K-State running backs are tough on themselves and defenses

When your coach is Bill Snyder, improvement is a mandate.

No matter how many yards you churn out in a particular game or how well you play against a particular foe, the expectation is that you can always do better.

With that being said, it seemed like Kansas State’s running backs went a little overboard this week when they were asked to grade their first-game performances against Massachusetts. After making a fabulous debut and rushing for 104 yards, junior Daniel Thomas gave himself a D. Keithen Valentine, meanwhile, gave himself a C+ after stretching 11 carries into 89 yards.

Together, they combined for nearly 200 yards of offense and were the strongest point of K-State’s attack. Those are numbers that the Wildcats will gladly take after every contest. Yet Thomas and Valentine walked away from the game thinking they barely passed the test.

For what it’s worth, both were very impressed with the offensive line.

But when evaluating their own games, well, they are their own toughest critics.

Thomas said he needs to do a better job of, “staying with my blocks and not trying to go outside all the time.”

Said Valentine: “We got the win and I had a couple big runs, but there is always room for improvement.”

Considering it was only UMass, and just about every team left on the schedule will be much more difficult to run against, I can see that less than optimistic attitude. Both will need to be more disciplined if they want to see those same numbers against Big 12 opponents.

But for now, they should be happy. Leading up to Saturday’s game at Louisiana-Lafayette, their 1-2 running punch is one of the positive things people want to talk about.

Even Snyder.

“I think they both did a nice job. They are two different types of runners. Thomas is a fluid runner and can run with some strength and power. As you saw, he has the ability to move the pile and that comes from good lower- and upper-body strength. Keithen runs hard as well. But the important thing for us is that we have to block the people in front of them and give them some chances. They made a lot of things happen after first contact. So what we have to do is give them more space in which to operate and that did happen a few times.”

The main question heading forward is how often the two running backs continue to rotate in and out of the game. Against UMass, Thomas carried the ball 23 times compared to Valentine’s 11.

Thomas gained the most yards. Valentine reeled off the longest run.

Both running backs would obviously like to see more action, but both also seem fine with sharing the load.

“Keithen is a great back,” Thomas said. “So we’ll switch it up every now and then.”

Valentine said Thomas was “pretty much like my brother.”

“It might sound cliché, but he a real cool guy, down to earth” Valentine added about Thomas. “He don’t have the big head and stuff, so we get a long well. We talk about the offense and talk about just playing. It’s a great combination, we get along well.”

The way they grade themselves, that doesn’t surprise me.