Walking a fine line when it comes to the talent it possesses competing in the Big 12, Kansas State can ill afford costly mistakes.
The four turnovers the Wildcats committed in a Nov. 13 loss at Missouri greatly influenced the outcome as they dropped to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the Big 12 with a 38-28 defeat.
Earlier in the season, veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder jokingly suggested the answer to any fumbling problems was to shoot the offender. But after the problems at Missouri, which included three turnovers attributed to quarterback Carson Coffman, Snyder addressed the situation with frank sincerity.
The fumbles, Snyder said, "have more to do with some mechanics, some with decision-making. You address those things rather than just say don't fumble the ball, don't throw the interception. I'm not sure I know the value of that."
Since Coffman committed the bulk of the turnovers at Missouri (another fumble was lost on a botched trick play), the mistakes contribute to a decision Snyder could make with his quarterbacks. Coffman split time with Collin Klein, who is more effective running the ball but is not permitted many opportunities to pass.
Kansas State could again use a rotation involving both players when it travels to Colorado on Nov. 20 for its final Big 12 game. Klein, however, received a nice commendation entering preparations for the Buffaloes, who are coming off an emotional 34-14 win over Iowa State following the firing of fifth-year coach Dan Hawkins.
"We felt all along he was very, very capable," Snyder said of Klein, who played wide receiver last year as a freshman. "I think, because he's somewhat new to the position and our environment, I think he's made constant and continued improvement. That's certainly helped his case."
--Kansas State plays its final two games against teams that fired coaches earlier in the season. Colorado dismissed Dan Hawkins and promoted defensive coordinator Brian Cabral as interim coach prior to the Buffs' win Nov. 13 against Iowa State. After playing at Colorado on Nov. 20, the Wildcats travel Nov. 27 to North Texas, which fired Todd Dodge and replaced him with offensive coordinator Mike Canales.
--A season-ending injury to KR William Powell threatens the productivity of Kansas State's return game. Powell leads the nation with a 34.6-yard average, but was hurt in the Nov. 6 win over Texas. Without him at Missouri, the Wildcats averaged only 17.3 yards on six kickoff returns. Three players returned kicks.
--Kansas State coach Bill Snyder praised Colorado QB Cody Hawkins, who overcame his father's firing to steer the Buffs past Iowa State with 266 yards passing and three touchdowns. "I'm sure he's torn emotionally because of it," Snyder said, "but once again, it's a tribute to his poise and his capacity to manage adversity and do it in a way that it doesn't disrupt his performance or his leadership."
SERIES HISTORY: Colorado leads Kansas State 44-20-1 (last meeting, 2009, 20-6 Kansas State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The two-man quarterback rotation Kansas State used at Missouri may have been more effective had coach Bill Snyder picked the right spots a little better. The most startling development came late in the first half when QB Carson Coffman stayed in the game to run the option with the Wildcats at the Missouri 1-yard line. Coffman lost a fumble, costing Kansas State a chance to forge a 21-21 halftime tie. The turnover greatly impacted momentum as Missouri scored 17 unanswered points to begin the second half. QB Collin Klein moved the Wildcats more effectively while rushing for 141 yards, though Snyder seems worried about the backup's throwing abilities.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Injuries prompted Kansas State to move FS Emmanuel Lamur to linebacker against Missouri, though the spread offense the Tigers ran also made it look as if the Wildcats were simply using six defensive backs. The secondary has played inconsistently all season, failing to make adjustments and fill gaps. Nonetheless, the Wildcats have 12 interceptions and rank fourth in the Big 12 in pass defense with a 216.1-yard average. The bigger problem is run support. The Wildcats rank last in the conference in rush defense with a 220-yard average and must contend with a workhorse in the Colorado backfield, RB Rodney Stewart.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all believe (the Missouri loss) should have been closer. But we didn't execute and we turned the ball over four times and we didn't make enough plays. It was very disappointing. It was a missed opportunity." -- Kansas State WR Cole Bachamp.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Kansas State at Colorado, Nov. 20 -- The three-game road stretch marks the first time Kansas State has closed a season with that long a swing since 1963, and the first time it's played three straight road games since 1992. The game will mark the end to the series with the Buffaloes headed for the Pac-12. Since the Big 12 was divided into divisions with its inception in 1996, Kansas State stands 46-28 against North Division rivals. The Wildcats are 6-11-1 all-time against Colorado under Snyder, who first coached in the Big Eight when he took over the program in 1989.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Deadening Colorado's emotions could be the Wildcats' biggest challenge after the Buffs overcame a disastrous meltdown at Kansas, as well as the firing of coach Dan Hawkins, to thump Iowa State 34-14 on Nov. 13. Playing under interim coach Brian Cabral, the Buffs were virtually flawless, committing just one turnover on a fumble by RB Rodney Stewart. Expect Stewart to get a lot of work again after he attempted a career-high 36 rushes against Iowa State. Kansas State comes in as the worst defense in the Big 12 against the run. Generating pressure could be another issue since the Wildcats have just 15 sacks, nine fewer than opponents have recorded against them.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
LB Tre Walker -- The true freshman recorded a career-high 12 tackles at Missouri, besting the total (11) he recorded the previous week against Texas. Walker was inserted as a starter with LB Alex Hrebec, the Wildcats' leading tackler, sidelined by an injury.
QB Collin Klein -- At 6-foot-5, Klein does not possess blazing speed, but he has a knack for making correct reads. He rushed for 141 yards on 18 carries against Missouri after a 127-yard rushing performance against Texas.
WR Aubrey Quarles -- Quarles snagged nine receptions against both Oklahoma State and Missouri, though he was blanked in the win against Texas when Kansas State settled on a 2-for-4 passing performance.
--KR/RB William Powell was lost for the season with an undisclosed leg injury he suffered in the Nov. 6 win against Texas. Powell led the nation with a 34.6-yard kickoff return average and had one runback for a touchdown.
--LB Alex Hrebec continues to treat an elbow injury he suffered against Texas and is questionable for the Colorado game.
--QB Carson Coffman did not seem bothered by a sore ankle at Missouri. The injury, suffered late in the first half on Oct. 30 against Oklahoma State, kept Coffman out of the Texas game. He started against Missouri, but alternated with QB Collin Klein.