K-State’s new-look ‘D’ is no longer Wildcats’ weakest link

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Man, it was close. So close, they could smell it. That big, fat, beautiful goose egg.
“That’s something I know we definitely talked about on the sideline,” Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman admitted. “We can’t remember when the last time we had a shutout was.”
“We wanted it,” linebacker Jonathan Truman added.
“Yeah, I was disappointed,” coach Bill Snyder said Saturday after his Wildcats dismantled Iowa State, 41-7. “Immensely disappointed. Shutouts don’t happen in college football anymore. And our players played well enough and our coaches coached well enough that they deserved it.”
The Cyclones completed 17 of 36 throws, got picked off three times, allowed two sacks, converted just four of 15 third-down opportunities, and totaled all of 249 yards of offense. Defensively, K-State (4-4, 2-3 Big 12 Conference) was firing on cylinders that few thought it had under the hood some five or six weeks ago.
“That kind of was a dismembered football team right now,” Snyder said of the 1-7 Cyclones, whose players have been dropping like flies of late. “They’re like us in terms of depth issues, but that does not take away how well we played defensively at all.”
No, no, it doesn’t. The Wildcats were a fluky fumble — up 41-0, backup tailback Robert Rose fumbled at the K-State 10 with about 3:30 to go, the Cyclones recovered and punched it in on the next play — away from their first whitewash of a Big 12 opponent since pulling the trick against Iowa State in November 2003. K-State hadn’t recorded a home shutout against a conference foe since November 1999, against Missouri.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we didn’t want it,” said Truman, who finished with seven tackles, “just because it didn’t happen.” 
Look, when you’ve been kicked around as much as Truman and his mates were in early October, you’re allowed to get a little greedy, to want a little payback.
In its first three Big 12 tilts, K-State surrendered an average of 33 points and 409.3 yards per game. Over the past two? An average of 9.5 and 308 yards.
That’ll work. 
“What we’ve put on the field the last two weeks,” receiver Curry Sexton said, “is really what we have known all along that we’re capable of.”  
And yeah, we know all about the qualifiers: Sure, the Cyclones came in eighth out of 10 in the Big 12 in total offense, seventh in scoring offense and tied for eighth in first downs. Saturday was the first time all season coach Paul Rhoads’ bunch had started the same five up front over consecutive games.
But you don’t apologize for kicking the battered while they’re lying face-down. And you don’t apologize for progress, either: After starting the season with nine new starters on defense — including Truman — this is a unit that’s starting to settle in, starting to feel a bit of chemistry with one another.
 
That and confidence. Finally.
“Confidence,” Truman said. “Yeah, it’s a big deal on defense.”
And before you say, “Well, it was just Iowa State and West Virginia,” consider this:
Baylor’s Big Green Godzilla Scoring Machine has racked up fewer than 50 points just once. That was here, against this defense, in Manhattan, back on Oct. 12. It’s a bizarro world when you’re referring to a 35-point game as a stellar defensive effort, but that Baylor gang is a bizzaro team.
“Yeah, I mean we were the only team really up to this point that kind of contained them,” Zimmerman said, sort of wincing. “Definitely could have done better that game. Gave up those big (plays). It was a tough loss for us, and all respect goes to them for what they’ve been able to do each and every week. 
“But that’s definitely something we take pride in, and definitely something we know we could build upon next week.”
At 3-4, the ‘Cats used the Mountaineers as a crutch to get their equilibrium back after weeks of staggering. At 4-4, the ol’ swagger is back, too. Best case, K-State could still win all of its final four contests, and at least two — a home date with TCU on Nov. 16 and a trip to Kansas on Nov. 30 — seem especially kind, on paper. And after all they’ve been through, the Wildcats don’t exactly sound like a bunch that would prefer to stay home for Christmas.
“You kind of get tired of it, the more you go through it and through it and through it,” said receiver Tyler Lockett, who posted a team-high five catches and 72 receiving yards.
“And you just have people say, ‘You know what? We’re going to find a way.’ And that’s what we’ve been doing. Trying to find a way.”
This particular way was old-school with just a pinch — and barely a pinch, at that — of new-school hotness. It was Fort Riley Day at The Bill, the program’s annual salute to the military; Kansas State celebrated by replacing its tried-and-true purple Powercat logo on the side of its helmets with a purple “camo” Powercat logo instead.
It’s believed to be the first time the Jedi Master has allowed any kind of cosmetic tweak to the iconic trademark he instituted more than two decades ago. In Snyder’s world, this counts as a seismic aesthetic shift. 
Hell, in Snyder’s world, it counts as a full-fledged alternate uniform.
“All that fuddy-duddy,” Snyder called it, dismissively, in a way that only Snyder could.
Kansas changes jerseys and helmets every other quarter. K-State changes helmet logos every 25 years — and then only for Uncle Sam.
“It was cool, though,” Sexton said. “Anything different is nice.
“I mean, it’s a nice little change of pace. But I’ll take it. I can’t believe Coach let it happen.”
Hey, sometimes fuddy-duddy works. Even if Snyder is going all soft on us, his defense these days is anything but.
  
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.