham said. "As far as defense goes, they don't make mistakes. Iowa State was the exact same way with that.
"They're in their gaps every single play, and if you don't capitalize on them, they're going to embarrass you."
If K-State wants to improve their chances of winning on Saturday, they will need to slow down Randle. It is certainly easier said than done, but the Wildcats will have to do better than they did in last year's 52-45 loss in Stillwater. Randle had just 79 yards, but he found the end zone twice, including the deciding score with 2:16 remaining. In addition, he also caught five passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Since it is a primetime game on the road, the Cowboys will look to get Randle going early. And since Randle is arguably the best back in the conference, don't be surprised if he picks up some yards. The key position to watch for K-State this week will be the defensive tackles.
It's matchups like this that gave them the question mark at the start of the season. But if Lutui, Sua, Boyd and Britz continue their solid play, keep Randle in check and force freshman quarterback Wes Lunt to beat them through the air in his first conference road game, the chances of chalking up another tally in the win column increase drastically.
It doesn't have to be stylish; it just needs to be effective.