'We just need to win:' Will friendlier schedule help Kansas State football get back on track?

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson (7) was knocked out of the game and lost for the season last Oct. 3 against Texas Tech. K-State travels to Lubbock, Texas, to face the Red Raiders on Saturday.

Chris Klieman found himself trying to strike a delicate balance this week in addressing a Kansas State football team reeling from three straight Big 12 losses. 

Yes, the Wildcats are 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the conference, but with a caveat. The three teams that beat them — No. 9-ranked Oklahoma State (6-0), No. 2 Oklahoma (7-0) and Iowa State (4-2) — are a combined 17-2, 9-1 in the Big 12. 

Klieman's challenge? Reassure the Wildcats as they enter into a more manageable portion of their schedule, but also keep them focused on the task at hand.

"Yeah, it's difficult because you know our kids believe and we believe we're one of the better teams in the conference, but we've not proved that every Saturday," Klieman said as K-State prepared to face Texas Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. "That's why I keep talking about with the guys (that) you cannot worry about what's behind you. That's over with.

"We want to go back to our win against Stanford and kind of replicate what our preparation was, replicate the film we watched, the walkthroughs, all those things that made that group successful."

More:Opposing quarterbacks have torched KSU. Here's how the Wildcats can put an end to that.

K-State entering less-demanding part of schedule

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's records speak for themselves and Iowa State was ranked in the top 10 heading into the season with its only losses coming against No. 11 Iowa and No. 20 Baylor. Texas Tech is 5-2 with a 2-2 record in the Big 12, coming off a 41-14 blowout victory at Kansas.

"We know they're really good football teams, but still in saying that, we believe that we make a play here and there that we put ourselves in a chance to win those games. That's the frustrating part," K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson said of the Wildcats' three losses. "There's a lot that goes into each game and every game is different, but they all are good football teams.

"I think Oklahoma State's undefeated and Oklahoma's undefeated, and honestly, Iowa State is a really good football team, too. That's a good gauge for us in knowing that we are a good football team and to not get discouraged in that aspect."

Recent history also is on K-State's side against Texas Tech. The Wildcats have won the last five meetings in the series, including two straight in Lubbock.

Asked if the Wildcats' early strength of schedule made the three league losses easier to swallow, senior free safety Russ Yeast wouldn't bite.

"I think that's more just a media thing," he said. "We see teams without their records and stuff like that, so the previous three games we played, we felt we had a chance to win.

"We should have played better in certain spots. That's ultimately the reason why we didn't win. Going on the rest of the season, we're not really paying attention to those guys' records. We're just going out there to play football every week."

More:Kansas State football vs. Iowa State report card: Not a pretty night for the Wildcats

Wildcats have sense of urgency

What the three early losses did was create a sense of urgency for the Wildcats, who after Texas Tech return home to face TCU on Oct. 30, then travel to Kansas on Nov. 6.

"Every game is important, but I think this game is important, too, because we haven't won a conference game this year," wide receiver Phillip Brooks said. "We just need to win.

"We’ve worked too hard to go through the season like this, and I think we have a great team. We're like this close to doing something special."

Nobody has a more personal history against Texas Tech than Thompson, who is 2-0 in Lubbock, but also suffered a season-ending injury at the hands of Red Raiders linebacker Riko Jeffers last Oct. 3 in Manhattan. Jeffers was ejected for targeting in that game, but Thompson has downplayed the incident.

"I'm looking at this game just like any other game," said Thompson, who came off the bench as a redshirt freshman in 2017 to engineer an overtime comeback victory over Tech. "I know it's going to be a good environment and I've enjoyed playing at Texas Tech the past couple of times I've been down there.

"I love (fans throwing) the tortillas, and all that stuff is a good time. It's not anything personal for me. I'm just focused on this team and getting a win. We need one and that's where my focus is at."

Which is exactly the way his coach wants it.

It's a big week for us, an important week for us," Klieman said.