The world of college football, especially the Big 12 Conference, is moving faster. Offenses are sprinting to the line of scrimmage, scrapping the huddle and snapping the ball before the defense can react — at least that’s the goal.
Missouri saw it against Oklahoma on Sept. 24 and found it exhausting. They won’t have to deal with it this week, because there’s still one Big 12 team that is rooted in a mostly bygone era.
If the rest of the conference is moving toward jet tempo, Kansas State is a single-engine propeller plane. But that plane flies just fine, just ask the Associated Press voters, who have Kansas State at No. 20 in this week's poll.
Led by the old school approach of head coach Bill Snyder — who turns 72 on Friday — the Wildcats have ridden their methodical offensive approach to a surprising 4-0 start, including a win at Miami (Florida) and most recently, an upset of then-No. 15 Baylor.
“Who even huddles anymore?” Tigers defensive end Jacquies Smith asked, adding, “They play like their coach.”
Perhaps doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing isn’t so crazy. In the pass-happy Big 12, the Wildcats have stuck to running the ball. Collin Klein’s 423 yards on the ground leads Big 12 quarterbacks, signaling an effective option run game that has given teams fits throughout the season.
Entering conference play, it might be even more of an advantage. As teams game plan for the rest of the league’s air-based attacks, the change of style would seem to increase the degree of difficulty in terms of defensive preparation.
However, Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel wasn’t worried so much about the pace as he was about the Snyder’s experience on the sideline — 20 seasons, all with Kansas State, entering 2011.
“He’s going to find out what hurt you in the past and use that to exploit you, and see if you’ve corrected your mistakes in the past,” Steckel said. “I guess Phil Jackson was the Zen master, he’s the scheme master. He’ll scheme you to death.”
The “scheme master" is just using Klein as his latest weapon. Snyder has had great running backs, like current Miami Dolphin Daniel Thomas, as well as great running quarterbacks, such as Ell Roberson, who led the Wildcats to their only Big 12 title in 2003.
“I think coach Snyder has never found a run game that he doesn’t like,” Steckel said.
“(Klein) reminds me of the old slashing type of running back ... I have great respect for him as a runner, and I think he’s tough as hell. To take all the hits he’s been taking, he’s got my respect."
While the defense will benefit from having more time between plays to catch their breath and call plays, it’s not as if the Wildcats will be wasting that time playing tiddly winks. Snyder is known for his ability to signal in adjustments once his team is lined up to design great plays on the fly.
“It comes down to, during that time, us making sure we know what we’re doing,” Missouri linebacker Luke Lambert said.
Against the option attack, every single Tiger will need to know what their assignment is, or things could go very bad, very quickly.
“Option football, it takes all 11 guys on defense doing their job right,” Smith said. “One guy messes up, it could go for a long time."
It’s extremely important to Missouri’s season to get a win in Manhattan. With two losses already on the books, and a four-game stretch of current Top 25 teams looming after homecoming, a loss Saturday could put bowl hopes in jeopardy if the Tigers can’t score some upsets later in the season.
It won’t be easy. Pinkel is 2-5 against Snyder, but the Tigers have won the past five meetings between the two teams (Snyder retired after the 2005 season, but returned in 2009).
If the Missouri defense can slow down the already slow Kansas State offense, Missouri will have a good shot to make it six in a row against the Wildcats. If not, Snyder will have something to celebrate other than his birthday this weekend.