K-State at a crossroads

With two consecutive losses, the Wildcats are searching for answers — in Stillwater.

Kansas State has a bad attitude these days.

An upset loss to a Marshall team that later lost to Troy State is enough to do it. If not, losing to Texas for the second-consecutive time late in the game would do the trick, too. National Title hopes are now only a memory, the expectations heaped on the Wildcats have been brought down to Earth and the a concentrated effort directed squarely at this season has gone for naught.

Sort of.

The Wildcats can still win the Big 12 North by running the tables — which would include knocking off No. 7 Nebraska in Lincoln, something that hasn't been done since a 12-0 Wildcat victory on Nov. 2, 1968. That would put them in the Dr. Pepper Big 12 Championship game opposite what will likely be the winner of Saturday's Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas.

But that doesn't make Kansas State feel much better.

"There's some anger," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "And to me that's natural if you have a real desire to play and succeed in this environment. That's just part of the process. They're upset with themselves with the concept of not winning."

More accurately, they're upset with the concept of not winning the close ball game. K-State's last six losses dating to a 31-24 loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 20, 2001, have been by 10 points or less. In fact, K-State has only lost by more than two touchdowns twice since 1999.

This season, the Wildcats have stormed back from halftime deficits in each of their losses to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. And both times, the Wildcats couldn't hang on.

A myriad of problems are arising in the Wildcat team that are leading to these problems, including an offense that has simply not lived up to expectations. Their scoring offense is down, they're struggling against penalties and turnovers, and they haven't been able to grind out yardage on the ground a la teams of the past.

Against Texas, the Wildcats marched inside the Texas 27 yard line three times in the first half, only to walk away with one field goal. Quarterback Ell Roberson tossed an interception into the endzone to end the half, and earlier gave the ball up on downs at the Texas 12 yard line.

"I think the kids aren't doubting," offensive coordinator Greg Peterson said, "but once we cross the 20 we have to say, 'That ball's going in the endzone.'"

Getting to the 20 hasn't been much easier, though, as the Wildcats have struggled to move the football. No Wildcat drive lasted more than 4:10 last Saturday, a departure from the ball-control, yardage-munching offensive machine of years past.

"There's one way not to worry about those issues," Snyder said, "and that's not to be in third down and long situations. Be a good first down football team on offense."

That, Snyder said, would help the Wildcats put together those drives that K-State needs to wear down opponents. Against Texas, the Cats converted just one of twelve third downs and neither of their fourth down opportunities.

"We have some issues to take care of," Snyder said. "We lined up with fourth and inches and had to leave the field. It's a plethora of problems, not just one thing."

Fullback Travis Wilson said those problems go back to a team that has to start taking responsibility for its play.

"We have to step up as players," he said. "The biggest thing we've been doing is making mistakes in the redzone. You can't make them anywhere, let alone in the redzone, where it costs you points."

But the problems do extend beyond the redzones.

The Wildcats were grossly over-penalized against Texas — 10 of them for 71 yards — due mainly to a lack of focus. While Snyder said the crowd factor of 83,000 strong had something to do with it, nothing short of perfection is acceptable.

"The environment was a little different," Snyder said. "Those people wearing different colored stuff, screaming at different times. You have to applaud the Texas people. The noise level was far different this time than when we were there three years ago."

But all of that was last Saturday, a day most Wildcat fans would like to forget. It was a culmination of coming oh-so-close time and again, and which now leaves the Wildcats at a crossroads. One direction leads to a Big 12 Championship, the other to a carbon-copy of the Cats' 6-6 season in 2001.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency," fullback Travis Wilson said. "We're going to have to win out every game to win the North Division. It's really important now that we have two losses."

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