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K-State determined to get back on winning track

Arne Green
agreen@saina.com
Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Nick Ast (17) relieved starter Will Howard during last week's game at Iowa State and could again split time with the freshman Saturday at Baylor.

After his Kansas State Wildcats left the field last Saturday in Ames, Iowa, on the receiving end of a 45-0 beatdown by Iowa State, Chris Klieman wasn't ready to let go.

"I don't want them to forget this feeling. This one needs to sting," he said. "So it's going to hurt for the next 24 hours, and then we come back on Monday."

Monday has come and gone, and the Iowa State fiasco is in the rearview mirror. But it's also gut-check time for the Wildcats, who take a three-game losing streak to Waco, Texas, on Saturday for a 6 p.m. showdown against struggling Baylor at McLane Stadium.

K-State (4-4, 4-3 Big 12) must now get back on track without overlooking a Baylor team that despite its 1-5 record — all in the Big 12 — has just one double-digit loss during its current five-game losing streak. That was an 11-point setback at Texas, with the other four decided by a touchdown or less.

"It’s a game that our kids know the importance of," Klieman said. "I was pleased with practice on Monday. We had a really good team meeting (and) talked about a lot of things.

"Our kids bounced back and had a good day on Monday. Now we just have to sustain that and make sure we're playing at as high of a level as we can."

The Iowa State game quickly got out of hand after the Cyclones scored on the opening drive, then stopped the Wildcats near the goal line on their first possession. Four second-quarter touchdowns put K-State in a 35-0 hole.

"It was a humbling day on Saturday for all of us — players and coaches included," Klieman said. "Sometimes that happens to you in this profession. Nobody wants to have that happen ever to them, but sometimes it does and you have to learn from it and you have to grow from it and you have to hit it head on and be ready to attack the next day.”

It was especially humbling for Klieman and his staff, much of which came with him to K-State last year after winning four FCS national titles in five seasons at North Dakota State. It was easily the most lopsided loss in Klieman's seven-year head coaching tenure.

Senior tight end Briley Moore, a graduate transfer who played against Klieman's North Dakota State teams while at Northern Iowa, said he could tell that the coaches were irritated.

"They were obviously upset, but they didn’t come in there and just start yelling at us and stuff," Moore said Tuesday. "We had a great meeting and a great practice, and I think the way that they handled it is the reason that we were able to have such a productive day Monday, because it starts at the top and they showed great leadership by obviously pointing out the things that we've got to do better.

”They started off by putting the blame first on them, so I think they're doing a great job of handling it. Now it’s on us to make sure that we answer the call and continue to get better each day this week.”

Klieman called for his players to hold each other accountable after the game, no doubt a topic of discussion at Monday's meeting.

"These kids have really great resolve and great pride in their craft, and I know that we have unbelievable leaders with high character and high integrity,“ Klieman said. "I told them they need to step up and take some ownership.

“We as coaches need to take ownership and they need to take ownership as players and challenge each other to be better and challenge each other to reach the standard that we all expect, not (just) on the field, but off the field as well and doing things right."

The Wildcats did not do much right against Iowa State, giving up 539 yards while managing just 149 on offense.

"We knew that that wasn’t us, and that was a pretty embarrassing loss," senior cornerback Kiondre Thomas said. "That's just something that we know that we have to put behind us.

"What happened, happened, and we have to keep pushing forward through next week."

On offense Klieman pulled true freshman quarterback Will Howard in the second quarter in favor of junior Nick Ast and said the two would share practice repetitions this week.

"We will keep working both of them, and are excited about the opportunity for Will to bounce back and the opportunity for Nick to build on what he had on the field," he said.

The defense was without starting linebackers Justin Hughes and Elijah Sullivan for the Iowa State game as a result of COVID-19 testing, and they are not expected back. Klieman gave high marks to backups Daniel Green and Cody Fletcher, but expressed concern over a lack of depth at the position.

Wide receiver Malik Knowles and defensive tackle Jalen Pickle both are expected back this week.

Baylor, which has not won since beating Kansas, 47-14, to start the season, still has been in every game. The Bears now have had two weeks off since dropping a 24-23 heartbreaker at Texas Tech on Nov. 14.

"They’re a team that could probably have four wins right now," Klieman said. "Football is so strange, because we’re not playing at the best level for us right now, but we played at a high enough level to beat Oklahoma. We played at a high enough level to beat TCU. We played at a high enough level to beat Texas Tech.

"We just have to focus on what we can control, and that’s our play, our effort, our attitude, our energy and our ability to execute."

That, Thomas agreed, is the key.

"Playing football, you'll reach the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and we’ll just have to get through it," he said. "Because we've proven that we can beat anybody, but we've also proven that we can lose to anybody. So we just have to remain focused.”

KANSAS STATE AT BAYLOR

Kickoff: 6 p.m. Saturday, McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas

Records: Kansas State 4-4 (4-3 Big 12); Baylor 1-5 (1-5)

TV/Radio: ESPN2/Topeka: WIBW-AM (580); Salina: KSAL-AM (1150)

Line: Baylor by 5.5

Up next: K-State vs. Texas, Dec. 5, Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan