What to expect out of Kansas State under Chris Klieman
Bill Snyder has patrolled the sidelines in Manhattan 25 out of the past 28 seasons, including the last 10. The 79-year old is no longer involved with team activities, but he’s still a Special Ambassador for the program.
When Athletic Director Gene Taylor named Klieman Snyder’s successor at the end of the 2018 season the Wildcats were expected to hit the ground running. Klieman also arrived on campus with his Offensive Coordinator Courtney Messingham from North Dakota State along with Defensive Coordinator Scottie Hazelton from Wyoming.
After all, the Iowa native had a brilliant five-year run at the FCS level with the Bison. Going a jaw-dropping 69-6 and winning four of the past five FCS National Titles, including two-straight was flat-out amazing. However, Klieman has a daunting task ahead of him with the rebuilding Kansas State back into a contender in the Big 12.
Klieman is a defensive-minded coach first and foremost, but he’ll be dealing with some high-flying offenses this fall across the conference. Offensive shootout games have become the norm in the league. Playing defense is optional, while scoring tons of points is praised. Usually whichever offense has the ball last wins.
Still, the Wildcats are one of the few Big 12 teams that consistently play solid defense. Hazelton was brilliant the past two seasons at Wyoming and the Cowboys finished in the Top-25 nationally in total defense. Kansas State’s secondary struggled and finished 91st nationally against the pass.
A lot of the unit’s failure has been contributed to the front seven’s lack of pass rush last season. The Wildcats finished dead last in the league at generating sacks, with only 18. Six starters return from the front seven, including defensive end Reggie Walker. The senior has 16 sacks and 30 tackles for loss over the past three seasons. He’ll set the tone up front for Hazelton’s defense.
On offense Kansas State was one of the best Big 12 teams at running the ball, but Klieman must find a replacement for Alex Barnes, who rushed for 2,174 yards and 19 touchdowns the last two seasons. His experience and production was valuable to the team.
Messingham inherited a talented signal-caller in Skylar Thompson. He’s a legit dual-threat with 1,391 yards through the air, 373 on the ground to go along with 14 total touchdowns. He’ll be operating behind an offensive line that contains four senior starters and Thompson’s two favorite targets return in Isaiah Zuber and Dalton Schoen.
Kansas State’s schedule starts off easy with the first two games at home against Nicholls and Bowling Green, but turns into a meat grinder after that. Klieman will have his team playing with some physicality that has lacked the past few seasons in Manhattan.
Getting the Wildcats back to a bowl game will be priority No. 1 and everything will fall into place from there Klieman. There will be some growing pains for Kansas State while everyone transitions and adjust to the new regime. However, once the light bulb turns on for the team the Wildcats have the potential to establish something special under Klieman. The new era of purple and white will be one of the intriguing topics in the Big 12 for the upcoming season.