'A program-defining win': Kansas State football brimming with confidence after beating West Virginia

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents (23) celebrates after tackling West Virginia's Leddie Brown (4) for a loss during the third quarter last Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Wildcats beat West Virginia, 34-17, for their fourth straight victory.

MANHATTAN — It's not quite a swagger.

The wounds from a three-game Big 12 losing streak may be a little too fresh for that.

But take the temperature around Kansas State's football program these days, compared to a month ago, and it's definitely rising. Winning will do that.

"We're extremely confident," senior safety Russ Yeast said after the Wildcats knocked off West Virginia — a team they hadn't beaten in six years — 34-17 Saturday for their fourth straight victory. "You can just tell by watching us play — how hard everybody's playing and everybody's running to the ball and all.

"(Defensive) line, linebackers, secondary, I think we're extremely confident right now."

Playing with confidence

Yeast was, of course, referring K-State's resurgent defense, which more than any unit has turned a corner since the Wildcats started out 0-3 in the Big 12. But he easily could have been speaking for the whole team.

More:Kansas State football vs. West Virginia report card: How we graded the Wildcats' performance

Winning handily at Kansas two weeks ago to become bowl eligible was one thing. Beating a West Virginia team that had been their kryptonite meant much more.

"It's just huge for us and I feel like today was a very program-defining win for us," said sixth-year senior quarterback Skylar Thompson. "Just looking back at the past couple of years, the teams that we've been beating we beat every year and the teams that we've been losing to we lose to every year.

"So for us to kind of get the monkey off our back a little bit and get this win vs. West Virginia is huge four our program. We have a lot of confidence and feel like we're rolling right now as a team."

If not exactly transformational, the victory over West Virginia further reinforced K-State's emphasis on preparation and attention to detail.

More:'It was a gutsy call': How a big fourth-down conversion saved the day for Kansas State

Wildcats have great expectations

"It's belief, confidence and expectation," K-State coach Chris Klieman said. "Those are the three kind of terms we've kind of come up with these last four weeks is, have confidence that you know the plan, you can execute the plan, have belief in yourself (and) belief in each other.

"And then let's raise the expectations every week."

The Wildcats close out the regular season against two more teams that they have yet to beat since Klieman took over as coach two years ago. They play host to No. 13-ranked Baylor (8-2, 5-2) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday for senior day, then travel to Austin on Nov. 26 to take on reeling Texas (4-6, 2-5).

"We're feeling good right now," said senior defensive tackle Eli Huggins, who had a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss against West Virginia. "Losing those three games really sucked.

"We always prepared hard, but we've taken it to another level and we've seen that's been successful the last few weeks and so we've just got to keep it rolling now."

Keep it rolling while still taking time to enjoy the ride, added super-senior center Noah Johnson.

"The expectations are live in the moment, enjoy this win, because wins are really hard to come by and it's been a long time coming to beat West Virginia," he said after the game. "But tomorrow it's back to work. Recovery, watch film, take care of your body, and then Monday it's time to go 1-0 on Monday.

"The process restarts and just continuing to improve on things that we're doing well in our preparation and continuing to do the things we are doing at a high level. And don't slip up, don't change anything just because you're having success."

Cats poised for a strong finish

In other words, don't dwell on the past, but don't forget it either.

"We need to remember what it felt like when we had that three-game skid and remember how quickly things can change if you take your foot off the gas," Johnson said. "So continuing to hold yourself to a high standard (and) hold your teammates to a high standard.

"I've got all the confidence in the world that our team's going to continue to do that, but in the meantime we're really going to enjoy this win."

Baylor comes into this week's game with some momentum of its own after handing Oklahoma its first loss last week, 27-14. But so does K-State.

"We've obviously won four in a row and we're very confident right now," said Thompson, who is looking at the final home game of an illustrious career. "Going into senior day and just finishing off the season, it's the fourth quarter as we talked about going into this game.

"We've got to finish the season strong. It's not easy and it's not going to be easy, and we don't want it to be easy. I feel like that mindset that we have on this team and coaching staff, it gives us a lot of confidence and a lot of motivation, really, to finish this thing strong."