The Week Ahead: Kansas State tries to recover from opening loss vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

During the Big 12 teleconference on Monday, Bill Snyder was asked about the message he delivered to Kansas State’s football players when they began preparing for their upcoming game against Louisiana-Lafayette.

His response: “I don’t think we strayed too far away from where we normally are. It’s about getting better every day. We have a lot of improvement to make. That is pretty obvious.”

There is always room for improvement following a loss. That fact is magnified following a loss to a FCS opponent. The biggest areas for improvement come on defense and in the running game. The Wildcats mustered 41 rushing yards against North Dakota State, with John Hubert and the offensive line getting outplayed in all areas. They also couldn’t put pressure on the quarterback or get off the field on third downs.

Snyder said all of those areas will be addressed in the coming days of practice. K-State will need to be ready to take on Louisiana-Lafayette, a team that won nine games last season and defeated the Wildcats in 2009.

In the meantime, Snyder is hoping his players adopt a better mental approach.

“We need to be a more inspired football team than what we are,” Snyder said. “It all boils down to caring. We will see how that plays out.

Here is a look at everything else you need to know about the week ahead:
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Collin Klein impresses Texans coach Gary Kubiak, but doesn’t get contract

The way Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak praised Collin Klein over the weekend, it sounded like the former Kansas State quarterback was on his way to signing a free-agent contract with the NFL team.

“I tell you what, it was impressive,” Kubiak told reporters when asked about Klein’s weekend performance. “I’m fixing to go up and have a long talk with him. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but to watch how far the guy came in two and a half days; (he) really played probably his best day out here today. He’s found a way his whole career, and he’s probably going to find a way this time, too.”

Klein will have to find a way with another NFL team, as it turns out. The Texans didn’t offer Klein a contract, and he left Houston still in search of a NFL home.

Those who watched the Texans’ rookie camp indicated Klein got off to a slow start, but showed rapid improvement.

“He’s got a ton (of talent),” Kubiak said. “For what he did in college and what Jake (Plummer) has been doing with him, he’s come a long way, as far as working under center and stuff. The arm strength is there. The delivery is a little different but you work with that. But his instincts as a football player you can’t coach; the way he just takes off and stuff like that.”
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Fiesta Bowl Countdown: Chris Harper, then and now

If Chris Harper wasn’t the best quote on the Kansas State football team, I would expect him to use the most popular line from high school year books — “What a long, strange trip it’s been” — to describe his college football career.

Because, well, it would be true. Coming out of Northwest High in Wichita, he committed to K-State until James Franklin left for Maryland. Then he de-committed and signed with Oregon. Then he played quarterback for the Ducks, then he played receiver for the Ducks and became the first Oregon player in eight years to run, pass and catch a touchdown in the same season.

Then he decided he was homesick. Then he liked the fact that Bill Snyder was coming out of retirement. Then he transferred to K-State, saying he was going to play quarterback. Then he switched to receiver full time during his transfer year on the scout team. Now he is the Wildcats’ top receiver.

Other than wearing the No. 3 at both schools, there weren’t many similarities.

See, that’s one long and strange trip.
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Chris Harper hoping for 1,000-yard season

It’s not out of the ordinary for a receiver to say his goal for the upcoming season is to catch so many passes that he eclipses the 1,000-yard mark. Still, it was interesting to hear Chris Harper say those words Wednesday at a Catbacker event in Wichita.

The Kansas State senior expects his final season to be his finest, and he thinks he can deliver the stats to prove it.

“I’m trying to get as many yards as possible,” Harper said. “I want to go over 1,000 and break the record. That should be what every receiver wants to do.”

Harper is coming off a 547-yard season that featured five touchdowns. As a sophomore, he went for 330 yards and four touchdowns. Combined, those numbers barely approach the 1,000-yard mark. But Harper has definitely made enough big catches to prove he has the potential for a breakout year. He is the Wildcats’ top overall receiver, and shares a deep connection with quarterback Collin Klein.

But receivers have rarely piled up big yardage at K-State. Only five players in program history have totaled more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season. The single-season record Harper referred to is held by Jordy Nelson (1,606 yards in 2007), while James Terry, Quincy Morgan, Darnell McDonald and Brandon Banks have also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark.

If Harper can reach his goal, he will be in elite company.
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Sunday Rewind: K-State 53, Texas A&M 50

Overall Assessment:
Kansas State was without one of its top offensive playmakers, its quarterback was clearly in pain when the game began and several of its defensive players had to fight through injuries in the second half.

Not an ideal combination for a team trying to bounce back from disappointing losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

But, in typical K-State fashion, the Wildcats found a way to win. In four overtimes! Yes, I just used an exclamation mark.

Saturday’s game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium was one of the strangest and most exciting of the season. Combined with last week’s entertaining 52-45 loss at Oklahoma State, the Wildcats are delivering must-see TV to ABC/ESPN.

At 8-2 overall and 5-2 in Big 12 play, plenty of bowl games are starting to look at them. With a strong finish, they could end up in the Cotton Bowl.

K-State still has plenty to work on if it hopes to get an invitation to the Big 12’s top non BCS bowl. It continues to start games slowly, and was once again unable to sack the opposing quarterback. But as long as it continues to play with the resolve it has all season, K-State will have a shot at a 10-win season.

“With the exception of one ballgame, they’ve done it week in, week out,” Snyder said. “… It’s all about how we respond to things, and I think with the exception of kind of getting a little full of ourselves prior to the Oklahoma ballgame, I think we’ve responded quite well.”

Against Texas A&M, the Wildcats rallied from a 14-0 deficit, a 31-21 deficit and won in quadruple overtime. It was a fitting end to the series before the Aggies jump to the SEC. The only other overtime game K-State has played came against Texas A&M in the 1998 Big 12 championship game.

