Of the five undefeated teams remaining in the Big 12, only Kansas State has trailed more than once in the fourth quarter. It also needed a late touchdown to hold off UCLA in the season opener, a matchup that was a one-point game midway through the final period.
The Wildcats tightrope act has been fun to watch, but might not have been possible a year ago. In the first month of the 2009 season the Wildcats lost 17-15 to Louisiana-Lafayette and let a four-point UCLA lead in the fourth quarter balloon into a 14-point win.
"I think part of it that I would say is we’ve had some good fortune fall our way," said coach Bill Snyder. "Secondly, our youngsters, they pay attention to their ability to finish ball games. That’s important to them, they’ve made that important to them."
The Wildcats got a few timely passes from Carson Coffman in a 17-13 win over Central Florida two Saturdays ago, when running back Daniel Thomas was stuffed for most of the game. Coffman kept a game-winning drive alive with a pair of third-down completions and the go-ahead touchdown wasn't a run from Thomas, it was a run from Coffman.
"It just comes down to who wants it more. We struggled early on and then the second, third quarter we tried to turn it on, but we have to start strong and quicker because it’s not always going to be like that. We were fortunate to come out with a win," Thomas said. "I just think the coaches did a great job of calling the right plays and we did a good job of executing. We didn’t want to come out with a loss at home."
They'll try to do the same on Thursday night when Nebraska comes to Manhattan. And Coffman might be forced to make a few more plays if Nebraska shuts down Thomas as UCF did.
"They had nine guys in the box all the time and they ran to the ball. They were faster and more athletic than any defense we’ve played so far this year," Thomas said. "It was frustrating, not being able to get yardage and everything, but we got the win and that was the most important thing. It was kind of a reality check."
But a more experienced team, especially Thomas, Coffman and a defense that returned seven starters from a year ago has helped Kansas State to its first 4-0 start since 2003, when the Wildcats won the Big 12 under Snyder.
"They’ve been perhaps admonished over a few years of not having the capacity to [finish games]," Snyder said. "It’s beginning to show some maturity and beginning to show their understanding of the perception that you have to finish well to succeed. It’s a combination of things probably."