By ARNE GREEN
Special to The HDN
MANHATTAN -- The Kansas State Wildcats were on a nice little run when they traveled to Fort Worth two weeks ago to face TCU.
The Horned Frogs stopped them in their tracks, both literally and figuratively.
TCU's high-powered offense had its way, rolling up 553 yards in a 41-20 rout, but the biggest red flag was the K-State running game or lack thereof.
By stuffing the run -- a paltry 34 yards on 19 attempts -- TCU quickly made the Wildcats one-dimensional to the point that 376 passing yards simply weren't enough.
"The two games we lost are the two games we really struggled in the run," sophomore running back Charles Jones said. "That really puts a lot on our shoulders and just shows that we really have a lot of pride in running the ball and that we need to change that and establish the run."
The Wildcats, now 7-2 and tied for the Big 12 lead at 5-1, had won five straight and were the only team without a league loss before TCU. Before that streak they were held to 40 yards on the ground in a 20-14 home loss to Auburn.
Jones, who leads the Wildcats with 430 yards while splitting time with senior DeMarcus Robinson, finished with minus-1 yard on three carries against TCU. Robinson led the way with seven attempts for 21 yards.
"I think there was some embarrassment there," said K-State coach Bill Snyder, who did not lay the blame solely at the feet of the running backs.
"I would like to hope that our entire offense (took it personally)," he added. "Because it's never about one guy.
"It's not about one running back or the other running back. It's about 11 guys that have an impact on what you do, so I'd like to think that all of them have that feeling."
K-State goes on the road Thursday to face West Virginia (6-4, 4-3) in a 6 p.m. game.
The Wildcats have not been a prolific rushing team all season, ranking 74th nationally with 157.3 yards per game. But while they were never under 130 yards in any of their seven victories, they have trended steadily downward since racking up a season-high 245 in a 45-13 victory over Texas Tech on Oct. 4.
Part of it has been the disappearance of the quarterback run game since Jake Waters took a serious blow to his right (throwing) shoulder in a 31-18 upset victory at Oklahoma.
Though neither Snyder nor the players have acknowledged it, Waters has totaled just 35 yards on the ground in the past three games after finishing with 50 against OU. He still ranks second on the team with 406 yards, which included two 100-plus games.
That has left it to Jones and Robinson, who has 353 yards, to shoulder the load. Robinson has started each game but Jones has eight more carries and a slightly higher per-carry average and has been used extensively in the wildcat formation near the goal line.
Snyder said from the opening of preseason camp that he would like to see one of the two claim the position and run with it. But nine games in, he is resigned to a time-share approach.
"Somebody had asked me that question earlier in the season and I indicated that I would like for one to step up so that you'd have a distinct number one and distinct number two, and that hasn't happened," he said. "They've both played at about the same pace, and I don't see that changing over the course of the rest of the year."
One possible solution would be deploying backup quarterback Joe Hubener in certain running situations in order to protect Waters' shoulder. Hubener, at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, has proven himself as a physical runner in spot duty and there is a precedent after Daniel Sams filled a similar role on a larger scale last year.
"We're prepared to do that, to have Joe on the field," Snyder said last week.
"He showed (against TCU) that he's making headway, which he truly is, and is very capable, and I think all the coaches feel comfortable with him.
"That's not out of the question by any stretch."
Hubener, a former walk-on from Cheney, did nothing to discourage such speculation.
"I think there's definitely the chance for that," he said. "QB run game opens up some opportunities with having that extra back.
"And me having the ability to throw as well opens up some options."
So far, Hubener has been limited to mop-up duty in five games, but he averages 5.9 yards per carry and in the TCU game completed a 74-yard pass to Curry Sexton before scoring himself on a 6-yard run.
Still, until Hubener gets on the field with the game in the balance, it falls on the running backs to get the ground game back on track. How that looks -- one of them taking over down the stretch or continuing to split time -- is irrelevant, according to Jones.
"My mindset hasn't really changed," he said. "I want to do whatever it takes to help my team.
"Whatever it takes to get a win."