September 26, 2014

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) There are certain fundamentals that Bill Snyder stresses, and one of them is executing in the final 20 yards before the goal line.

Kansas State's performance there last week had the old coach seeing, well, a whole lot of red.

Five times they ventured into the red zone against Auburn. Only twice they came away with points. Two drives ended in missed field goals, as did another that was stopped short of the 20. The other time they came up blank, wide receiver Tyler Lockett had sure-fire touchdown pass ricochet off his shoulder pads and into the waiting arms of a Tigers defender for an interception.

All the red-zone woes conspired to doom No. 25 Kansas State (2-1) to a frustrating 20-14 loss Thursday night, one that players still seemed to be ruing as they prepared for Saturday's game against UTEP.

''It's frustrating since we're usually pretty good at that,'' quarterback Jake Waters said, ''and to not be able to finish in big games is always frustrating. We make those plays all the time.''

Well, not quite all the time. The Wildcats also struggled to put touchdowns on the board when they reached the red zone in the previous game against Iowa State.

''We need to have a stronger mindset in regards to that area,'' Snyder said. ''My belief is that if you're able to move it down the field, you should be able to move it when you get down there.''

UTEP (2-1) certainly hasn't been having any problems with that.

The Miners are near the top of Division I in terms of red-zone efficiency, putting points on the board in 13 of 14 trips. More importantly, 10 of those trips resulted in touchdowns.

''The other thing that has been a real positive offensively is 12 drives of 70 yards or more,'' UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. ''That means we're putting together efficient drives, running, passing and finishing the drives, which was a goal going into the season.''

Kugler said he views Saturday's game as a barometer for his program, an opportunity to play one of the nation's heavyweights from a power conference. And while he's pleased with the way his team has played - including a close loss to another Big 12 opponent, Texas Tech - he understands an ornery bunch of Wildcats represents a monumental test.

After all, if not for their red-zone issues, they may have beaten fifth-ranked Auburn.

''They had a drop that was a sure touchdown and they missed field goals that probably should've won the game,'' Kugler said. ''If they catch that one touchdown and cash in on those field goals they're walking away with a victory against a top-5 team, which probably should've been the case.''

No need to remind the Wildcats.

Here are a few other things to watch for as Kansas State plays UTEP:

LONG WAIT: The Wildcats played Auburn on a Thursday night, which means they had a couple extra days to stew over the disappointment. ''Even though we fell short, we feel like we gave great effort last Thursday,'' running back Charles Jones said, ''so I am foaming at the mouth to play again.''

LONG WAIT, PART 2: UTEP had last week off, which means it will have been two full weeks since the Miners beat New Mexico State. ''It gave us a good time to evaluate as a staff where we're at,'' Kugler said, ''what we're doing well, things we need to do better.''

HISTORY: This will be the third meeting between the schools with Kansas state winning 40-7 at home in 1999. UTEP won the first meeting in El Paso, 20-6 in 1947.

GROUND AND POUND: Kansas State virtually shut down the Auburn run game. It will have another big test in UTEP. The Miners are averaging 314 yards on the ground, eighth-best among Football Bowl Subdivision schools. ''They're a tough football team, hard-nosed and tough up front,'' Wildcats linebacker Jonathan Truman said. ''They run the ball well. They have proved that with all of their statistics. They're right up at the top in the country in rushing right now.''

PENALTY FREE: UTEP has only had three offensive penalties in three games, and Kansas State was not flagged once against the Tigers. Both schools are among the best in FBS in penalty stats. ''Two things that always factor into wins and losses,'' Kugler said, ''are turnovers and penalties.''

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