On Saturday night, the Wildcats did their best to answer those questions, allowing just 200 total yards, on route to a 45-0 victory.
Had it not been for the third quarter of play, the Wildcat defensive numbers would truly look like those of a force to be reckoned with.
In the first, second and fourth quarters combined, K-State allowed just 90 offensive yards. After the game, coach Ron Prince and several players spoke of the importance of picking up a shutout early in the season.
"Anytime you can have a shut-out," Prince said, "obviously that's a tremendous thing to happen." The shutout was the first by the Wildcats since 2003, when they held the Iowa State Cyclones scoreless.
"A shut-out is a very hard thing to get," Prince said. "We weren't necessarily playing for it, but as soon as it became apparent, it was a nice little goal for the players.
The K-State rushing defense was particularly stingy, holding the Owls to just eight yards on 15 attempts in the first half, and 59 rushing yards for the game.
Reserve linebacker Maurice Mack led the Wildcats with seven total tackles, including five solo stops. After basically dominating the first half, the defense hit a few hard times in the third quarter. The Owls gained 110 yards in the period, but the Wildcat defense still kept them from crossing the goal line.
K-State also stepped up when the situations called for it, limiting Florida Atlantic to just 2-of-15 successful third-down conversions, and 3-of-7 fourth down conversions.
"It was really good confidence for our team to have a couple fourth-down stops," Prince said. The confidence was apparent following the game, with cornerback Justin McKinney speaking of the potential on the defensive side of the football.
"This defense could be great," McKinney said. "We're
searching for greatness on the defense, and that is
just the bottom line."
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
It is not often that a player not even listed on the depth chart can pick up such honors, but true freshman cornerback Josh Moore did just that. Moore stopped a potential fourth-down conversion in the first half, tackling the punter behind the line of scrimmage.
In the second half, Moore earned regular opportunities in the defensive backfield, opening up the half at corner in the Wildcat lineup. "It felt really good to get out there and get my feet wet my freshman year," Moore said. By the end of the evening, Moore totaled six tackles, including two for losses. Despite his early success,
Moore was not satisfied with his play.
"It was my first time out, but I had a lot of
mistakes, too," Moore said of how he'd grade his game.
"(I would give it) probably a 'B'."
The Wildcat defense deviated from the pregame depth
chart, with junior Marcus Perry starting ahead of
sophomore Reggie Walker. In his starting debut, Perry
registered 4 tackles. Perry entered the season having
spent the majority of his playing time on special
teams. He tallied two tackles and forced a fumble in
the season opener against Illinois State.
BACK TO THE BASICS
What played a large part in the success of the K-State defense on Saturday? Prince said the defensive coaches worked to "find the game through the players." In other words, the Wildcats kept it basic. K-State rarely strayed from its basic packages and the players seemed to respond. Such a strategy paid off with the Wildcats being able to shuffle several players in and out of the game without skipping a beat.
"A lot of players played in the game," Prince said, "and the performance didn't drop off." The Wildcats had 31 total players register tackles on either defense or special teams, including sacks by Vlad Faustin, Antwon Moore, Eric Childs and Rimmon McNeese.
"The pass rush continued to be very good," Prince
said," and I thought that was a very good sign for
Defensive end Moses Manu earned his first playing time of the season on Saturday night, tallying three tackles, including one for loss. Manu missed a major amount of off-season workout time battling mononucleosis, and just began participating in full-contact practices last week.
"(Being out there) is fun," Manu said. "The ends play a big role in this defense." Considered a player with a strong chance of cracking the starting lineup before he became ill, Manu said he's prepared to fight to earn his playing time.
"Next week I'll have more experience," Manu said, "and the more games I play, the better."