MANHATTAN — The running game has been hit or miss for Kansas State through three games.
It took a back seat to the passing game against Central Arkansas, thrived against Charlotte then had mixed results in a 14-7 loss Vanderbilt with quarterback Jesse Ertz effective with 126 yards but little production from the running backs.
“Every single week we’ve built on, adding here and there,” K-State tight end Dayton Valentine said. “Week 1 was expanding the passing game, then Week 2 going back to running the ball effectively. This week we’re preparing to put everything back together and put together a good game plan and execute it.
“Against Vandy, we were one block away here or one thing away from breaking some big plays.”
The Wildcats want to get the ground game up and running against Baylor in the Big 12 opener at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium. The Bears rank last in the conference and No. 116 nationally in run defense, allowing 236.5 yards a game.
“We take a lot of pride in being tough and strong up front,” Valentine said. “One thing we want to do every week is be more physical than the other team. Being the first conference game of the year, we really want to come out and be able to prove that.”
Sophomore running back Alex Barnes ran for 99 yards against Charlotte but hasn’t been the explosive presence he was a year ago.
“Alex has probably not played to his capabilities,” coach Bill Snyder said. “All that’s not his fault by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a very competitive young guy and he will get better.
“He understands the things he needs to do and what’s held him back a little bit. He’s working diligently to get those things corrected. I know there’s a lot more on the table.”
The return of Justin Silmon, who had three carries for 41 yards at Vanderbilt after missing the first two games, could add diversity to the run game in tandem with Barnes.
“We know he is capable,” Snyder said of Silmon. “We’ve seen him do it before. He ran reasonably well two Saturdays ago but I don’t think anything has changed. He’s a fine running back for us.”
Ertz had the big game rushing game against Vanderbilt when he carried the load with 24 carries, but he was only 10 of 28 passing for 76 yards.
“I would like to see more balance in what we do so it’s not always that aspect of the quarterback run game as much,” Snyder said. “Once again, if that’s what you have to do, you take what they give you.”
The Wildcats take what is given, but they also want to impose their will and establish what they want to do.
“Football is a physical game and to get in position to block someone is one thing,” Snyder said, “but to create movement that opens holes up for ball carriers to run through is a pretty simple statement. That’s part of what we’ve always tried to enhance with our offensive line, and our fullbacks and tight ends fit in with that as well. That’s something we can do better and I think they are focused on that.”
Snyder said Ertz and the wide receivers, who had six dropped passes against Vanderbilt, took advantage of the bye week to sharpen their skills.
“We threw the ball well and we caught the ball well and ran routes well,” Snyder said of Monday’s practice, which he described as the most spirited of the season. “Our receivers looked quick. Of course, we’re in shorts, but nevertheless they have taken upon themselves to make strides and they have.”
The offensive output against Central Arkansas and Charlotte may have been exaggerated against lesser competition, and while Vanderbilt has a stout defense the Wildcats want to prove that sub-par performance was an anomaly.
“We’re definitely excited to get back out there and show we can do some good things,” said wide receiver Dalton Schoen. “All we have to do is execute. It hurt to have a bye week to sit on after what happened at Vandy so we are excited to go out there and play well and put the Vanderbilt game behind us.”
Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.