April 19, 2008

Defense dominates in 3-0 White win

Well, the defense showed up and so did the fans. The Kansas State offense, on the other hand, didn't follow suit. The two K-State squads combined to punt 16 times and gain and grand total of 204 yards in total offense, as place-kicker Josh Cherry's 51-yard field goal was the lone score in the White's defensively charged 3-0 victory over the Purple in Saturday's Spring Game.

"I think this game was a combination of (bad offense and good defense), said defensive back Gary Chandler, who suited up for the losing Purple Saturday. "The defense did a heck of a job tonight."

Coaches say that offensive chemistry is often the last aspect of a team to develop, and if that point needed any more supporting evidence, K-State's 2008 spring game was it. The beauty of a split-squad game, however, is that there is always silver lining, as the offense's failure to perform couldn't help but become a shining endorsement for the Wildcats' defense.

"One of the objectives we wanted to meet was playing better defense," K-State head coach Ron Prince said following Saturday's game, in which the winning White side completed just three passes. "Early on the spring, I think the offense clearly had the advantage in those practices. Clearly, in the last couple of days, we have seen that kind of performance from the defense."

Following Saturday's contest, Prince, who seemed happy with his team's performance, insisted the three total points scored were a reflection of positive defensive progress rather than offensive regression. The second-year head coach was particularly enthralled with the pass rush, which recorded a total of five sacks.

"I thought we really accomplished a lot of things at the inside linebacker position," Prince said. "That was a place I wanted to see improvement. That was a really positive thing for us. I also think we did that at safety. We challenged in the middle of the defense. A lot of nice players made nice plays."

The two squads' offensive units combined for just 88 total yards in the first half a game that remained scoreless until nearly eight minutes into the final quarter.

A barnburner this was not.

The contest's first and only score came on a 51-yard field goal from backup kicker Cherry, giving the White a 3-0 fourth-quarter lead with just more than 12 minutes to play.

Someone had to be the hero, after all.

"It feels good to save my team from the bologna," said Cherry, whose winning White squad will get to eat steak while their Purple opponents will be forced to consume a mystery-meat sandwich. "I don't think I've ever gotten so many hugs. It's going to be fun to rub it in for as long as we can."

But while Cherry's kick was the only thing that so much as resembled a disturbance in an almost silent offense game, it seemed as if Saturday would have a very different tone early on.

Blair Irvin broke loose for 44 yards on game's opening kickoff, setting what appeared briefly to be an explosive pace, but all of that ended almost instantly. Irvin's Purple squad would surrender possession on the White 1-yard line when White safety Courtney Herndon returned a Jeron Mastrud fumble 35 yards, defusing the opening half's first and only real scoring threat. The turnover bug would bite the White squad just two plays later, when quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed one of just four passing attempts Saturday, had his second pass of the game picked off by Chandler.

"I didn't have a chance to get my hands on as many balls as I wanted to this spring," Chandler said. "I ended it off good today though."

Neither squad would return to inside their opposition's 30-yard line until the last play of the first half. Yes, it was just that kind of night.

The brightest spot on either squad's offense was possibly walk-on running back Keithen Valentine. The Mississippi Delta Community College product ran for yards 106 yards for the Purple, including a 38-yard scamper just before the halftime buzzer, while Leon Patton, who will likely open the year as the Wildcats' featured ball carrier, picked up 21 yards on seven carries for the same team.

"I was just hungry today," Valentine said. "I wanted to prove myself out here."

Second-string quarterback Carson Coffman went 6 for 14 passing for 41 yards in the game as the starting quarterback of the losing Purple side, while Tysyn Hartman completed just 2 of 7 throws in relief of Freeman for the White.

The official attendance of Saturday's game was 15,523, more than 1,200 less than the 16,732 of fans who attended last year's event.


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