"I hope it was more fun for you than it was for me." It was that sort of night for Bill Snyder. His Kansas State Wildcats entered Saturday's game heavily favored, but escaped with a narrow 10-7 victory over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. It was a game that the K-State head coach could have deemed plenty of things. At his kindest, he deemed it "a blessing."
"It was probably a blessing in disguise. I think offensively a lot of people that that we'd be better than really are. I think that showed up tonight," Snyder added.
What went wrong for the Wildcats? "You name it," Snyder said.
There were seven penalties, five turnovers, missed assignments, incorrect routes the coach's list was just beginning. "When I see film, I will probably give you a list of 110 things."
"Across the board we did everything that you cannot do when you are trying to win," quarterback Collin Klein said. "We had too many penalties, turnovers and missed assignments."
As the errors, both physical and mental racked up, frustration mounted for the Wildcats. "I didn't think we were acting like we wanted it," wide receiver Chris Harper said. "They were being more physical than us and that's why they were beating us."
It was a 34-yard pass from Klein to a streaking Harper that resuscitated the Wildcats' chances for victory. The two connected with just 1:39 left on the clock for what proved to be the game-winning score.
"We looked at each other and said that this was our time," Klein said. "We put it off long enough and at the same time, we were just trying to get it into the end zone and take off as much time as we could."
Once the Wildcats had the lead, the purple-clad defense sealed the game when linebacker Tre Walker batted a Jared McClain pass in the air. Before the ball could touch the Wagner Field turf, cornerback Nigel Malone nabbed it for his second interception of the game.
"I told Nigel that the best way to get your name known is to go out there and make some plays," Harper said. "He had two picks today, so people will definitely know who he is."
The Wildcat defense limited the Colonel offense to just 129 total yards and put forth an effort that Snyder said he was proud of.
"Defensively, I thought that we played hard and were where we were supposed to be," Snyder said. "We played vertical and got up field well."
The defensive effort was strong enough that the only scoring drive they allow was one that totaled a single yard, with McClain scored on a one-yard carry as Eastern Kentucky capitalized on a Wildcat turnover. "I do not consider the seven points on the board to be any ownership of the defense," Snyder said.
Walker said that the defensive effort would help provide confidence for the rest of the season.
"We got an extensive amount of confidence. It showed us that our summer work, our spring work, our conditioning -- it wasn't in vain," Walker said. "We worked hard. It's been a long time coming. We put in work every day in the offseason to not be where we were last season."
Particular improvement came in the area of pass-rushing. Jordan Voelker picked up a pair of sacks and transfer Meshak Williams added one more. The total may not sound daunting, but Wildcat defensive ends combined for just three sacks in all of 2010.
"I felt like we were flying around and having more of a love for the game," Voelker said. "We looked a lot more excited to be out there."
Arthur Brown, making his debut at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, led K-State in tackles, picking up seven from his middle linebacker position, and leading an effort that crippled the Eastern Kentucky rushing attack. Against the run, K-State allowed just 27 yards, limiting the Colonels to a 0.4-yards-per-carry clip.
Alas, for every bit of improvement the defense seemed to make from a year ago, the offense seemed to regress. The Wildcats averaged just 3.1 yards per rush, passed for a meager 128 yards, and committed five turnovers.
K-State's most costly turnover came via its most highly touted player. Bryce Brown, a preseason All-Big 12 selection at running back, lost control of the football with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter. Eastern Kentucky defensive back Patrick McClellan scooped the ball from the turf and advanced down to the Wildcat 1-yard line. Two plays later, the Colonels scored the first points of the game.
Brown carried three times for 16 yards as part of a time-share backfield for K-State. John Hubert toted the ball 17 times for 91 yards, while Angelo Pease tallied five carries and 11 yards. Though Hubert ended up getting the bulk of the work in the opener, Snyder said he could not commit to the notion that the carries would be split in the same manner when the Wildcats return to the field against Kent State. "I'll have to watch the video tape."
The win, no matter the margin, still counts as the 150th of Snyder's career. Asked what the number meant, the head coach was not one to reflect. "All it says is that you have been around a bit longer."