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K-State Wildcats





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Posted on Sat, Oct. 23, 2004

Offensive balance eludes Cats


Passing, not the running of Darren Sproles, has carried K-State's offense at times.



The Wichita Eagle

Even-mannered and analytical possibly to a fault, the word just fits Bill Snyder.

Balance.

It's more than just Snyder's goal for the Kansas State offense. It's nearly an obsession for him, a constant point of reference and an ever-illusive goal.

Rarely does Snyder discuss a game without coming back to how balanced one offense is or could be or needs to be. It's an integral part of the way he dissects football.

It took less than three minutes in Tuesday's news conference for the subject to come up, this time relating to the new offense of today's visiting opponent, the 4-2 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

"They've really benefited immensely because you look at the numbers and they're very, very balanced between the run and the pass," Snyder said. "And that just makes it that much more difficult to defend against."

That's not the case for Snyder's Wildcats, 2-4 and winless in three Big 12 games.

Early in the season, there were stretches when it seemed K-State didn't intend to make more than 40 pass attempts all season.

Lately, star running back Darren Sproles has been all but bored.

On Sept. 18, Sproles set the school's single-game rushing record with 292 yards against Louisiana-Lafayette. His teammates added 101 more as K-State ran 62 times. Four weeks later, the Wildcats had a total of one rushing yard on 25 attempts against Oklahoma.

K-State's 45 pass attempts in the Big 12 opener at Texas A&M were nine shy of its combined total from three non-conference games.

Unless the Wildcats win four of their last five games to become eligible for a bowl game, the season is already more than half over. Yet, the offense is still searching for an identity.

And balance has gone out the window.

"We just can't put two and two together," right tackle Jeromey Clary said. "One day, we're running the ball OK, and the next day it won't happen. The same thing goes with the pass. And then when we are passing well, we can't use it to our advantage and break some runs, too.

"It just hasn't happened, and it's killing us."

Snyder resurrected K-State's program behind a creative, meticulous passing approach. His first eight KSU teams each had more passing yards than rushing yards. In four of his first six seasons, the disparity was at least 107 yards a game.

The tide turned in 1997, when K-State averaged 220.2 rushing yards and 152.2 passing yards.

Four times in Snyder's 15 full seasons, his offense had less than 30 yards of separation between average rushing yards and average passing yards: 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003.

In 1998, the Wildcats came within seconds of playing for the national championship. In 1999 and 2000, K-State went a combined 22-4 and finished each season ranked in the top eight.

Last season brought K-State's first Big 12 championship and BCS bowl appearance.

So a balanced offense can bring great results.

But few thought that to be a realistic goal this season. K-State returned Sproles, who led the nation in rushing yards last season, and would be breaking in a new quarterback.

To no one's surprise, K-State ran 135 times in its three non-conference games. But the Wildcats had more passing yards than rushing yards in one of those games, a 45-21 playing-from-behind loss to Fresno State.

The Bulldogs knew what was coming and how to stop it.

It was sign of things to come. In its three conference games, K-State has run 103 times for 183 yards. The 61 yards a game are by far the worst in the Big 12.

As a result, Big 12 opponents have known what was coming again: the pass.

At Texas A&M, Meier was 29 of 45 for 246 yards, an almost heroic effort that left him so battered he thought he wasn't healthy enough to start seven days later at Kansas. During that streak-ending loss in Lawrence, K-State passed for 306 yards while running for just 59.

Balance?

"Really, it hasn't even been close," co-offensive coordinator Greg Peterson admitted.

Things have become so out of whack for K-State's offense, Peterson made a statement Tuesday no one expected to come from the Wildcats this season.

"There are times we've been able to hang our hat in the passing game," he said.

Indeed, in Big 12 games, K-State is second only to Texas Tech's video-game offense for average passing yards. That K-State has obviously trailed late in losing all three games could demand more passing attempts.

But these weren't blowouts. The Wildcats were within five points in the final minutes at A&M, led in the fourth quarter at Kansas and trailed by just three midway through the fourth quarter against Oklahoma.

In three competitive games, K-State averaged just 1.8 yards per rushing attempt before all but abandoning the concept.

"The game pushes you in a certain direction," Snyder explained. "Sometimes, it's because of certain things you want to do and can't do, and sometimes it's because you hit on a thing that you can do."

Those combined to produce K-State's most surprising offensive game plan this season. The Wildcats went almost exclusively to four- and five-receiver formations against the Sooners, a spread-out passing attack that worked initially. K-State led 14-7 in the second quarter.

"We knew we might have to switch it up with teams so keyed up on the running game," wide receiver Jermaine Moreira said. "We thought we might have to use Darren as a decoy a little bit."

But OU adjusted, stopped the passing plays it knew was coming, and methodically moved on to victory. It also eventually sent Meier to the sideline after a crunching shot to the head, which has left his status for today's game up in the air.

That's exactly where the Wildcats might turn if Meier plays. Nebraska is second nationally in rushing defense (66.8 yards a game) and 100th in pass defense (257.3). Though those numbers are skewed by opponents either completely futile (Western Illinois finished with minus-3 rushing yards) or extremely polished (Texas Tech passed for 523), they might lead K-State to again air it out.

Snyder continues to insist balance is his goal.

"As I've said whenever asked, it would always be our intent to carry as much of a balanced offense as we possibly can into any ballgame," he said. "And we practice that way. Our practice time is divided so 50 percent of the time we work on run and 50 percent of the time we work on pass. If we were going to attempt to move into one direction or the other, then we'd devote that kind of time to it. And we don't."

Yet who knows where this offense will head from here? Sproles is perturbed he only touched the ball 14 times against Oklahoma. Meier's injury problems have forced backup Allen Webb into five of the six games.

Everyone in purple is frustrated when K-State joins Iowa State and Baylor as the only Big 12 teams yet to win a conference game.

"We've kept saying to be patient, that it will come together," Clary said. "Well, maybe we've got to stop being so patient now. There's not many games left."


Jeffrey Parson covers Kansas State sports. Reach him at 268-6398 or jparson@wichitaeagle.com.

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