Klein leads K-State into annual spring game
Published on -4/25/2012, 4:01 PM
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -- Travis Tannahill has already noticed some differences in Collin Klein.
A year ago, the plucky run-first quarterback of Kansas State was just starting to assume control of the offense. He'd thrown all of 18 passes the previous season, and much like the rest of the Wildcats, nobody really knew what to expect.
What happened is that Klein put together one of the best seasons in school history, leading the surprising Wildcats to 10 wins and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.
Klein threw for nearly 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions, but it was on the ground where he really soared. The junior quarterback ran for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns, setting a Big 12 record for rushing scores and breaking a 42-year-old school record.
Imagine how good he could be now that he's comfortably in charge.
"He is a lot better, comfort-wise," said Tannahill, Klein's sure-handed tight end. "He's doing a great job so far. His understanding of the offense has grown since last season, and you can definitely tell he's put in the work during this offseason and the winter."
Kansas State fans will get an opportunity to see Klein for the first time since a sub-par outing against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl when he takes to the field in Saturday's spring game.
"You can definitely tell he's improved a lot since the Arkansas game," Tannahill said.
Klein certainly isn't the typical pro-style quarterback. He's not even the typical option-style, run-to-daylight kind of quarterback. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he's the put-your-head-down and bull forward for yards quarterback, more akin to a fullback.
In a game against Oklahoma State, he not only threw for 231 yards and a touchdown, he also ran for a season-best 144 yards and three scores, nearly leading the Wildcats to a surprising upset of a team that was unbeaten at the time.
Klein may have been even better in a dramatic four-overtime win over Texas A&M.
He threw for a season-best 281 yards against the Aggies, but also added 103 yards on the ground along with five -- yes, five -- touchdown runs. The last two came in the third and fourth OTs, his 1-yard plunge ultimately giving Kansas State a 53-50 victory.
"Last year, during the end of the season, there was more flexibility to check things that we saw, or was in the game plan," Klein said. "It's part of growing. What I am doing is feeling more comfortable with that, pulling the trigger and going after it right away."
Klein's bruising style certainly took its toll.
There were weeks last season where he rarely practiced while trying to let the bruises heal, and he joked that he became good friends with the folks in the training room. The running joke was to predict when Klein would start bleeding during a game, it happened so frequently.
"Whatever we have to do to win," Klein said. "That's what I have said forever."
It is little wonder Klein achieved cult status.
The expectations will be vastly higher surrounding Klein this season, and in many ways, he's a microcosm for the rapidly expanding expectations surrounding Kansas State.
In his second rebuilding job in Manhattan, coach Bill Snyder has deftly turned a mediocre team into one of the best in the Big 12. Nearly every significant starter is back from a year ago, and a team that landed in the Cotton Bowl after it was projected to finish eighth by Big 12 coaches figures to start somewhere in the top 15 in the country.
The last time expectations were this high was in 2003, when the Wildcats started the season seventh in the country and wound up winning the Big 12 title and going to the Fiesta Bowl.
"There's definitely a little momentum," Klein said. "Just the experience, maturity, knowing what it takes to be successful and how hard it is, and also how small the margin is between success and failure. I'm making sure we're on the right side of that."