Kansas State still winning close games
Published on -10/17/2012, 10:41 AM
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Hays Daily News
MANHATTAN -- The Kansas State Wildcat built their 2011 football success on a freakish ability to win close games.
Eight of the 10 times they came out on top last year, the margin was seven points or less, sparking a debate over whether they were incredibly tough-minded or just extremely fortunate.
There haven't been as many close calls this season on the way to a 6-0 start and a first-place 3-0 record in the Big 12. But is it mere coincidence that the Wildcats' two road victories, both against ranked opponents, again were decided by less than a touchdown?
Not in Chris Harper's mind.
"We have a ton of guys coming back from last year, so we know how to win games," Harper, a senior wide receiver, said after the Wildcats left Ames, Iowa, last Saturday with a 27-21 victory against then-No. 25 Iowa State. "That's something that helped us last week.
"A team that didn't know how to win games probably couldn't have won that game because we played so bad. That helps, having guys who just go out and make plays when we needed it."
Beating Iowa State lifted the Wildcats to a No. 4 ranking by the Associated Press, No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and No. 4 in the first BCS standings. Their signature victory came in the Sept. 22 league opener, a 24-19 decision at Oklahoma, and this Saturday they face another stiff road test at No. 17 West Virginia.
Even Bill Snyder, who rebuilt the Wildcat program with a take-nothing-for-granted approach, acknowledged that winning begets winning. Especially in close games.
"I think it develops a confidence in people that managed to make it happen and I think there was a confidence that was a carryover from the previous year," Snyder said. "By the same token, in my way of thinking every game is different.
"But I just feel as though our players, they have the confidence to be competitive in those types of ballgames."
Senior fullback Braden Wilson, who joined the team the same year that Snyder came out of a three-year retirement, said it goes deeper than just last season.
"Those wins come from just the toughness that coach Snyder has been drilling into us since he came back," Wilson said. "The workouts in the offseason are very difficult, very long.
"I think the games that we win like that are a product of him just drilling the toughness into us."
Quarterback Collin Klein, another senior, sees a both the long and short-term effects of the Snyder model at work.
"I think it's something we have grown to," Klein said. "It's in Coach's DNA and that transfers right to us with just trying to be as consistent as we possibly can, being as tough as we possibly can - every snap, all the way through the game.
"Our goal is to always keep playing, keep playing, keep playing, and eventually something (good) will happen."
A lot of it is conditioning, both mental and physical, said senior safety Jarard Milo.
"It's all about what we have left in our tank when it comes to games like that -- being able to hold it down," Milo said. "We had the last drive for the defense (at Iowa State and Oklahoma) and it's a big stop for us to be able to stop them at the end of the game.
"Our confidence only grows from that. To be able to close out close games like that is a big step for us and it will only carry on."
Wilson, while crediting hard work and preparation for the team's ability to excel in pressure situations, did not dismiss the importance of actually getting it done.
"Those experiences we had last year and this year are definitely helpful when you're going through the season," he said.
Harper takes it one step further.
"It's just knowing you're going to win the game no matter what," he said. "I think that's the mentality of our team.
"It's been here (in Snyder's first tenture) and then they started tailing off and they lost it. How many seasons did they win 10 or 11 games? It was a ton of seasons."
But ultimately, Harper added, the true measure of a team is not how many close games it wins, but the hardware in the trophy cases.
"It's been here and the thing that strikes me about it is you win all those games but you don't have a national championship or anything to show for it and that's where you start building a tradition," he said. "That's what pushes you up there with the elite programs."