MANHATTAN, Kan. – The modus operandi of Kansas State over two-plus decades under Bill Snyder has been toughness, a certain physicality not only representative of the Big 12 but of the old-school Big Eight.
The last two weeks? Soft is a better description.
The Wildcats struggled to use their size and strength to their advantage in a tight-as-piano wire win over South Dakota to open the season. Then, their veteran offensive line and stout defensive front were pushed around at home by Mississippi State as if the Bulldogs were simply big bullies from the SEC.
"It's not like we got knocked all over the place," Snyder said, "but we didn't get as much push as I would have liked and movement in their defensive line. We were a little soft in our pass protection. Our quarterbacks, they got people up in their face and they ended up short-arming the ball and consequently throwing bad balls. We have to be firmer up front."
The first opportunity for that comes Saturday against UTSA.
The Roadrunners (0-2) were routed by Arizona State in their opener before getting spanked by Baylor last week. They're trying to replace a slew of starters on both sides of the ball, and that has been a work in progress for third-year coach Frank Wilson.
In that respect, Wilson is taking their trip to Manhattan in context.
"It'll test us tremendously. It'll prepare us tremendously," he said. "The key is unscathed, to get out of this non-conference schedule with good health."
The Wildcats (1-1) are hoping to show enough physicality that such a key is impossible, especially considering it's their last test before a trip to No. 17 West Virginia opens league play.
"Coach is right," Wildcats offensive lineman Dalton Risner said. "Whenever we says we're being soft, that's a Hall of Fame coach and our offensive line coach is telling us – that's not just the O-line, that's the entire offense. The whole offense isn't doing what we need to do. We take everything that coach says, and we work on it. What else can you do?"
SETTLED SIGNAL-CALLER: The Wildcats have alternated between Fort Osage High School graduate Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton under center this season, but Snyder said he'll try to stick with a clear-cut starter on Saturday. That means Thompson will not only start the game but won't have to worry about looking over his shoulder.
"It's not that cut and dry," Snyder said. "When you're not playing well, that's true for everybody."
DEFENSIVE DUMPS: Led by first-round pick Marcus Davenport, the Roadrunners finished last season eighth nationally in scoring defense (19.0 points per game) and held eight of its 11 opponents to 300 yards of fewer in total offense. This season, they've allowed an average of 43 points and 498.5 yards to a pair of Power Five opponents with another on deck.
SULLIVAN TO PLAY: Talented linebacker Elijah Sullivan is expected to play for Kansas State. He dealt with an unspecified injury that limited him against the Bulldogs.
"Elijah made some mistakes in the game," Snyder said, "but one thing is that he is a pretty athletic young guy. He runs quite well, and he is a good lateral player from sideline to sideline. He made some plays on the boundary coming from the middle of the field that were pretty big for us."
TOUGH TUNE-UP: The Roadrunners still have another game before Conference USA play, but that's the I-35 Showdown with Texas State. This is most certainly the most challenging game left on the schedule, and a final opportunity for UTSA to get a statement win.
RESPECT: Wilson spoke glowingly this week of Snyder, who began his career in Manhattan while the Roadrunners' coach was still in high school.
"A living legend. A guy that has done it 25-plus years in a very volatile profession," he said. "A guy that has done it steadily, consistently, the right way. When you think of Bill Snyder, you think of someone of tremendous class, that is well-prepared, and you'd better play well – you'd better be prepared – because you know they will."