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October 4, 2012
K-State defense looking born again
In order to fully understand it, you had to be there. You had to witness the eyes of Arthur Brown come to life. You had to hear the foreign tone emit from the senior middle linebacker's monotone voice, as he studied that text message on the cell phone, outside the visitor's locker room at Memorial Stadium after Kansas State battled to defeat its highest-ranked opponent ever in a true road game.
In posting the 24-19 victory at No. 6 Oklahoma, the Wildcats' defense held the Sooners to their third-fewest points ever under Bob Stoops since 1999. But to many of the Wildcat Nation across the country, the program's first win in Norman since 1997 meant so much more.
"The MOB may just be back!" Brown shouted, repeating the text message sent by former All-America linebacker Josh Buhl, the leader of some of the fiercest K-State defensive units nearly a decade ago.
"Ah-ha-ha!" Brown chuckled. "The tradition of the Lynchmob, that's something we're definitely striving for as a defensive unit, just trying to bring that type of toughness and energy will definitely help us carry on success throughout the season."
Through the magic of cellphones and social media, pats on the back and gratification now becomes instant. But never before in a public forum had one former K-State defensive leader shared such praise with a current leader.
The portrait of the K-State defensive family appeared vivid in the late nighttime hours of Sept. 22, as Brown paused in brief contemplation, accepting the torch, while a team bus idling outside Memorial Stadium.
Make no mistake, the bloodlines remain especially strong this week.
Bill Snyder-coached teams carry an appetite for dismantling Kansas.
"It makes the defense play harder," Buhl said. "You never want to lose to KU, so you play great defense."
Buhl remembers the 64-0 win in front of a fast-emptying stadium in Lawrence like it was last week. The 2002 team, in the midst of an 11-2 season, handed the Jayhawks their first shutout in the series in 47 years during Mark Mangino's introduction to the Sunflower Showdown as a Kansas head coach.
"It was fun, a little cold, but it was definitely fun," Buhl said. "Going out there and dominating them that bad in their own stadium was just another way to say that over the years K-State has been the team to beat in this rivalry."
K-State hasn't shutout Kansas since. It held Kansas to six points in 2003, three points in 2005, and seven points in a 59-7 win in 2010 during the series debut of Kansas head coach Turner Gill in front of another fast-emptying stadium in Lawrence.
Coupled with K-State's 59-21 win in Lawrence last season, K-State amassed its most points (118) in consecutive games in series history while limiting the Jayhawks to 28 points during Gill's brief, two-game encounter against the Wildcats.
For all the dominant defenses K-State has harbored over the last two decades -- during one stretch the Wildcats finished no lower than No. 6 nationally in total defense between 1997 and 2003 -- the program hasn't posted a shutout against Kansas in Manhattan since a 13-0 victory on Oct. 20, 1934.
Who knows what Saturday holds as No. 7 K-State, 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big 12 Conference, meets Kansas, 1-3 and 0-1, in an 11 a.m. kickoff in front of a sellout crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
But the old-school passion and hunger for destruction is evident in the eyes of Brown, who a week prior to facing the Jayhawks, measured the steps taken by a unit that currently ranks 22nd nationally in allowing 15.5 points per game. K-State might rank 45th in surrendering 357.3 total yards, a figure that ranks fifth in the Big 12, but behind a rush defense that ranks No. 14 and third in the league in allowing 93.0 yards per contest, the Wildcats have proven stingy in keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
"Coach always preaches pursuing to the ball," Brown said. "When doing so a lot of big plays happen. Our players as individuals recognize we each have roles on the unit and we really just accept those roles and make the most of it."
Buhl, a 2003 first-team All-American whose 184 total tackles remain the most in a single season by a K-State defender, followed the Wildcats' efforts from a K-State watch party in Dallas. An Oklahoma offense that entered 11th in averaging 46.5 points managed just six points in the first half against the Wildcats.
Buhl said that he flashed the "Mob" sign numerous times during the contest, drawing cheers from the K-State gathering.
"As a former member of the Lynchmob, I'm very happy to see that atmosphere come back and a team play that way. We haven't had that in a while," Buhl said. "The OU game was a huge, huge stepping stone for them to get that confidence and to claim themselves as the Lynchmob again, and not just claim themselves, but show it through the way they play. I think playing KU will solidify that.
"Clearly the tools are there to do what K-State has done against them in the past, which is to dominate them. If they play the way they should be, they'll either earn or will be really close to earning that title as Lynchmob again."
