Having successfully shored up last season’s troubled run defense, Kansas State is now struggling to defend the pass.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats, who allowed 231.4 yards rushing per game last season, are ranked third in the Big 12 in that category this year. It’s a big reason they’re off to a 7-2 start and carry that national ranking.
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Now, the problem is that they’re allowing 302.8 yards passing per game.
Granted, facing pass-happy No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 2 Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks hardly helps. Still, Kansas State’s pass defense is ranked 117th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and has allowed four 300-yard passing performances this season.
In fact, the Wildcats have been on the wrong end of three of the best Big 12 passing games this season: 505 yards by the Sooners’ Landry Jones, 502 by Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State last week, and 461 by Seth Doege of Texas Tech. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III threw for 346 yards against the Wildcats in a losing effort early in the season.
The Wildcats don’t get a breather this week, either, with Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill coming to town Saturday.
Given that those quarterbacks account for 26 of 34 total performances in which a Big 12 team has amassed more than 300 yards through the air, perhaps the numbers put up against the Wildcats aren’t anomalies.
”The teams that are throwing the ball for these ungodly numbers are doing it week-in and week-out,” Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. ”It’s not like all of a sudden they’ve arrived in the passing game against Kansas State. They’ve been consistently good throwing the football throughout. Now by the same token, yes, we have some things that we have to get corrected that create some of the problems that we’ve had with the passing game.”
The pass rush needs to improve, Snyder said. It is the cornerback’s job to cover wide receivers, but they can only do that for so long. To help them, the defensive line has to put pressure on the quarterback.
While the staggering numbers put up by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State the past two weeks put the entire defense on notice, defensive back Nigel Malone said there’s been improvement.
”It takes a while for certain things to mesh together and to come along, and I think it finally is starting to, definitely in the back half of the secondary,” Malone said. ”I know stats probably will say otherwise, but as far as on the field us coming together, I think that it’s become a lot better.”
Malone said the learning experience of playing against these kinds of offenses has helped Kansas State. As the Wildcats become more used to the fast, no-huddle offenses they face, they find small ways to improve that pay dividends. By making sure to get to the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible, for instance, defensive players have more time to recognize how the offense is setting up and make sure everyone is on the same page.
That said, all the lessons have to translate to results.
”The numbers have always got to be better,” Malone said. ”It doesn’t matter if they were ranked 1 or 101, we have to come out and play better regardless of what they wear on their helmet. It’s something that we’ll take into next week.”
After going through the first several games being touted as one of the best defenses in the country, the past several weeks have humbling. And while cornerback Allen Chapman said he would not say the defense is as confident as it has been, he is optimistic.
”I think we’re still in the mix,” Chapman said. ”That’s how I think we feel. We’re still in the mix.”