SAN ANTONIO — Kansas State players barely cracked a smile after they beat Texas-San Antonio 30-3 on Saturday at the Alamodome. Sure, it was a solid victory and they ended a seven-game losing streak in domed stadiums that stretched back to 1993. But did they play well enough to impress themselves or future opponents?
The collective answer: no.
That's scary considering how strong they look on defense.
K-State is eight quarters into the season and has not allowed a touchdown. A 51-yard field goal is the only scoring play surrendered in two games. Last week, it shutout South Dakota 34-0. Saturday, it held the Roadrunners to 229 yards one week after they amassed 525 yards and 32 points against No. 22 Arizona. All while standout safety Dante Barnett watched from the sideline in sweats with an injured shoulder.
"The sky is the limit for our defense," sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee said, "and we still have room to improve. We still have guys out there that are learning. They don't understand all the play calls. Once we get on the same page, our defense can be unbelievable."
Why are the Wildcats so good on defense?
For starters, Morgan Burns and Danzel McDaniel have previous starting experience at corner, making it difficult for teams to throw to outside receivers. Up front, defensive tackles Travis Britz and Will Geary are stuffing the run up the middle. Linebacker Will Davis has improved in the middle.
Beyond that, they play with an attitude. They stay positive when they give up big plays, confident they will deliver nearer the goal line.
They held the Roadrunners to three third-down conversions on 14 tries and stuffing two fourth-down attempts.
"Every time we go out there, we have a three-and-out mentality," Burns said. "We want to get them out in three plays. We have a lot of tough guys in our defense. We come together as a team and do everything we can to get off the field as quickly as possible."
Davis delivered the biggest stop.
The Wildcats eventually outmuscled the Roadrunners, but for much of the afternoon things felt closer than the score. K-State trailed 3-0 at the end of the first quarter and led 7-3 at halftime. The game was in doubt until running back Justin Silmon scampered 14 yards for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter for a 20-3 advantage.
But the game was up for grabs late in the second quarter when UTSA tight end David Morgan caught a pass in the red zone and rumbled forward for eight yards with K-State safety Nate Jackson draped over his back. The Roadrunners were threatening to take a halftime lead.
But Davis made sure that wouldn't happen when he swatted a pass at the goal line intended for Triston Crossland that easily could have been a touchdown.
"That was big," Snyder said. "There are a lot of guys that don't get the credit they deserve and Will is certainly one of them. He is steady, he doesn't make many mental errors. He executes what (linebackers) coach (Mike) Cox teaches him and sticks to it pretty well."
Davis celebrated the stop, saying he had never been more animated on the field.
"Holding them out of the end zone there was a big momentum swing for our defense," Davis said.
Davis led K-State with nine tackles. With help from McDaniel, playing in his first game of the season, and Donnie Starks, who made seven tackles, the Wildcats dominated the Roadrunners.
They were also efficient on offense after a slow start.
After a scoreless first quarter, quarterback Joe Hubener led the Wildcats on five scoring drives. He scored the first touchdown on a goal-line sneak and often created with his legs to set up Jack Cantele with field-goal attempts. He also avoided mistakes and didn't commit a turnover.
"That is what Coach Snyder emphasized all week," Hubener said. "Just control the ball and really just play within the offense, play smart. I think we accomplished that."
Hubener completed 12 of 23 passes for 243 yards. Strangely, he was more accurate throwing longer than short. He also ran for 58 yards and a touchdown. Not bad considering it was his first start at any level.
"He handled the situation well," receiver Kody Cook said. "It was a tough crowd. There weren't a lot of people in here, but it is a dome so it was loud. You've got to be able to keep your poise and he did that. He led the team well and made some great throws."
Hubener managed the game well enough that he left midway through the fourth quarter, allowing freshman Alex Delton to take over. The younger lineup marched downfield and set up fullback Winston Dimel with a short touchdown run.
Dimel had several highlights, including two catches for 80 yards. Silmon had 40 yards and a score on six carries.
Cantele, K-State's backup kicker, handled field goals after Matthew McCrane was injured on a kick in the first half. Cantele made all three of his attempts.
The victory gives K-State an opportunity to close out a perfect run through nonconference play against Louisiana Tech next week. Can they also make it through without allowing a touchdown?
"We are super-excited about that possibility," Davis said. "Not giving up a touchdown in two games, I don't know how many times that has happened. That is pretty hard to accomplish. If we keep working and keep improving, we feel like we can do the same thing every week."