A sports cliché states that the best offense is a good defense. Unfortunately, that may have been proven untrue on Saturday, as the Wildcats' good defense could not top the Louisville Cardinals' offense. Despite limiting the Cardinals to 190 yards less than they had averaged coming in, and holding a 50-point-per-game team to 24, K-State could only put six points on the board in its first loss. One might assume that after a game where the K-State defense played well enough to topple the No. 8 Cardinals, frustration might set in. Not with the Wildcats.
"Nobody is pointing a finger at anybody," defensive tackle Quentin Echols said. "Everybody is just striving to do well and get on the field and make as many plays as they can."
But the defensive performance was relatively impressive, considering the Cardinals entered as the top team in the nation in both scoring and total offense, right?
"You can't really say we played well," Echols said, "because if they scored a point, we're disappointed."
Nevertheless, on top of the relatively limited production of the Cardinals, the Wildcats forced three turnovers against a team that had only committed three in its first three games. To put it succinctly, it was another strong performance for the Wildcat defense. Unfortunately, the Wildcat offense struggled to hold up its end of the bargain. "The one disappointing thing was that, against a team like that, when you get those turnovers, you've got to capitalize. You've got to make those count if you want to pull off an upset like this," coach Ron Prince said. "We didn't do that."
Despite the fact that the defense seemingly did all it could to help win the game, Wildcat players said there was no frustration with the lack of production on the opposite side of the ball. "The defense, I think, played good enough to win today," safety Marcus Watts said, "but there's always more we can do, and little mistakes here and there."
Thomas Clayton scored the lone Wildcat touchdown on the day, taking advantage of a sizable hole to break a 69-yard run. Clayton said the offense know what it must do to take advantage of the defense's turnovers, it's just a matter of execution. "It's just consistency," Clayton said. "I don't think there's a question whether or not we can play. We can make big plays. We show that every week that we can make big plays. We just need to be more consistent with it."
And if the offense continues to struggle reaching the end zone? "Everybody has got to feel like they need to carry the load," defensive end Ian Campbell said. "The offense has to carry the load, (and) we all have to carry the load. If (the defense) has to carry a little bit more, that's no big deal. We've got to put them on our shoulders and we'll do what we have to do. Set them up, get them closer to the goal line - whatever it is, we'll do it. We're a team and we work that way."
Echols continued to echo the togetherness statement of the defense. "As a defense," Echols said, "we take frustration in ourselves. We're not offensive players, but we understand it's hard to play offense. "We're proud of our offense. The only thing we're frustrated about is we wish on some of those turnovers maybe we could have scored." After a game-opening drive that saw the Cardinals drive 97 yards for a touchdown in just 12 plays, it appeared that the Wildcats could be in for a long day.
Louisville entered Saturday leading the nation in both scoring and total offense, and the quick-strike to start the game seemed like a potential bad omen for the Cats. "We knew that this was a very explosive offense," Prince said. "The very first drive I thought they established the fact that they are a team to contend with."
The defense responded, looking to remind fans of the stellar performance that limited Marshall to just 142 yards the week before. Aside from the 97-yard opening drive and a 39-yard run on a fake punt, the Louisville offense tallied just 48 offensive yards in the first half.
The Wildcat defense shone especially brightly in third-down situations, limiting the Cardinals to just five successful conversions in 12 attempts. On the season, Louisville was averaging a 58-percent conversion rate on third downs. The Wildcat offense struggled to put up numbers, but the defensive players expressed content in their efforts. The Wildcats pulled out nearly all the stops available, with the Wildcat coaches digging deep in the playbook for reverse-passes and double-passes.
"We're all for (the aggressive offensive play," Watts said of the mindset of the Wildcats' defense. "We don't want to sit back and let things come to us. We want to make things happen"