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October 13, 2009

Wildcats moving forward

He didn't care to elaborate on the "dramatic mistakes" that he said that he made in preparing for Texas Tech. Instead, he wished to put the many issues that contributed to a 66-14 loss last weekend behind him. But Kansas State coach Bill Snyder indicated that at a time when the Wildcats continue to foster leadership, they must also approach the road ahead with a fresh mental attitude. That starts this week on the practice field, where changes are apparent.

"This is kind of going to be a benchmark in regards to 'where do we go from here?'" Snyder said at his weekly news conference on Tuesday. "Is it going to be like this week in and week out or are we going to be able to build on where we were and work through the problems and issue that were created for us this past week, which were numerous."

When K-State, 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big 12 Conference, faces Texas A&M, 3-2 and 1-1, for a 6 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, the Wildcats hope to provide positive answers. Coming off its worst loss to an unranked team since 1975, K-State hopes to show plenty of bounce-back capabilities in its first home game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season.

Immediately after the 52-point loss at Texas Tech last weekend, Snyder said, "We're going to start over again."

He clarified that statement on Tuesday.

"In reality, you can't say you're totally starting over again," Snyder said. "The comment was probably made in reference to getting a fresh mental attitude and not letting what happened on Saturday night have an impact on how we perform from this point forward. You can't dismiss the fact that it happened. You learn from it and try to move on, or at least you try to. I would think anybody who has an interest in what we're doing, by that I mean (for) our players who want to succeed and do better, I don't think you can completely turn the spigot off."

A 44-30 win in College Station last season ended a five-game losing streak against the Aggies. K-State then gets Colorado at home and will look to redeem a 14-13 loss in Boulder a year ago. But as K-State embarks on its final six games of the regular season, its path to its first bowl berth since 2006 grows increasingly arduous. The Wildcats have lost a combined 13 straight against their final four opponents -- Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska -- by a combined 551-306 with six losses by 20 or more points.

"It's going to be tough," safety Tysyn Hartman said. "The Big 12 Conference is one of the most prestigious in all of America. We knew that coming into the season. We knew it was going to be a tough season for us, so we're going to have to just persevere through and keep on pushing."

And tackling. It was a main topic of discussion on Tuesday.

While Snyder lauded the Wildcats' efforts and improved tackling throughout the season, his assessment arrives attached with an asterisk, as the Wildcats allowed 11 plays of 20 or more yards against the Red Raiders, mostly contributed to by tackling errors in space. In an attempt to curb an unwanted trend that could potentially haunt the Wildcats' defense against the leagues' other spread offensive schemes -- it continues on Saturday against the Aggies and athletic quarterback Jerrod Johnson -- Snyder described adjustments that he implemented during Monday's practice.

"One of the things you go back and address is how do you drill on things that are issues for you and that you want to improve upon and we probably, my error, probably did too many of our tackling drills in too confined of space," Snyder said. "We didn't put our players in enough situations -- we certainly did, but not in enough situations -- where the open-field tackling was really simulated during practice in a team environment in your one-on-one tackling drills where you have a longer distance to go to make the tackle and where your pursuit angle, leverage and being under control becomes a part of that.

"Not reaching with your hands but applying the face mask to the target, those kinds of fundamental things in putting them in a better practice environment is probably what we need to do far more of. We're in the process of that right now. (Texas Tech) wasn't an effort issue. You saw these bullets flying by and those were our guys missing their target. That's exactly what happened. We were making the effort but we were out of control. We need to practice being under control."

Hartman, who ranks second on the team with 29 tackles to go along with a team-leading three interceptions, said he felt the impact of poor fundamentals against Texas Tech, forcing him to head to the sideline the remainder of the contest.

"(It was) just a loss of fundamentals," he said. "In my case that's what allowed me to get my concussion in the first place. I wasn't tackling the way I was coached to tackle, put my head down and suffered the consequences."

Snyder continued.

"Do we change practice?" Snyder asked. "We have made some adjustments. We haven't changed a lot of things, but we've made adjustments. We've made adjustments in tackling drills, in simple adjustments in terms of our field, as in field space and where we're working. I think some of the problems, which I'm not going to address, my have risen because we're not giving appropriate spacing (on the field) to that particular side of the ball that's working against certain things.

"It's little things like that that you might adjust."

A few factors also come into play. First, while Snyder said he works best against best and good-against-good between 20 and 25 minutes per practice, he added that the units aren't always able to mimic an individual team's scheme or on-field speed. A shortage of scout-squad players also forces Snyder to alter practice in order to allow them to rest as "they're on the field all of the time going against our ones and twos." Snyder also said that in the face of "that open date stuff that we cherish so much and has somewhat vanished," it beckoned him a couple weeks ago to shed minutes off of each period, or a total of 15 minutes off of each practice.

Hartman said he showed no symptoms of the concussion on Monday and should start practicing in the next couple of days. While Snyder indicated defensive end Brandon Harold was "probably not" yet back at 100 percent, he indicated Harold's performance was "OK" against the Red Raiders. Running back Daniel Thomas also went to the sideline with a limp in the second half and Snyder said "the guesstimate is yes" on Thomas and Hartman playing on Saturday. He added, "But that's all that it is at this point in time."

Senior left tackle Nick Stringer indicated the Wildcats showed signs of bouncing back Monday on the practice field. K-State is 4-5 when coming off of a loss by 20 or more points since 2004.

"It was tough coming off the loss but our team regrouped pretty well and had a good practice. We've got to build on that," Stringer said. "There's not many guys hanging their heads and trying to pack it in. That's a plus from what has happened in the past. Guys are trying to stay motivated and positive after a loss like that. Guys are really working hard to try and get better, correct their mistakes and play more disciplined. That's a positive for us right now."

Another positive? Although Snyder didn't name a definite starter at quarterback for Saturday, the uncertainty apparently hasn't hampered the attitude or effort of Grant Gregory and Carson Coffman.

"You try to do the same thing, regardless," Gregory said. "Leadership isn't necessarily as much what you do as it is how people view you. Carson and I both have the right mental attitude going into every practice day and that's the biggest part of leadership. After going out and getting smoked like that, this is the type of game where you find out a lot about the team.

"I think our leadership is going to be a big part of that."

No, Texas A&M won't mark the beginning of a new season, but the Wildcats have apparently wasted little time in mounting a fresh start for the rest of their campaign.


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