Sometimes the outcome of a football game can be boiled down to the very basics: Blocking and tackling. That was the case one week ago when the Kansas State Wildcats were beat up front for the first time all season and it turned into a 30-24 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"They were better on both lines, there was no question about it," K-State coach Ron Prince said. "Their offensive front was terrific and put us in a position that we were trying to make a lot of arm tackles. And they were able to disrupt our (offensive) blocking schemes to the point it was difficult for us to move the ball."
The Kansas offense ran for 170 yards as the Jayhawks used a consistent rushing attack to manage the tempo of the contest.
"They out-hit and out-tackled us. It was just a matter of tackling and doing your assignments," K-State nose tackle Steven Cline said.
"It's kind of new because we're usually shutting down the run," K-State safety Gary Chandler said.
The result was simple to see. With KU pounding out success on the ground, quarterback Todd Reesing found more time to throw the ball. The two went hand-in-hand.
"We couldn't stop the run when we needed to and then we couldn't stop the pass," K-State sophomore safety Chris Carney said.
"The biggest problem is when you're expecting pass and you get run," K-State defensive end/linebacker Ian Campbell said. "Once they get the momentum going when they're running the ball, it's very difficult to stop a team.
"They had a strong running game and Reesing was making good decisions throwing the ball."
It was Football 101. Basic stuff. And if the Kansas State Wildcats plan on bouncing back with a victory over the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, they are going to have to once again be the team that is setting the tempo of the contest.
"Football is about whatever team can inflict their will on the other team and that's what Kansas did to us by being a physical and big team," Campbell said. "We're a hitting and running team and we didn't make it our game.
"If you're a better fundamental team and you're more physical, you can win. Fundamentals are what makes a football team."
On the other side of the ball, K-State found little success on the ground. Even for a team that prefers to throw the ball, K-State's anemic 53 yards on 21 carries made it easy for Kansas to throttle the Wildcats' passing game, too.
"I'll continue to say that a running game is a quarterback's best friend," Prince said. "If you don't have a running game, then it obviously limits the effectiveness of play-action passes. That takes quite a bit of your passing game away from you."
That inability to run last week, though, heaped pressure on the offensive line in passing situations, too, and helped contribute to quarterback Josh Freeman's three interceptions.
"They were bringing everybody and we did what we could do," junior offensive tackle Alesana Alesana said. "This is a growing program so we need to try to get better every week and keep moving forward."
It's clear to Prince. Finding a better running game is a must, but the bigger key for K-State's second-year coach is discovering the right offensive mix that allows the Wildcats to be in control of the game's tempo. That will likely be an emphasis against the Buffaloes.
"One of the things that we need to be able to do on an ongoing basis is be able to run to win. That comes in a lot of different forms. The number of times you run and pass during the course of the game is one thing, but there comes a time where you need to be able to run to get the tough yards, to be able to score and do some of those other things," Prince said. "That's something that we have obviously addressed and looked at.
"We've got good runners. We need to be able to get the ball in their hands. We're doing that in a variety of ways right now, not just running, but we do have to improve in that area."
The loss to Kansas stung emotionally, but it was the Jayhawks "inflicting their will" on the Wildcats that was the hardest to swallow. KU ran when it needed to and K-State couldn't do the same.
Still, it's time for the Wildcats to move on to Colorado. "The wins and losses count the same no matter who it's against. At the end of the year, you tally it up," Campbell said.
And for anyone who thinks the sub-par performance against Kansas marks trouble for this K-State team, junior guard Gerard Spexarth has a message.
"Everybody on this team is tough. This season is not over. I want everyone to know that," Spexarth said. "We are going to keep playing hard and we're going to win."