MANHATTAN, Kan. — There’s no denying Kansas State’s defenders feel last week’s loss to TCU was a fluke performance, especially the big boys up front.
After all, the Wildcats allowed the Horned Frogs to rack up 495 yards of total offense, which was the second-most the defense has surrendered all season. And that’s a head-scratcher, considering how Kansas State dominated the trenches up until that point.
Regardless of the matter, the players know they didn’t perform up to their potential. That’s why practice has been intense this week, leading up to the clash against Oklahoma State. It’s going to be the Wildcats first game at home in nearly a month. And the players can’t wait to be back in front of the fans.
Despite last week’s loss, Kansas State’s defense still leads the Big 12 in sacks. Not to mention the Wildcats are tied for third in the league in tackles for loss. Still, the Horned Frogs exposed some weaknesses that the Wildcats need to fix.
Defensive linemen Jaylen Pickle, Nate Matlack and Robert Hentz are all working non-stop in practice to correct the mistakes. They know they can’t have the same miscues against the Pokes, a team they haven’t beat since 2018.
“Just not hurting ourselves, and executing what we’re running,” Pickle said. “I think we hurt ourselves more than they hurt us during the game, some self-inflicted wounds, so it’s hard to beat yourself and another team.”
Pickle feels they weren’t mentally prepared and could’ve executed better. And that’s mind-boggling, because the Wildcats were coming off a bye-week. Kansas State’s defensive line had some bright spots though. Both Matlack and Hentz put quarterback Max Duggan to the turf. It was Matlack’s first sack of the season. Now he wants the rest of the unit to build on that production.
“I think just relentless rushes, our coaches gives us awesome game plans to get different blitzes and opportunities to get sacks,” Matlack said. “I still think we left a bunch on the table though, and we can have even more, but I think we’ve done pretty well overall.”
Matlack wants the defense to get more physical up front. It’s no mystery the Wildcats’ pass rush been solid. Kansas State has to tighten up against the run after letting TCU steamroll for 215 yards on the ground. Oklahoma State is third in the league and 24th in the country in rushing offense.
The Wildcats are currently 68th in the FBS in rushing defense. And the players know those numbers have to improve if they want to clinch a berth in the Big 12 Championship.
However, the Wildcats have only allowed five rushing touchdowns all season, which is the second-fewest in the Big 12. So something has to give, and the players know what they’re capable of. Having the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year along the edge in Felix Anudike-Uzomah, requires multiple blockers. And that allows opportunities for the other defensive linemen to make plays.
Oklahoma State (6-1) is going to try and exploit Kansas State (5-2) along the interior of the defense like TCU did, so adjustments are vital. There are only a handful of players that were on the roster the last time the Wildcats beat the Pokes at home. Hentz is one of them. And the rest of his teammates are anxious to see what that victory is going to feel like.
“That’s the main thing, because every week we want to be 1-0,” Hentz said. “But this one right here stabs a little deeper in the heart, so beating them will be a good fit for me.”
This Saturday’s matchup will just be Kansas State’s second Big 12 game at home this fall. It’s also going to be the first time since 2011 in this series that both teams will enter the game ranked in the AP top-25. The winner will stay alive in the Big 12 race. And the loser will no longer control its’ own destiny.
Veterans like Hentz understands how pivotal this game is going to be. And he just wants the fans to make it a hostile environment for Mike Gundy’s team.
“I can’t wait to be back on the field, the environment, our fans, the K State family, man it’s incredible.”