Kansas State had a major hole to fill heading into the 2013 season.
Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder has some holes to fill this season. The defending Big 12 champs are looking for continuity at quarterback and on the defensive line.
Gone was all-everything Collin Klein, who accounted for more than 3,500 yards of offense and 39 touchdowns. The good 'ol boy from Colorado hoisted the Wildcats on his back and, through injuries and a nationally televised Heisman campaign, led them to a Big 12 championship.
Head coach Bill Snyder had some work to do, and he went out and grabbed Jake Waters, one of the top junior college quarterbacks in the nation. Waters piqued the interest of several programs – including Penn State - after putting up Klein-like numbers up at Iowa Western (3,501 yards, 39 touchdowns).
The Waters era didn't exactly start with a bang. Kansas State was upset by FCS power North Dakota State, and while Waters had two touchdowns, he also tossed a couple of picks. Last weekend wasn't much better, and the first-year signal caller had 278 yards and two interceptions in a 48-27 win over the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana.
There was some indication that the Wildcats would go with a two-quarterback attack, pairing Daniel Sams with Waters, but Sams became an obvious run-first threat with Waters manning the passing game.
“I think it can work. You just have to use us right, and (the coaches) are and they did tonight. With Daniel (Sams) coming with that change of pace, it really gave us that spark that we needed,” Waters said after the game.
Of course, any combination of quarterbacks can work behind a top-notch offensive line. Kansas State has more than 77 career starts in the trenches and is led by junior center B.J. Finney. The Kansas native has a hard-nosed approach and worked his way up from walk-on to First Team All-Big 12. He is on every recognized offensive lineman “watch” list and should be playing on Sundays once his career in Manhattan is over.
The big boys, in this case literally corn-fed, are tasked with opening holes for John Hubert, Kansas State's leading returning rusher. Hubert came into the season with 1,945 yards and by the end of the year should be on a number of Wildcats' all-time lists. He too is an All-Big 12 performer. The 5-foot-7 speedster is off to a slow start this year and is averaging a meager 2.8 yards per carry.
In the early goings of this season, Kansas State's offense has been paced by its top receivers – Tyler Lockett and Tremaine Thompson. Both have more than 1,000 career receiving yards, and both are returning starters. Lockett comes from a legendary Kansas State family: His father, Kevin, is the program's all-time leading receiver, and his uncle, Aaron, is fourth all time. Both were coached by Snyder.
Thompson is also a pest on special teams. On Saturday he had a 94-yard touchdown return against Louisiana.
Defensively, the Wildcats are trying to rebuild up front. Kansas State did not return a single starting defensive lineman, and entered the season hoping for the best from former backups. Ryan Mueller, a junior defensive end, has impressed early and leads the team with four tackles for loss. The 6-foot-2, 245 pound pass rusher was disappointed after losing to North Dakota State but said the unit is coming together after its Week 2 win.
“With defenses in college football in general you see the biggest improvement between week one and week two. I think you might have saw a little glimpse of that tonight,” he said.
Playing primarily a Nickle defense, Kansas State has gotten a lot out of linebackers Jonathan Truman and Blake Slaughter. The duo has combined for 35 tackles in two games. They have been asked to fill in for Arthur Brown, the Baltimore Ravens' second-round draft pick.
Safety Ty Zimmerman is one of the best in the Big 12 and led the conference with five interceptions last year. The senior already has a pick this year and is looking to make good on some preseason All-American projections.
On special teams, Jack Cantele has taken over for his brother, Anthony, at kicker. Meanwhile, Mark Krause has won K-State's punting competition.
Heading into the UMass game, Snyder is looking for a little more continuity from from defending Big 12 champs.
“Well I think there were some things on the field that would allow you to believe that we are better than last week – consistency is one of them, quite obviously,” he said after the Lousiana game. “The game has to be played that way in the conference that we are in. You cannot play a half or a quarter, three quarters, whatever the case may be, and that is the case and that has been the case. We do not have the consistency right now and the ability to play a solid four quarters.”