November 3, 2013
By Kelly McHugh
It's been an uphill climb for the K-State defense, and they're not slowing down any time soon.
In last night's 41-7 win over Iowa State, the Wildcats' (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) defense displayed some of the best football fans in Bill Snyder Family Stadium had seen all season.
"I think we're gradually improving each and every game on the defense," junior defensive end Ryan Mueller said. "It's a credit to our coaches. They're doing a great job working with us and demanding the best from us. They put confidence in us that we can get the job done, and so far everything is going well. We're not exactly where we want to be - we're 4-4 - so we're trying to get bowl eligible and trying to win as many games as we can from here on out."
In the beginning of the season - during K-State's 2-4 start - the Wildcats often found themselves struggling giving up big plays. However, after back-to-back home wins, keying in on not letting up when things get tough is a major component of the defense's recent success.
"In situations where we needed something to happen, where we needed a play to be made, we made that play and that's really exciting for our defense going forward," senior linebacker Blake Slaughter said after the game. "That's so much of the game, that's so much of what goes on. You're going to be put in tough spots, you're going to be put in spots where you have to win the game, and that's what it all boils down to. Can you make that play to win the game? Can you come through in the clutch and get it done? So to see guys getting it done today was really exciting."
The Cyclones' solo touchdown came in the final four minutes of the game after a K-State fumble on its own 10-yard line put Iowa State in the red zone for the first time of the game.
Though it shattered K-State's hopes of recording its first conference shutout since 2003, an accolade head coach Bill Snyder said he believed his defense deserved, there's no doubt yesterday's game was a major step this season.
As a matter of fact, Iowa State's longest offensive play was only a 16-yard pass and the Cyclones were successful on only four out of 15 of their third down conversions.
"Defense played well," Snyder said, "We played well collectively throughout the course of the ballgame. We didn't give up any big plays, and that was major in my eyes, and we did a pretty good job on third downs."
An all-around effort by the defensive unit, Mueller, Slaughter, junior linebacker Jonathan Truman and senior defensive back Ty Zimmerman all recorded seven tackles yesterday.
"Coming into the season we lost eight or nine starters, it was kind of tough there for a while, but I think we've built our trust with each other over the last four or five weeks," Zimmerman said. "We got a bunch of unselfish guys on the defense who don't care where the tackle goes, guys who go out there and make plays. That's part of just trusting one another and it's trusting one another to be in the right spot at the right time. That definitely showed out there today."
Along with his seven tackles, Mueller recorded one sack as he continues to be a leader to his teammates with his hard work ethic and team-first mentality.
"I want to be a playmaker for this team. Everybody wants to be a playmaker for this team," Mueller said. "I've had opportunities to do so and I've capitalized on them, but it's definitely a credit to the guys who play behind me putting me in that position and giving me enough time to make those plays."
After putting themselves in the position to win, Wildcats who don't usually see playing time on the field also had the opportunity to get into the game and make big plays.
Junior transfer linebacker Dakorey Johnson recorded two tackles and intercepted a pass, while freshman defensive end Jordan Willis recorded the Wildcats' second sack in the game's final minutes.
While the journey hasn't been an easy one, this defensive unit has come together better than ever this season, and these guys know if they continue to work as one, their future will be bright.
"It was a good team victory for this squad," Mueller continued. "We're all coming together as a true team, and the sky's the limit."
The Wildcats' next contest is on the road in Lubbock, Texas, next Saturday against Texas Tech in an 11:00 a.m. game. The Wildcats' first road game in over a month, the matchup will be aired on ABC.
"We went down there two years ago and it's a pretty excited crowd," Slaughter said. "It's a tough place to play, so we'll have to get used to it. We'll have to get our minds right to go down there because I know the Red Raiders, they're pretty rowdy."
For a full recap of yesterday's win, click here.
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