September 24, 2008

Defenders paid a price for showing

A physically and mentally battered Kansas State defense landed safely in Manhattan a few hours after somberly departing Louisville, Ky, but a night that left the unit with little to be happy about wasn't over when the wheels of the jet carrying the squad touched down in the Little Apple. Unfinished work remained, and it couldn't wait for sunrise to commence. The College football season is a marathon of sorts after all, and head coach Ron Prince's defense felt as if it was training for just that when the events of last Wednesday night and early Thursday morning finally came to close.

It's a cliché as old as the game of football itself, but one the Wildcats have struggled to live by in recent years:

"Put the loss behind you."

By all accounts, it's a mantra Prince both preaches and practices, but after being handed a 38-29 defeat by a team he felt his team should have beaten handily and an almost 600-mile plane ride, the third-year head coach wasn't quite ready to move on. His post-game speech, which started in Louisville just minutes after the game, still had about two hours and one time zone left in it, and his defense wasn't blessed with the privilege of grabbing a knee while the coach wrapped things up.

So every player listed on the defensive depth chart ran … and ran … and ran, all the while being physically and possibly verbally reminded of the 38 points and nearly 600 yards of total offense they, as a unit, had allowed just hours earlier. It wasn't a night any member of the Wildcat defense will be forgetting any time soon.

"I was shocked," said junior cornerback Blair Irvin. "I've never been through anything like that. At the time you're thinking, 'Man, why do we have to do this?' But after we ran, Coach Prince explained to us what was expected. He told us not to look at it as a punishment. You can never hurt yourself by running. You're worn out at 3 in the morning, but you're bettering yourself."

According to Irvin, the running drills concluded between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., making the message clear: Whether the running was a form of punishment or not, the lackluster tackling and all around shakiness the K-State defense displayed in the team's first loss of 2008 are miles away from acceptable.

Change doesn't come about without work, after all, even if said work comes well after most people are tucked into bed.

"At the end of last year he was pretty disappointed, but we all felt really confident about winning this game, so yeah (it was as disappointed) as I've ever seen him after a game that we felt so confident about," senior nose tackle Brandon Balkcom said.

But how is an early-morning conditioning session supposed to help this group wrap up ball carriers and force turnovers, two things the Wildcat defense failed to do effectively in Wednesday's loss? Unfortunately for K-State fans, nobody seems to have a simple answer for that, or at least one they're willing to share publicly.

"(The postgame running) is an interior matter that I don't want to speak about.," senior defensive captain Ian Campbell said. "All I'll to say about it is that as a defense it's our job to not let the other team score points. If we could have done that, we would've won that game. That's all I'll say about it."

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