Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
After several sputtering weeks in Kansas State’s retooled new offense, Brandon Banks charged back to show what he could do in one magical afternoon last week.
The first three games of the season were disappointing for Banks, who had trouble producing and was even demoted from his accustomed role as Kansas State’s top punt returner after a slow start.
“There was never any doubt, but I was struggling a little bit,” Banks said. “I had to get my confidence back and that game gave me the opportunity.”
It all changed last week against Tennessee Tech when Banks’ big-play abilities resurfaced as quickly as they had disappeared.
Banks returned kickoffs 92 and 91 yards for touchdowns to help spark the Wildcats’ 49-7 victory over Tennessee Tech. It marked the first time in Big 12 history and only the 12th time in NCAA history that a player had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game.
Before the game, KSU wide receivers coach Michael Smith told Banks that he should be prepared to produce a big play that could help the Wildcats win.
But two kickoff returns for touchdowns?
“He always encouraged me and told me that anything is possible,” Banks said. “It let me know they still had confidence in me. I wanted to make the most of my chance.”
His first return might have been one of the most technically precise returns he has ever been a part of.
“It was just a thing of beauty when you watch it on film,” Banks said. “Everybody on the field had their hat (helmet) on somebody on the other team. The whole thing opened up so wide you could have driven an 18-wheeler through it. It was the best blocking for a return I’ve ever seen.”
Veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder joked that even nearing 70, he could have made some yardage on the return because of the blocking precision exhibited by the Wildcats on the play.
“You just couldn’t have blocked it any better,” Snyder told reporters after the game. “That's what you hope for every single time. Our other 10 guys really did a nice job. But on the second one, he made some things happen on the return as well. I was pleased with him."
The big effort on special teams carried over to Banks’ receiving skills, where he had similarly struggled earlier in the season attempting to make connections with new Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman.
Before last week’s game against Tennessee Tech, Banks was averaging less than 9 yards a reception -- a huge drop from a player who was KSU’s primary playmaker last season.
While playing with Josh Freeman last season, Banks accounted for 1,049 yards last season to rank fifth in the Big 12 in receiving yards as he averaged more than 15 yards per catch.
“I really didn’t know what had happened this year,” Banks said. “It was just the way the game had gone for us. Offensively, we had been struggling with the passing game and I wasn’t touching the ball much. I hoped we could get it turned around.”
But the big special-teams plays helped Banks return on the offense. He produced 90 yards on three receptions, including a 64-yard grab that represented the longest pass reception of the season for the Wildcats.
Banks also produced 29 yards on three punts and another yard on a reverse to account for 303 all-purpose yards. It was the fifth-highest total in Kansas State’s history and nearly matched his previous season total of 375 all-purpose yards compiled in his previous three games.
“I hadn’t been playing like I would have liked,” Banks said. “I knew I needed a spark and Saturday’s game gave that to me. It was a relief to get that.”
His breakout game has come at a critical time for the 2-2 Wildcats, who travel to Kansas City for Saturday’s game against Iowa State. It’s a game between two teams expected to battle to stay out of the North Division cellar.
If Banks is playing like he did last week, he’ll be a factor that Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones will have to account for on every play.
“He’s scary and you immediately start to figure out schematically what you’re going to have to do,” Rhoads told the Des Moines Register. “Is there a way of keeping the ball from him, to give him a shorter field to work with?”