When its presence mattered most, the defense was up to task. Illinois State controlled the ball with under two minutes left in the game and a chance to eclipse the 24-23 Wildcat lead.
Redbird quarterback Luke Drone, who had thrown for 252 yards and three touchdowns heading into the final possession, could not find the time to make any plays, as the Wildcat defensive line created a strong pass rush that picked up a sack, two forced incompletions, and a pass for a one-yard gain.
The pass rush was by no means a consistent threat, but Ian Campbell and his fellow defensive linemen stepped up when the game mattered most, shutting the Redbirds down on four straight plays.
For the game, the final stat lines illustrate K-State's struggle on defense. The Wildcats allowed 20 first downs, 253 yards passing, and 346 total yards.
They squeezed by with a victory, but several Wildcat players were quick to mention that several improvements are necessary in the days leading up to game two.
"The big plays that hit us are from mistakes that we
made ourselves," linebacker Zach Diles said.
"It's nothing we can't fix," Diles said.
"There are little mistakes that have to correct
themselves," linebacker Brandon Archer said. "They are
not necessarily a big concern, they're just little
things that have to be corrected.
Defensive player of the game - Ian Campbell
The sophomore led the Wildcats with three sacks, including one on the game-deciding final possession. Campbell was tabbed by Prince to carry the Kansas flag as the team ran on to the field, and Prince was pleased with the performance of the former-walk on.
"Ian Campbell was terrific," Prince said. "One of the things that you have to be able to do in the fourth quarter is that you have to have a great running game on offense and you have to have a pass rush on defense." The running game may have been lacking, but Campbell helped make sure the pass rush was disrupting the Illinois State offense on the other side of the ball.
At just 232 pounds, Campbell does not carry the mass
of most Big 12 defensive ends, but Campbell is doing
his best to prove that size is not an issue.
"People may say he's undersized," safety Marcus Watts
said, "but he's going to be a lot for people to
Thorn in the Wildcats' paws
Redbird wide receiver Laurent Robinson introduced
himself to the Wildcats' new-look defense in fine
fashion, catching nine passes for 77 yards and a pair
of touchdowns. Robinson and quarterback Luke Drone
were clicking for most of the game, picking apart the
Wildcats' zone and man-to-man schemes with a variety
of short out routes, slants, and a couple plays where
he simply was more than the K-State defensive backs
Prince pulled no punches with the defensive depth chart in his debut, starting the same 11 players listed atop the pregame depth chart: Steven Cline and Blake Seiler at defensive tackle; Ian Campbell and Rob Jackson at defensive end; Reggie Walker, Zach Diles and Brandon Archer at linebacker; Bryan Baldwin and Justin McKinney at cornerback; and Andrew Erker and Kyle Williams at the safeties.
Also regularly rotating in were Quentin Echols and
Junior Moran at defensive tackle, Eric Childs at
defensive end, Marcus Perry at linebacker, Byron Garvin and Devin Anderson in nickelback situations,
and Marcus Watts at safety.
The Wildcats struggled with consistency in third-down
situations, allowing the Redbirds to convert 9-of-17
third down attempts. K-State's struggles included
allowing a conversion of a 3rd-and-13 situation on the
Redbirds final scoring drive. Illinois State's play
call in the third-and-long situation? A screen pass to
halfback Pierre Rembert, who also rushed for 105
As several players mentioned, there are improvements to be made on the defensive side of the football. Saturday proved that adjusting to the new scheme of defensive coordinator Raheem Morris might take a little time. As the players continue to learn the their responsibilities in the Cover-2 defense, opposing quarterbacks will have a more difficult time picking through the Wildcat coverage. A continued development of the pass rush will be key in that area, as well.