KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas State coach Bill Snyder will have to dust off some mighty old notebooks this week to see what he did the last time his team had a losing record through its first six games.
The defending Big 12 champions are just 2-4 as they enter the off week in their conference schedule, dropping their first three league games to Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
It’s the first time since 2004 that Kansas State has gotten off to such a sluggish start, the year before Snyder stepped away for a brief retirement. And it’s the fourth time in his 22 seasons that the Wildcats have had a losing record at this point in the season.
“Being 2-4 is never easy,” Snyder said, “and neither is the response to it. How you respond to it and how you feel about it is difficult for the players, coaches and the people that are invested in this program. The important thing for us is not what could have been, but what are we going to do? That is the way that we have to approach it.”
That’s the way the Wildcats have approached it in the past.
The last time they started 2-4, the Wildcats bounced back the following week with a 45-21 pasting of then-league foe Nebraska. When they had the same record in 2001, they knocked off rival Kansas 40-6 and wound up winning six games and heading to the Insight Bowl.
So all is not lost for Kansas State, which has led in the second half in three of its four losses. Some of its toughest games are already in the past, and a slew of games in which it should be favored are on the horizon, beginning with West Virginia a week from Saturday.
“I think we’ve made a lot of strides, especially coming from the Oklahoma State game to the Baylor game,” Kansas State defensive back Dante Barnett said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement in every aspect on the defense. We’re playing more consistent.”
That may be true, but the offense is still a work in progress.
Daniel Sams ran for 199 yards and three touchdowns in a narrow loss to Baylor last week, and finally seemed to supplant Game 1 starter Jake Waters as the go-to quarterback. But the athletic Sams also threw a crucial late-game interception, and Snyder hasn’t yet anointed the sophomore from Slidell, La., the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.
“I mean, we still are not where we need to be,” Sams said. “As far as me finishing at the end of the game, interceptions is something that we cannot have. We still have areas that we need to improve, but I feel like we will get there.”
When asked to assess Sams’ play against Baylor, Snyder at first was complementary. But then he quickly shifted the conversation to the miscues that led to another defeat.
“Offensively, we scored three touchdowns on six trips into the red zone. That was 18 points left off the scoreboard because we only got a field goal out of it,” Snyder said. “Those are the mistakes that you have to overcome and get corrected. It is really that simple.
“There are certainly some other issues that we need to address,” Snyder added, “but you take those segments out of the ballgame and you certainly put yourself in a position to win.”
It was precisely those details that Kansas State paid such attention to last season, when it rose to No. 1 in the BCS standings before a late-season loss to Baylor. Senior quarterback Collin Klein rarely made a bad decision, and a veteran defense picked him up whenever he did.
The result was a Big 12 title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, where Kansas State hung tough with high-flying Oregon before finally succumbing in the second half.
“Just like rebuilding an engine, we had to replace parts from last year,” said Klein’s younger brother, sophomore wide receiver Kyle Klein. “It’s taking us a little while to get things rolling, but we have definitely been making progress.”
Snyder has also seen the progress, even if it’s never as much as he’d like. He hopes that a week off before facing the Mountaineers gives Kansas State a chance to make even more.
“Our effort collectively has improved,” he said. “What I say every single week, we have to eliminate the costly mistakes. We have to practice with the focus of doing exactly that, improve our practice time and therefore our performance level on game day will improve.”