MANHATTAN (AP) — Facing first-and-goal in the fourth overtime Saturday night, Kansas State offensive lineman Nick Puetz didn’t even look to the sideline to see what the play call would be.
Everyone in the stadium already knew.
Steamrolling defenses so quarterback Collin Klein can charge into the end zone in short-yardage situations has become a trademark for the No. 16 Wildcats. That became evident against Texas A&M, when the junior quarterback scored five times on the ground, the last from 2 yards out to give Kansas State a 53-50 victory.
Klein also threw for a career-high 281 yards against the Aggies, clear evidence that the passing attack is becoming better and the offense more dangerous.
“The capacity to have some balance in our offense, where you’re not quite as predictable in terms of when you’re going to throw it, when you’re going to run it, helps a great deal,” Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said.
Kansas State center B.J. Finney acknowledged that the line’s improving pass protection has been part of the solution, allowing Klein more time to throw and receivers more time to get open.
“Obviously the wide receivers have got to get open, we’ve got to protect well, (Klein’s) got to make his reads well, the coaches have got to get the right play called,” Finney said. “There’s a lot of aspects that go into it, and it’s just been getting better and better every week.”
Kansas State’s passing yardage has improved four of the past five weeks — the exception being the Wildcats’ game against the No. 5 Sooners — and the percentage of yards gained through the air has gradually crept up throughout the season. The Wildcats threw for 146 yards against the Red Raiders, 205 against the Jayhawks and 231 against Oklahoma State before Klein’s big game against Texas A&M.
The trend could be a big part of whether the Wildcats can beat Texas on the road Saturday.
“They have to honor when our wide receivers sprint off the ball if it’s a run play,” Finney said. “They don’t know if it’s a play-action pass or not, so their corners and safeties are going to have to honor our wide receivers and fall back.”
Many have regarded Kansas State as simply a team that could run — or, more specifically, a team with a quarterback who can run. But the Wildcats aren’t quite that one-dimensional.
Kansas State’s passing offense is still developing, but even a slightly potent attack is helping.
By establishing the ground game so convincingly throughout the season, Kansas State has made it hard for defenders to resist the assumption that the run is what’s about to happen. So even though Puetz and the rest of the Wildcats — and likely the Aggies — knew what was coming last Saturday night, Texas A&M still had to be wary of the pass.
“It’s helped us establish the play-action pass,” Finney said. “A lot of teams have bitten very hard on the run fake, and that has helped us open up some of the deep passes.”
Although freshman wide receiver Tyler Lockett is lost for the year to injury, the Wildcats still have options with the emergence of Tramaine Thompson, Sheldon Smith and Chris Harper, who had a season-high 134 yards against Texas A&M.
Wildcats cornerback Allen Chapman, who goes up against the offense all the time in practice, said Klein is getting better every game, as are those around him.
“They’re going out there and making plays for the quarterback,” Chapman said. “They’re doing pretty good. We’re getting better and better on offense, so that’s exciting.”