Four games into Kansas State's football season, defensive ends coach Buddy Wyatt felt the time was right to remind Wyatt Hubert that numbers aren't everything.
Not that Hubert, the Wildcats' all-Big 12 end, was complaining, mind you, just that a little positive reinforcement never hurts.
Hubert, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior from Topeka's Shawnee Heights High School, is tied for the team lead in sacks with 2.0, and his 3.5 tackles for loss trail only senior tackle Drew Wiley's 4.0. But that's still not on pace to match last year's 7.0 sacks and 12.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
"I think Wyatt is having a good year, (but) obviously his expectations, along with everybody else's is really, really huge," Wyatt said last week as the Wildcats began preparations for Saturday's 11 a.m. Sunflower Showdown with Kansas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. "But I told him the other day, I said, 'Wyatt, you're having an impact on the game in ways you don't even realize and that other people don't realize,' because they've got to pay a lot of attention to him because he's a really good football player.
"Obviously he's also kind of a perfectionist, so he wants to do everything just right. As a coach, you love that in your players."
Hubert's statistics can be attributed in part to the extra attention he now draws as a proven all-conference end. Also, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to play havoc with college rosters, K-State's coaches have made a concerted effort to rotate in more players in case a positive COVID-19 test takes someone out of the lineup.
As a result, the No. 20-ranked Wildcats have developed greater depth along the entire line, which in turn has kept them fresh at the end of games. That has worked to their advantage in all three Big 12 games, where they finished strong and hung on to win each one.
The Wildcats take a 3-1 overall record into Saturday's game against Kansas and are tied for the conference lead at 3-0. KU is 0-4, 0-3 in the Big 12.
Hubert, despite the early dip in his own numbers, appreciates what the added depth has done.
"It's definitely a lot better for us. The reason we’ve been playing so well on defense is because we’ve been playing all four quarters, for all 60 minutes," Hubert said. "When teams get tired, teams start to shut down in the middle of the third quarter and don’t finish the fourth quarter strong.
"So, as long as we have fresh bodies in there, the expectation for us on the defensive side of the ball is to play hard, play 100% and make sure everyone is running to the football. Because that just helps so much with pursuit angles and cutback lanes and all that kind of stuff."
In addition to Hubert, senior Bronson Massie has had a breakout year at the other end, along with sophomore Khalid Duke. Junior college transfer Kirmari Gainous, with 2.0 sacks, and true freshman Felix Anudike also have contributed.
"We're getting better as far as applying pressure to the quarterback," Wyatt said of the line, which now has 10 sacks through the four games. "The first week (a 35-31 loss to Arkansas State), obviously, we didn't do a lot of things well.
"But I do think Khalid being in the mix — we didn't have him available in the first game — he helps the rotation. He brings a little more speed to the position, and then also we've been able to find a rotation, a lineup that we can get some speed on the inside to help us generate a little bit more pass rush."
Hubert, who frequently lines up inside in passing situations, likes what he has seen so far from the entire line. Wiley, a first-year starter, has been a stalwart at tackle, along with junior Eli Huggins and sophomore Jaylen Pickle.
"I wouldn’t say we have a single guy that’s just a guy in there to fill gaps and stop the run," Hubert said. "Everyone's a pretty good pass rusher, everyone does good in the run game, and everyone just knows their assignment.
"And that’s the most important thing about the defensive line is that all four of us, whoever is in the game, have to be on the same page, doing the same thing. That’s something that we’re always good at and something that we've practiced well in practice every single week."
K-State is ranked ninth in the league in total defense, giving up 454.8 yards per game, but the scoring defense is fourth at 26.2 points allowed after facing three of the top five offenses in Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU.
The Wildcats trailed in the fourth quarter against both Oklahoma and Texas Tech, and the defense scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on an AJ Parker interception return at TCU.
"So, if you’re in there, you’re pretty fresh, and the expectation for you in between those white lines is to go full speed," Hubert said. "Rotating not only us defensive ends but the corners and linebackers as well helps out with that tremendously."
As for Hubert's numbers, Wyatt is convinced it's just a matter of time.
"I just try to tell him he’s just got to relax and continue to play, don’t press," Wyatt said. "With the emergence of some other guys along that front, you're going to get more opportunities in one-on-ones and things like that.
"Your time is coming. As long as you continue to believe in what you’re doing and what we’re doing, then we’ll be fine."