MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has spent most of the past three decades at the forefront of offensive innovation, going back to his pass-happy days as the offensive coordinator at Iowa.
Indeed, it was his air-it-out style that turned the Wildcats from doormat to dominant.
When he arrived in the late 1980s, everyone in the old Big Eight was grinding out games. Oklahoma ran its vaunted wishbone behind the likes of Jamelle Holieway, Nebraska pounded defenses with I backs such as Lawrence Phillips and Kenny Clark, and even perennial also-ran programs had ground-oriented offenses - think of Barry Sanders at Oklahoma State and Troy Davis at Iowa State.
Snyder bucked the trend by throwing, throwing and throwing some more. And his Big Eight brethren were unprepared to stop quarterbacks putting up the kind of gaudy numbers that are now commonplace.
All of which leads to a delicious bit of irony: Now that everybody else is throwing the ball all over the yard, Snyder has implemented a bulldozer-like offense that harkens back to yesteryear, and it is creating problems all over again for defenses that are now accustomed to defending spread offenses.
''If you're going to be different,'' Snyder said not long ago, ''you had better be good at what you are different at. ... If you are different and good at what you do, then yes, it does create some problems in terms of not being able to prepare week-in and week-out for the same type of offense or defense.''
In other words, Snyder is once again one step ahead of the curve.
The change in approach began more than a decade ago, when Snyder was in his first tenure at Kansas State and players such as Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles were running the show. But it accelerated when he returned from a brief retirement, a period where he stepped back and took an objective look at the game.
Snyder realized that big-name schools with more resources were scouring the country for big-armed quarterbacks, speedy wide receivers and versatile running backs. Offensive linemen who tipped the scales at 320 pounds and spent Saturday afternoons protecting their passer became just as coveted.
So he turned his attention toward recruiting players who could fit into his unique, run-based offense, many of them slipping under the radar and through the cracks of those blue-blood programs.
The result is a roster that this season could be his most complete yet.
Jesse Ertz is back under center after running for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, numbers that made him the Big 12's eighth-leading rusher. Three of the No. 20 Wildcats' top four running backs - Justin Silmon, Alex Barnes and Dalvin Warmack - are also back after combining for more than 1,000 yards.
Even powerful fullback Winston Dimel is back after he ran for 12 TDs a year ago.
Throw in an offensive line that is not only talented but deep, even after center Reid Najvar stepped away from the game because of injuries, and the Wildcats are unquestionably ready to run.
''Having those guys back, since we do so much, is so important to us,'' offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. ''Because of all the concepts and schemes, having that experience is so important.''
Even wide receivers coach Andre Coleman, who played the position during Kansas State's pass-happy days of the 1990s and later in the NFL, acknowledged a shift in the Wildcats' philosophy.
''You have to coach to your talent,'' Coleman said, ''and I think last year we had a bunch of receivers ... that were very talented but very inexperienced. They hadn't been on the big stage and it showed. But we were great in the running game, so we ran the ball. We're going to do whatever it takes to win.''
It's not always pretty. Nor is it that exciting.
But it sure is frustrating for opposing coaches, who are forced to watch helplessly as the Wildcats slowly march downfield. Kansas State led the Big 12 in time of possession last year, wearing down defenses and keeping all those fast-paced offenses off the field.
''Control the ball, control the clock and play hard-nosed football,'' Winston Dimel said. ''We try to be a balanced team as well. A lot of teams say we're run-heavy, but we consider ourselves to be a balanced team, and I think our style helps us in this league.''
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