The gaudy numbers and history are everywhere, scattered about like Zac Wegner upon being sandwiched between Jeff Kelly and Travis Litton one cold, rainy day in 1998.
To back up, K-State suffered a 21-16 loss to Kansas in Manhattan in 1989 during Snyder's first year as head coach. After posting a miraculous 16-12 victory in 1991, K-State suffered a 31-7 loss in Lawrence in 1992.
But since 1993, when K-State bullied itself to its first of 11 consecutive bowl seasons, the Snyder-led Wildcats have collectively -- save a 31-27 loss in Lawrence in 2004 -- clamped down on the Jayhawks' offense, regardless of the Kansas head coach.
For starters, in the last 16 meetings by Snyder-led K-State, including the 2004 defeat, the Wildcats have surrendered 19 touchdowns in exactly 1,000 plays from scrimmage. That means the Jayhawks have reached the end zone, on average, once in every 52.6 offensive plays.
In those 16 meetings, Kansas has averaged 10.6 points. It has averaged 2.72 yards per rush on 568 rushing attempts with eight touchdowns and 25 lost fumbles. Kansas quarterbacks have completed 47.2 percent of their passes, averaging 139.8 passing yards, with 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Kansas quarterbacks have thrown for more than 250 yards only once (1996) but have been sacked 49 times for a loss of 336 yards. And Kansas has converted 62 of 229 third-down conversions (27.1 percent).
Of Kansas' 1,000 offensive plays from scrimmage, exactly five have resulted in scoring plays that have covered 20 or more yards.
The bottom line: In the last 16 meetings against Snyder, Kansas has been held scoreless in 37 of 64 total quarters and has post double-digit scoring in four different quarters during that span. Additionally, Kansas has failed to score more than a field goal in 47 of those quarters.
Historically, the first and third quarters have proven most challenging for Kansas. Snyder preaches starting strong. With that, Kansas in its last 16 meetings against Snyder-led teams has only managed to score more than a field goal twice in the opening quarter and twice coming out of halftime since 1993.
Now let that sink in.
So what has made those Snyder defenses, regardless of the year, especially tick when facing Kansas?
"I can't tell you that I have an answer for that," Snyder said earlier this week. "I'd like to think if we played well defensively, it wasn't just against the University of Kansas, but that we played reasonably well against most opponents that we lined up against. I can't relate to the statistics. I can't isolate the University of Kansas from the rest of our schedule.
"We try to play as well as we can against all of them."
Oh, there's more. Kansas has scored 66 total points against Snyder-led K-State in its last eight meetings in Manhattan -- an average of 8.3 points per contest. Kansas has gone scoreless in 17 of 32 quarters during that stretch and the Jayhawks' second-quarter touchdown at K-State in 2009 ended a streak of 17 consecutive quarters dating to 1999 in which Kansas failed to score more than six points during a single quarter in the Little Apple.
As for finishing strong? The K-State defense has fared well in that department as well. Kansas has scored a combined 19 second-half points in its last eight meetings against Snyder-led teams in Manhattan.
In all, during eight meetings in Manhattan under Snyder since 1993, Kansas has reached the end zone five times in 496 plays from scrimmage. Kansas has suffered 15 turnovers, including five interceptions. Kansas quarterbacks have been sacked, on average, once in every 9.5 passing attempts. And Kansas has scored two touchdowns on 287 rushing attempts with its last one occurring in 1999.
Fast forward to the present and it reveals that exactly one current player on the 2012 team recorded a statistic in the Wildcats' 17-10 over Kansas the last time the teams met in Manhattan in 2009.
Ryan Doerr punted the ball three times.
But strongside linebacker Jarell Childs and safety Ty Zimmerman started on defense against Kansas while defensive back Thomas Ferguson, and linebackers Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter also saw action during the 59-7 win in 2010.
Last season, five current returning starters on defense were on the field for the Jayhawks' first offensive play from scrimmage in what culminated into a 59-21 win. That includes the 6-foot-1, 231-pound Brown, a Wichita native, who had eight tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Defensive end Meshak Williams posted two sacks, and defensive tackle Vai Lutui and Childs each recovered a Kansas fumble.
Statistics suggest Kansas found more success in 2010 and 2011 than in previous seasons, but the Jayhawks failed to score in five of eight quarters during those contests while K-State posted at least 50 points for the fifth and sixth times against Kansas under Snyder.
