COLUMBIA – After three weeks of college football, it was hard to say how Kansas would react to adversity – not only on the field, but also from a week filled with distractions after a fight with members of the Jayhawks' basketball team.
The Jayhawks cruised past Northern Colorado, UTEP and Duke to open the season, but remained tied with Southern Mississippi going into the fourth quarter Saturday in Lawrence, Kan. A quick touchdown pass from Todd Reesing to Kerry Meier with 14:15 to go was the difference in a 35-28 Jayhawks victory.
"Our kids buckled down in the fourth quarter," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said in Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "I think they started to realize what Southern Miss was trying to do, getting a good grip on down and distance plays and things like that, and really felt comfortable. We kept our poise, we didn't get rattled, and we really dug in."
Southern Mississippi, coming into the game undefeated, equaled Kansas in passing at 331 yards. Mangino said that was representative of the Eagles' offensive strength.
"Our kids did not necessarily play poorly on defense in the beginning of the game," he said. "I think Southern Miss executed extremely well. We contested several balls in the air that they came up with. We were able to shut down their run game.
Kansas (4-0) held Southern Mississippi to just 64 yards on the ground, and meanwhile managed 102 rushing yards with starting running back Jake Sharp unavailable because of injury.
Mangino said earning a hard-fought win to close the nonconference slate was helpful.
"They (Southern Miss) came out with a good offensive game plan, they did a bunch we had not really seen on tape before, executed really well," he said. "It was a good test for us going into conference play."
Wildcats' fundamentals still need improvement
Defense has been an issue for Kansas State so far this season. After a two-point win and two losses, the Wildcats earned their first blowout victory of the year Saturday in a 49-7 win against Tennessee Tech.
Coach Bill Snyder cautioned against assuming previous defensive weaknesses have been remedied.
"I'm pleased that we have made some progress," he said. "It's pretty hard to equate last week's opponent to UCLA (the opponent two weeks ago) or an upcoming Big 12 Conference schedule. The improvement that we made this past week is a little more difficult to define, because of the differentiation in the caliber of the opponent. We've still got an awful long ways to go."
Kansas State will play a neutral site game against Iowa State at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City next week. Snyder did not talk much about the Cyclones, who like Kansas State have struggled in recent years.
"It sounds kind of cliche and simplistic, but it (preparation) really is about us trying to become a better football team," he said. "And as I shared with our team the entirety of the season, it's not about who we're playing. We're going to play good, good football teams."
Snyder suggested his team needs to address long-term issues, repeating from last week several areas in which Kansas State needs growth.
"It's about us trying to correct all the mistakes that we make, enhance the spirit and emotion with which we play, to enhance discipline with which we play, to enhance the effort with which we play and to become technically more sound," he said.
The goal, Snyder said is to "be able to come off the field tonight and say 'Yes, we got better.'"