MANHATTAN — When Zach Reuter thinks of Kansas State football, one word comes to mind.
“Toughness,” said Reuter, the Wildcats’ senior wide receiver.
It’s an identity that has fueled K-State through Reuter’s four years in uniform.
Linebacker Sam Sizelove, a fifth-year senior, sees it much the same.
“It’s huge knowing you have the identity of just a physical defense,” he said. “When you start questioning that, I think that there’s a problem, especially for the way we’ve been running things since I’ve been here.”
The problem is that through the first two games, the 2018 Wildcats have yet to establish that defining trait on which they can hang their hats.
A lackluster start hasn’t helped as the team had to rally to edge South Dakota 27-24 in the season opener, then was dominated last week in a 31-10 loss to No. 18-ranked Mississippi State.
But as they look ahead to a final nonconference tune-up Saturday against Texas-San Antonio, the Wildcats are determined to carve out that identity before opening Big 12 play on the road Sept. 22 at West Virginia.
“Our identity right now is that we’re not a good offensive line, that we’re not a good offense, right?” said senior right tackle Dalton Risner, a team captain and preseason All-American. “That’s our identity.
“We need to find an identity, whether it’s in the run game or pass game or execution, whatever it is. We need to find an identity and we haven’t found that.”
For Sizelove, it’s as much about attitude as anything.
“We need to go out there, impose our will and do it how we’ve done it for the past eight years,” he said. “We need to be, at our core, a physical, sound defense, and the fact that we’re not playing that way and we don’t have that identity right now is a big problem.
“But it’s also easily fixed, I think, if every guy just focuses on his job.”
The Wildcats especially were exposed last week by Mississippi State, which amassed 538 yards total offense, including 384 on the ground. They currently rank 101st nationally in total defense and 111th against the run.
The offense has not fared any better, producing just two touchdowns and ranking 113th in total offense, 115th in scoring.
When it comes to identity, K-State coach Bill Snyder is less concerned with what’s in a name than with the bottom line.
“I think we have an identity; it’s not one I like right now,” he said. “We’re not playing as well as we are capable of.
“(Identity) may vary from day to day. That’s not an issue for me.”
Instead he has a list of individual traits that in turn will lead to team success.
“There are certain things you want — you want discipline, you want young guys that will play hard, you want young guys that are competitive snap after snap,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things that coaches want out of the players.”
Center Adam Holtorf still wants to project an identity, or personality, and not just to say that the team has one.
“Inwardly, toward the unit, to have that identity is something you can take pride in as well,” he said. “You can take pride in that ability to run the ball or pass the ball, whatever that identity might be.
“On the flip side, as teams watch film, they will look and go, ‘That’s the identity of the team and we have to be ready for that.’ It works both ways.”
Risner motioned to a list on the wall behind him — Snyder’s ubiquitous 16 goals for success — pointing to No. 14: “Consistency. Your very, very best every time.”
“Identity means consistency. That’s who you are,” he said. “We’re not someone yet, why? Because we’re inconsistent.
“Consistency is one of the 16 goals, consistency is what we live by, so let’s find an identity through consistency.”