"I wouldn't downplay the fact that we've fared well against them," Snyder said, "because all of those games were important and significant."
But speaking in generalities about the past few matchups in this rivalry, Snyder asserts, "This year is this year and last year was months ago. All of the plays that happened in the past make no difference.
"It's about what you've got now."
What K-State gets now is Kansas first-year head coach Charlie Weis, who spent the first nine minutes of his weekly news conference breaking down this current K-State squad, and a program that under its legendary head coach hasn't lost to Kansas in Manhattan since 1989.
What K-State gets is a message that at least one Kansas player simply doesn't care about the Wildcats' recent domination. Backup junior defensive end Keba Agostinho last week tweeted Kansas' all-time series record against the Wildcats in both football and basketball, and concluded, "Seems More Like An A$$ Whoopin Than Rivalry."
"He didn't tweet it out for long," Weis said of the tweet, which has since been deleted.
Weis said that he spent a portion of his team's bye week researching the history of the Governor's Cup Trophy to "see how this is all going" and re-emphasizing the rivalry's importance to his players on a roster that includes 24 Kansas natives. The list of Sunflower Showdown rookies includes senior quarterback Dayne Crist, a Notre Dame transfer, who has completed 48.1 percent of his passes for 763 yards and two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Weis said that K-State's defense "really starts with Arthur Brown," adding that he's "a dynamic player and is all over the field."
Weis said the K-State defensive secondary "is probably one of the most basic secondaries you'll ever see because all the players are good. They're really sound and basic. They just wait for you to make a mistake."
The K-State defense has forced eight turnovers in its four first games, including six fumble recoveries, and forced the Sooners into three turnovers to go along with a constant, disruptive pass rush.
"We've enhanced our capacity, or good fortune -- one of the two -- to create or get turnovers, and we've done an improved job in being able to disrupt quarterback play," Snyder said. "We've got more sacks this time than we did last season. We've made improvements in those areas, which are significant areas in determining the success or failure on defense."
What K-State gets is the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Crist, who completed 10 of 26 passes for 147 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in the Jayhawks' 30-23 loss at Northern Illinois on Sept. 22. In fact, it wasn't until a 26-yard run by halfback James Sims that Kansas broke a streak of six consecutive quarters without reaching the end zone this season.
Asked earlier in the week to address his current confidence as a passer, Crist replied, "I think it's coming back."
"I think that this week was great for me as a player and as a person," he continued. "I'm excited. I think the bye week came at a perfect time before the biggest rivalry game, the most important game of the season."
What K-State gets is a Kansas offense that ranks 87th nationally in averaging 370.0 yards per game, and ranks 107th in averaging 21.0 points per contest. Among teams from Bowl Championship Series conferences, only Michigan State and Auburn average fewer points. While Kansas has scored 84 total points in 2012, K-State has scored 84 points in the fourth quarter this season.
What K-State gets is its own share of star power within a program that in recent years has carried a stigma of lacking standout performers.
On defense, its starts with Brown, the 2011 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, who ranks third in the Big 12 in averaging 9.0 tackles per game. In four outings, Brown has steadily gained attention. His initial mention on five major award watch lists entering the season marked the highest total by a player in K-State history.
"I definitely feel like we have what it's going to take for us to be successful throughout this season," Brown said. "Some people might label it as stars, but really, in the end, it's just about us as a team being willing to work together to achieve these goals."
The numbers put up on the scoreboard by Kansas -- or more precisely, lack of -- becomes the next step for the K-State defense Saturday.
"You can be ranked whatever and still be a dominant defense because you're holding teams to fewer points," Buhl said. "That's what counts. You're winning ballgames based upon your defense making those big plays when they're needed. It's all about having that mentality. It comes with aggressive play and making it hard for them to score points.
"As long as when they do cross the 25 (yard line), you're knocking their helmets off, that's Lynchmob defense."
Snyder preaches about family. The bloodlines of the Wildcats' past and present defense currently appear steadfast. K-State now looks to uphold that staunch defensive tradition it's enjoyed against its rival.
At least to Buhl, the vocal leader on the 2003 Big 12 Championship team that had been the last to defeat the mighty Sooners, the 2012 defense, playing on the big stage, issued a national statement.
Afterward, Buhl didn't hesitate in delivering to Brown and his teammates an instant message.
It simply read: "The MOB may just be back."