Kevin Haskin: Big 12 defenses show mettle in nonconference play

K-State defense solid in defeat in spite of overturned touchdown return

Do not look now, but the Big 12 is flexing some defensive muscle.

 

Oh, go ahead. Look. Whatever strides the conference made defensively in nonconference play could break down with the start of Big 12 play this week.

Kansas State staged a throwback performance, but was on the losing end of a 14-7 outcome Saturday at Vanderbilt.

“I thought we played very well (defensively). Played hard across the board,’’ K-State’s Bill Snyder said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Gave up a few things here and there, but outside of a drive on the second possession that they had, we were really very effective.’’

The Wildcats actually scored twice in that defeat, but a fumble return for a second-quarter touchdown by safety Kendall Adams was overturned upon review.

During the Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday, Bill Snyder replied “No,’’ when asked whether he saw how the TD could be overturned and whether he was provided a sufficient explanation.

Had the touchdown counted, it would have been the third TD in two weeks by Adams and further punctuated a salty effort from the Wildcats’ defense. In addition, the TD would have given the Wildcats a lead to protect and kept them from settling for a single-digit total for the first time in 22 games.

As it is, K-State remains one of the three Big 12 teams to hold opponents to fewer than 300 yards on average. The teams ranked first and second are both undefeated, TCU and Oklahoma.

The biggest conference challenge coming out of the gate will involve the Horned Frogs. They travel to Oklahoma State on Saturday in an early clash between potential Big 12 contenders.

The Cowboys’ first-string offense barely broke a sweat in the second half during their 3-0 start. Anyone not convinced OU’s Baker Mayfield is the Heisman front-runner is probably nodding toward Cowboys QB Mason Rudolph, who shredded Pittsburgh with five touchdown passes last week. All came in the first half.

TCU got into a 56-36 scrape with SMU, but limited the Mustangs’ standout receiver, Courtland Sutton, to one catch that gained nothing.

OSU, however, features a diverse group of receivers. Although All-America hopeful James Washington is the most decorated, Rudolph is capable of going through his progressions and accurately distributing the ball. He ran his string of consecutive pass attempts without an interception to 216 before finally getting picked off by Pittsburgh.

“You better do a very good job with your eyes and they have some very good wide receivers,’’ TCU coach Gary Patterson said.

Mentioning his linemen “up front’’ have shown the most improvement so far, Patterson cautioned “that you can’t give up the big play. You give up four or five big plays and it doesn’t matter how you play the rest of the game.’’

Another impressive defensive performance last week for the Big 12 came from Texas. The Longhorns continually made big stops, but fell 27-24 in double-overtime at Southern Cal. UT was coming off a shutout of San Jose State after surrendering 482 yards in a 51-41 season-opening loss to Maryland.

“The Maryland game was a gigantic wakeup call for our guys,’’ said first-year UT coach Tom Herman, “in that you can train all you want and if you don’t go out and play with the kind of effort, energy and passion that we’ve seen these past two weeks, you can get beat by anybody.’’

Beginning this week, it isn’t just anybody. It is Big 12 play, where defensive fortitude over four quarters is often put through a grueling, breakneck pace.

Particularly with senior quarterbacks the caliber of Mayfield and Rudolph leading teams ranked No. 3 and No. 6, respectively.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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