Kansas State long has had a tradition of excellence on special teams, first under Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder and more recently under second-year coach Chris Klieman. That comes from the total attention on special teams not found in all coaching staffs.
Heading into Saturday's Big 12 game at West Virginia, No. 16 Kansas State has 55 touchdowns on kickoff or punt returns since 2005, the most in the FBS.
"Each one of our coaches has an assignment on special teams," defensive coordinator Van Malone said while subbing for Klieman in the head coach's press conference Tuesday. "Everyone is involved. I think it's important that our players see that and recognize the importance of special teams. You get one play to be special, and we've had some units go out there and make big plays for our team."
Phillip Brooks had two first-half punt-return touchdowns in K-State's 55-14 win over Kansas last week, earning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors. His 189 punt return yards and two touchdowns were school records. He is the first player in Big 12 Conference history to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game.
The Wildcats (4-1, 4-0 Big 12) are looking to stay atop the conference standings with Oklahoma State before next weekend's game against the Cowboys. Malone says the Wildcats can't look past the Mountaineers.
"Our coaching staff stresses that every win is a great win," he said. "Each week, we have to prepare ourselves by paying the price on Sunday, Monday and throughout the week. We have to stack the days. We have to continue to get better week to week to compete in the Big 12.
"This week will be important because we'll face a tough opponent at (their) home. Those guys have played extremely hard all season."
Besides trying to stop K-State's return game, West Virginia (3-2, 2-2) will rely on the conference's stingiest defense. The Mountaineers rank first in the Big 12 in total defense, an average of 261.8 yards a game. Additionally, WVU is second in the Big 12 in scoring defense (21.8 points/game).
Head coach Neal Brown sees a challenge with maintaining that excellence against the Wildcats.
"Offensively they have been really good at getting their elite players the ball," he said. "I've been extremely impressed with their running back, (Deuce) Vaughn, and their transfer tight end, Briley Moore, has been special.
"Will Howard stepping in has done a quality job as a true freshman."
The Mountaineers are coming off a tough 34-27 loss at Texas Tech.
"It was a game we didn't finish," Brown said. "We got off to a slow start defensively. Offensively we played one of our better games, but we have to be more consistent. In special teams we showed improvement.
"Coach Klieman has (K-State) playing extremely hard. The climate there for a long time has been about toughness, playing defense and being great on special teams. They continue to do that."
--Field Level Media