It was in the good old Bill Snyder days that if the offense was 33 percent of Kansas State's success, and defense was another 33 percent, it was special teams that accounted for the remaining 34 percent.
Martin Gramatica would toe a field goal from long distance; David Allen would take a punt return to the house; or, the ‘special' guys would force a turnover that would set the offense up with a short field.
Those days of "total" team play seem to be returning to the 7-0 and No. 10-ranked Wildcats heading into Saturday's 2:30 p.m. start against No. 11 Oklahoma at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
In the 41-34 win over Texas Tech two weeks ago, the defense scored via Nigel Malone's interception return, the field goal defensive unit had Raphael Guidry blocking a pair of Tech field goal tries, and, Tyler Locket raced into the KSU record book with a 100-yard kickoff return.
Counting the points scored, and denied, and that's 20 points that came on non-offensive plays.
"Special team play is very under-rated and has proven to be very important to us winning games," said Malone, who also mentioned how a forced fumble on a kickoff return in the one-point win over Baylor set up a field goal.
This past week against Kansas, Lockett became the first player in KSU history to return kickoffs for touchdowns in consecutive games … this time with a 97-yard return. Plus, the defense set up an 8-yard TD drive with a fumble recovery.
Having always emphasized special teams play, coach Bill Snyder said, "I've seen too many games won or lost with special teams. On offense you run a play for zero yards, and you get up and do it again. On defense you can give up five yards, and you get up and do it again. But with special teams play, you get one shot. You don't get second chances. You have one chance to do it, or one chance to defend it. It can change the complexity of the game so readily."
Dating back to 1990, K-State is 44-15 when scoring on special teams, and owners of a 17-1 record when both the special teams and the defense score in the same game. Since 1999, K-State's 80 non-offensive touchdowns ranks second only to the 82 scored by Virginia Tech.
Snyder thinks so much of special team's play that he starts every practice with that one-third of the game, and then sprinkles additional segments of special teams play throughout the remaining daily session.
The Wildcat coach admits that he opens practice with special teams work – field goal kicking and defending field goals – to prove a point to the players how important he thinks it is. Later in the day are two-minute periods of "good on good" when it comes to punting and returning punts, and kickoffs and returning kickoffs.
Snyder indicated that most coaches would put an emphasis on offense and defense at a higher level than special teams play "… yet it carries the same weight in winning and losing ballgames."
At K-State, Snyder says, "It doesn't matter where you are on the depth chart … whoever is best will be a starter on special teams. If Collin Klein is the best punt cover guy, he would start on special teams. More often than not, defensive guys are on special teams because of their tackling ability."
With the Wildcats, Snyder adds, "They have to understand how valuable special teams play is. In some programs, a player may never want to come out of a game on offense or defense because he's tired, but they might want to be held out on special teams. Here, they have a picture of how valuable special teams play is.
"They've taken all those snaps on defense, and now we're asking them to take another 20 on special teams," said the Wildcat coach. "That means their conditioning has to be greater than others."
This season, K-State ranks first in the Big 12 in kickoff returns, fifth in kickoff coverage, sixth in punt return average and sixth in field goals.
Compared to its first seven opponents, KSU holds an advantage in kickoff returns of 28.4 to 20.2 return yards, in punt return average the difference is 7.8 to 6.1 yards, and in field goals made it's 9 to 4.