K-State needs wins at midway point
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The HDN
MANHATTAN - Daniel Sams has tried his best to live by the Kansas State credo of improving every day, to keep sawing wood, and that the big picture will take care of itself.
He's also a realist.
At 2-4 halfway through their season, the Wildcats must win at least four of their last six games just to be eligible for a fourth straight bowl game. So as they embark on a second bye week in less than a month - they play host to West Virginia at 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 26 - Sams couldn't resist looking ahead.
"That's where it is - focus on this week getting better as far as a team, then concentrate on West Virginia when West Virginia gets here and so on and so on," Sams said. "But as far as my mindset, we've got to win out from here on.
"Coach doesn't like us to look ahead, but it's just the reality of it. I feel like we're too good of a team to be 2-4 right now, so what's really on my mind is just winning out."
Even coach Bill Snyder, who has preached the day-by-day approach from the time he arrived at K-State 25 years ago, acknowledged that staring down the barrel of a losing record - they're also 0-3 in the Big 12 - is a challenge for the Wildcats.
"(Being) 2-4 is never easy, or maybe it is easy, I don't know," he said with a chuckle. "But the response to it is not easy and how you respond to it, how you feel about it is not easy, and it's difficult for young players, it's difficult for the coaching staff and other people that are invested in the program.
"But the important thing for us is not what could have been, but what are we going to do?"
That said, Snyder expressed some optimism heading into the bye week despite the three straight conference losses. The Wildcats took Oklahoma State to the wire two weeks ago on the road, then nearly knocked off Baylor and its offensive juggernaut before falling, 35-25, last week in their league home opener.
"We're trying to get ourselves better, and in some ways we have," he said, citing improved performances by the offensive line, quarterbacks and defensive front seven against Baylor. "I think our effort collectively has improved.
"It wasn't 100 percent, but it certainly was better. I think that we are beginning to practice a little bit better, which is most significant to me."
Junior defensive end Ryan Mueller, who had arguably his best game against Baylor, made an impassioned plea to his teammates after the game, telling them it was time to put up or shut up.
"Mueller said we just need to find a plan - what's our plan?" said Sams, who hinted after the game that the language was more colorful than that. "What are we going to do? Are we going to lay down?
"Right now we need to get to a bowl game and we're just taking it as Round 2. We can show everybody - really show ourselves - that we don't have to let this season go down the drain."
Mueller said he was simply passing on the wisdom he has gained during his three-plus years in Manhattan.
"The message was just paying attention to details and how good a player do you want to be in this program," Mueller said. "I've had some great role models for myself since I've been here.
"I've had some great teammates - Collin Klein and Arthur Brown - both of whom had so much attention on them, whether that be media or outside influences always trying to get their attention and how they were able to cope with that and eliminate distractions. I think that's such a key if you want to be a great player in this program, to eliminate distractions and focus on the team."
Sophomore safety Dante Barnett just shook his head at the Wildcats' record.
"We need to pick it up, really," he said. "My whole life I've always been on a winning team and being 2-4 this year is shocking.
"I've never had this situation, so it's all trying to come together now because we know that we easily could have won a couple of those games that we beat ourselves up in."
The best way to do that, Mueller said, is a day at a time.
"I'm definitely not satisfied whatsoever because I've only played on good teams since I've been eligible to play here," he said.
"And 2-4 is definitely disappointing - it's something I definitely didn't have in mind going into this season.
"We're just going to have to work extremely hard to keep the four there and get the twos up."