MANHATTAN, Kansas — The approach taken by Kansas State's offense a couple of years ago was simple: The Wildcats were going to run it right at their opponents, daring them to make a stop.
That all changed last season.
With an accurate quarterback in Jake Waters and a dynamic wide receiver in Tyler Lockett, now with the Seattle Seahawks, the Wildcats all but bailed out on their run game. The result was a leading rusher who barely broke 500 yards, and an offense that was woefully unbalanced — at least by Kansas State coach Bill Snyder's standards.
But with plenty of questions at quarterback this season, and a plethora of talented running backs on the roster, Kansas State is poised to get back to its running roots.
"We're really trying to emphasize being physical runners, and running downhill, and making guys miss and getting some yards after what we call confrontation, which means either make them miss or run them over," Wildcats offensive coordinator Dana Dimel explained.
"We've been emphasizing that," he said, "and I think they've stepped up."
Charles Jones, the presumptive leader on the depth chart, led the Wildcats in rushing with 540 yards a year ago. It was the second-fewest yards for any leading rusher since 1989, and a far cry from the 1,000-yard seasons that Darren Sproles and others once churned out.
As a team, the Wildcats averaged just 134.2 yards — eighth-best in the Big 12.
Dimel said the reason for that was opposing teams, accustomed to the Wildcats winning games on the ground, lined up to take that away. They would rather watch Waters throw for 400 yards, as he did against West Virginia, than watch Kansas State grind games away, as they did when bruising Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was the quarterback.
There is more talent at running back this year than last year, though, and potentially less at quarterback and wide receiver. Jesse Ertz appears to have a slight edge to start under center in the opener Sept. 5 against South Dakota, but three other quarterbacks are in the running. And at wide receiver, Lockett and dependable Curry Sexton have both graduated.
But Jones is back in the backfield, and he's joined by a pair of talented freshmen in Justin Silmon and Dalvin Warmack, both of whom redshirted a year ago.
Warmack is an especially intriguing prospect. He was a two-time winner of the Simone Award as the best prep player in the Kansas City metro, and the Missouri player of the year as a junior and senior at Blue Springs (Missouri) High School.
"He'll be competitive in the running back position," Snyder acknowledged. "We probably have as good of depth than before. Now it's about bringing the quality out of it."
Or, figuring out how best to use each of them. Snyder seemed to indicate the Wildcats will take a running back-by-committee approach to the season.
"They all have a little different knack, each and every one of them, but he is certainly going to be in the top three," Snyder said. "Among those guys, it's very, very competitive right now. There's not a clear-cut decision at this point and time. Dalvin is good, hard worker who takes things in quite well. He's a good teammate and humble young guy, which I admire."
The Wildcats also shared carries a year ago, when Jones and DeMarcus Robinson took most of the snaps. But some of their best years in terms of ground production have been when they've had a featured back, someone who is on the field for the majority of reps.
Sproles was that guy in the early 2000s. Daniel Thomas and John Hubert were more recently.
Dimel said he is fine with sharing carries, even if it makes it harder for his running backs to get into a rhythm. And if someone grasps ahold of the No. 1 job, that's fine, too.
"We like the competition," he said. "(Jones) isn't the guy, but right now he's the leader. The other guys will play in the first game and be able to see what they can do. We definitely want to get everyone out there on game day and see what they can do."