Collin Klein once again led K-State’s offense to the victory, and the defense came through with big plays when it had to behind Nigel Malone and Emmanuel Lamur. Here’s a look at all that and more in this week’s Sunday Rewind:
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Chris Harper uses bowl game as motivation

If preparing for its fourth consecutive game as an underdog wasn’t enough to fire up the Kansas State football team heading into Saturday’s game at Texas Tech, the 17th-ranked Wildcats can always think back to last year’s frustrating trip to the Pinstripe Bowl for motivation.

More than anything, that’s what wide receiver Chris Harper uses to drive him in practices these days.

“Last year we were 4-0 and we lost and things went downhill from there,” Harper said. “We did it before, barely making it to a bowl game, and not a great one at that. I don’t think guys want to let that happen again.”

A year ago, K-State started the season hot with wins over UCLA, Missouri State, Iowa State and Central Florida. The Wildcats were close to breaking into the top 25, but then came a lopsided loss to Nebraska. They didn’t win consecutive games the rest of the way, and ended the season at 7-6 with a loss at chilly Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl.
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Sunday Rewind: K-State 37, Kent State 0

Overall Assessment: Kansas State looked like an all-around better football team than it did two weeks ago, but it still has room to grow. Up next is a very difficult road test against Miami, which beat Ohio State last night. The competition will be much harder in South Beach than it has been at home in front of sellout crowds, and we will probably learn more about the Wildcats in that game than we have so far.

Still, we know a few things about them today.

For starters, K-State’s defense continues to look like a legitimately strong unit. It has allowed a total of seven points in two games, and the one touchdown it allowed came only after Eastern Kentucky started a drive one yard away from the end zone. So it has essentially come up with two shutouts. Regardless of the competition, that is impressive.

Less is known on the offensive side of the ball, where Collin Klein made a nice pass late to beat Eastern Kentucky and led K-State to a solid first half against Kent State, but then sputtered in the second. Here’s a look at all that and more in this week’s Sunday Rewind:

Player Evaluations

Five that were good:

1. Arthur Brown. The junior linebacker is making a huge difference on K-State’s defense. On Saturday he made 12 tackles, two for losses, and closed on the ball faster than anyone else on the field. When Snyder hints that he is the best defensive player he has coached since coming out of retirement, he isn’t kidding. Here’s the scary thing: Both Brown and Snyder think he hasn’t reached his top form.

2. David Garrett. The interception he returned for a touchdown early in the first quarter set the tone for the game. K-State’s defense was ready to overwhelm Kent State in all phases, and the Wildcats used Garrett’s big play as a springboard to an excellent night. Garrett is one of the most underrated players in the conference, often getting overlooked because of size even though he led the Wildcats in tackles a year ago. But he had a highlight moment last night.
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Position Preview: Kick Returners

David Garrett will likely return kicks for Kansas State on Saturday. He is listed as the Wildcats’ main return man on kickoffs next to wide receiver Chris Harper on the team’s depth chart, and he couldn’t be happier about the new responsibility.

“My whole life I’ve been carrying the ball,” said Garrett, a senior defensive back. “When I got here was the first time ever I just played defense.”

It will be interesting to see what Garrett brings to K-State’s return game. He is fast, and given his size (5-foot-8) he should be elusive with the ball in his hands.

He will try to keep it simple.

“Just run,” he said. “Don’t try to dance. Just hit a hole if it’s there.”

But he, along with everyone else who will return kicks and punts this season for the Wildcats, will have a tough act to follow.

A year ago, William Powell returned 21 kickoffs for 726 yards and a touchdown. When Aubrey Quarles filled in for him, he returned 18 kicks for 459 yards and a touchdown. The year before that, Brandon Banks was a threat to score on seemingly every kick.

Can Garrett duplicate those impressive accomplishments? He’s going to try his best.

“If I’m back there I don’t want to be back there and not be great,” Garrett said. “They’ve had all these great returners. If I’m back there and am given the opportunity to do something, that’s what I’m going to do.”
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Position Preview: Wide Receivers

Kansas State lost its top wide receiver from a year ago, and no one currently on the Wildcats’ roster amassed more than 330 receiving yards a year ago.

And yet … Many expect wide receiver to be one of K-State’s most dependable and stable positions this season.

How does that work? The answer isn’t as complicated as you might think.

Injuries kept Tramaine Thompson and Brodrick Smith from playing full seasons a year ago. And they forced Sheldon Smith into missing every game with a redshirt. Now all three are healthy, and combined with junior Chris Harper, K-State welcomes back a quartet of players who should provide Collin Klein with plenty of solid targets.

Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett could also find their way onto the field in meaningful situations if they continue showing promise in fall practices. As is the trend on this K-State team, that will make the Wildcats a deeper receiving unit than they were a year ago, when walk-ons were catching passes in what seemed like every game.
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Snyder daydreams about two-way players

Anytime Bill Snyder says he is curious about something, you have to listen intently.

This week his mind was peaked by the subject of Iron Man football.

Snyder began thinking about the topic when he was asked about defensive back David Garrett, who has proven capable of playing both cornerback and safety.

“There are a lot of players with the capability to do it (play multiple positions),” Snyder said. “It’s just whether or not you really pull the trigger to do it. David’s case may be somewhat different, because you’re not talking about playing offense and defense. But I’ve thought about playing a number of others on both sides of the ball. Thought about it quite seriously.”

Oh yeah? Like who?

“I’m not going to tell,” he replied with a smile.

Fair enough. Snyder can keep that secret to himself. It’s easy to take a guess at who some of those players are, anyway. Earlier this year he said Daniel Thomas would make a terrific safety, so he’s obviously thought about him. And fullback Braden Wilson said he would play both ways in a heartbeat. So I guess he’s on the list too.
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