MANHATTAN (AP) — Many expected dramatic improvement from Kansas State’s defense this season. Hopes were not nearly so high for the offensive line.
The line lost three seniors — Wade Weibert, Zach Kendall and Kenneth Mayfield — who had helped Daniel Thomas put up one of the most prolific single seasons in school history. Kansas State finished 7-6 and reached a bowl game, while Thomas went on to the NFL.
Losing that much experience rarely breeds confidence, and it didn’t help when center Shaun Simon and left tackle Manase Foketi went down with injuries in the first two weeks of the season.
The No. 11 Wildcats (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) have nonetheless put themselves in the thick of the Big 12 race, with a high-profile showdown against 11th-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday.
“We’ve all taken it upon ourselves to improve every day and show that these guys were great guys, but they’re not irreplaceable,” center B.J. Finney said. “Losing Shaun and Manase, it hurt us, but by the same token, we had guys that were ready to step up and ready to play because we’d been taking preparations two-deep very seriously.”
With 6-foot-8, 313-pound senior Zach Hanson filling in at left tackle position and redshirt freshman Finney returning to center, the offensive line looks better than ever.
So does the rest of the offense.
Ever since a sobering near-loss to Eastern Kentucky in their home opener, the Wildcats’ offense has gradually become more effective, if not flashy.
Quarterback Collin Klein said the offense is consistent, sticking to assignments and fundamentals. He credits offensive line coach Charlie Dickey for much of the growth.
“Coach Dickey does a great job with those guys across the board, making sure they’re prepared with the game plans as well as the individual techniques they need from week to week,” Klein said. “I know they have and will continue to make great improvement.”
Kansas State’s efficiency is particularly apparent inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, where the Wildcats have come away with 33 scores on 38 attempts — 25 of them touchdowns. While the O-line has committed some costly penalties during this season, it has done a good job eliminating those mistakes lately.
Coach Bill Snyder was especially pleased by a penalty-free performance against Kansas on Saturday. The Wildcats average only 45 yards in penalties per game, the second fewest in the Big 12.
“We’ve really limited those a great deal, so that speaks to the discipline that we’re gaining,” Snyder said.
It also speaks to the cohesion on the offensive line. While that chemistry has continued to build throughout the season, Finney said the majority of the linemen’s trust in each other formed during camp.
“When you hit the field, the trust has to be there,” Finney said. “So the trust builds through the season, yes, but the main part of the trust is built during camp before you even hit the game field.”