With a 5-0 record to this point in the 2011 season, Kansas State is defying preseason expectations more than any other team in the Big 12 Conference.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats were picked to finish eighth in the preseason Big 12 media poll, placing ahead of only Iowa State and Kansas. Instead they have wins against Baylor and Missouri and seem to be getting better with each passing week.
Like Texas Tech, Kansas State opened the regular season with a game against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. And, like Tech, the Wildcats struggled, needing a touchdown with little more than 90 seconds remaining to earn a 10-7 victory against Eastern Kentucky.
Since that near miss, K-State has clobbered Kent State, beat Miami on the road and earned a pair of Big 12 wins in close home games.
“Being 5-0 is great,” freshman offensive lineman B.J. Finney said. “We have really worked hard as a team to get where we are right now. The main thing is that we cannot forget what got us here, and we have to work hard to continue to get better.”
Kansas State will take on the Red Raiders at 6 p.m. Saturday, and Finney and his teammates are aware of their team’s struggles in games at Jones AT&T Stadium. The Wildcats have only won once in Lubbock — a 13-2 decision in 1997.
But with confidence from the team’s highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since 2004, and a defense that ranks in the top 17 nationally in rush defense, total defense and scoring defense, history doesn’t matter a whole lot to these Wildcats.
Texas Tech, though, is favored by three points.
“If we just do what we do, then I think we will be fine,” junior wideout Chris Harper said. “The guys that do the lines do not play the game. They do not know anything about it, so I do not pay attention to that.”
The defense is led by junior linebacker Arthur Brown, who has 38 tackles, two sacks and an interception. His 38 tackles ranks him fourth in the Big 12.
Perhaps the most telling stat for the Kansas State defense is its success on third downs. Opponents are converting on just 29.7 percent of third down attempts (19 of 64), a figure that leads the Big 12 and ranks ninth nationally. Baylor went 3 for 11 on third down attempts in a 36-35 loss in Manhattan, Kan., and Missouri went 4 for 13.
“I think our defensive players are really cognizant of that, and they make it important to themselves,” coach Bill Snyder said of his team’s third-down success. “They have developed a spirit about that, which I appreciate a great deal.
“They ... enjoy celebrating a good performance. A single play performance, or a series in the case that you are alluding to which gets them off the field on a third down. They are starting to get excited about that, and I like that.”
The offense is led by junior quarterback Collin Klein, who has been more effective with his legs than with his arm.
Klein leads the team with 115 carries for 268 yards and seven touchdowns. In K-State’s victories against Baylor and Missouri, Klein rushed for 113 and 45 yards, respectively, and four touchdowns.
Sophomore running back John Hubert has racked up 469 yards on 86 carries.
“This is a very similar offense that we’ve seen most of the year,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “They run a lot of options. They run power plays. They run a lot of two tight ends. The quarterback is going to take what you give them in the passing game. Very similar.”
Snyder said his defense will be just as familiar with Tech’s fast-tempo offense.
“This will be the fastest tempo we have played against,” he said. “The previous couple of weeks have been beneficial as we prepare to get lined up, get the calls in, and understand what we are doing before the snap of the ball.”
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