MANHATTAN — Chris Klieman has said on more than one occasion, that when it comes to assessing his Kansas State football team, results mean more to him than numbers.
So he has to be pleased to know that halfway through the season, the Wildcats lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, right?
Well, sort of. He's also a coach, and a former defensive coach at that.
"For starters, I give the players credit," Klieman said Tuesday during his weekly media briefing ahead of this Saturday's 11 a.m. homecoming game against No. 5-ranked Oklahoma. "They play really hard, and that's a testament to those guys' work ethic, desire to play friggin' hard for 60 minutes, and that's good to see.
"All that being said, we're not playing where we need to be able to play defensively, whether it's misfits, missing a tackle, having a ball in our hands or potentially knocking (it) away and a receiver coming up with it."
Missed tackles have especially been an issue in Big 12 play for the Wildcats, who at 4-2 overall are 1-2 in the league after last week's 24-17 victory over TCU. They came up with enough big plays against the Horned Frogs, especially in the fourth quarter, but they also missed at least four tackles on a 46-yard touchdown run by quarterback Max Duggan midway through the third period that tied the game at 14.
"The main thing is just running through the tackle," sophomore defensive end Wyatt Hubert said. "Once you make contact with a guy you have to wrap and squeeze, run your feet.
"We're making a lot of contact with the ball carrier, but we're just not running our feet, wrapping and squeezing as hard as we can, so that just allows the ball carrier to get yards after contact. It's a very fixable thing that we'll get better at and we'll be fine."
Along those lines, the Wildcats have continued to make tackling a focal point during practice.
"We'll do some different things this week with some tackle circuits and some things, just to emphasize it because we have to be better," Klieman said.
It's an ongoing process, according to Hubert.
"It comes down to tackle drills in individual period, and then you need to take as much advantage of as possible in the team periods with the scout team and things like that," he said. "Even though you can't take them to the ground, you can still work on technique and form, and it just comes down to how well and how perfect you execute in practice and it's something that the coaches preach to us."
Senior defensive tackle Trey Dishon said he was looking forward to Tuesday's practice and a heavy dose of tackling.
"We're about to go crazy on it today," he said with a smile, "because it's Tuesday, it's full pad day, it's the day. So we're going to be practicing today big on wrapping up and running through our tackles.
"We don't go to the ground ever, but that's when we're really focusing on wrapping up. Today and tomorrow, I already know, coach (Scottie) Hazelton's going to be on us about wrapping up."
Still, Dishon was more interested in talking about what the Wildcats have done well.
"We're six games into the season right now and our statistics look pretty well on paper," he said. "We're holding teams to a reasonable amount of points, and having Oklahoma in on Saturday, averaging (50) points a game, we're really excited to knock that down."
Oklahoma's 50.4 points per game are nearly 10 ahead of second-place Texas. And while K-State is first defensively with 18.7 points a game, the Sooners are not far behind in third place at 19.4.
Klieman, always one to balance negatives with positives, took that tack with his team on Monday. In addition to scoring defense, the Wildcats are fourth in the conference in total defense, allowing 347.7 yards a game.
"We're doing some really good things and let's make sure we emphasize those, because we're holding people out of the end zone," he told them. "But think how much better we could be if we could eliminate half the missed tackles we have.
"We're kind of pounding it into them until we're blue in the face, but we have to continue to improve on that."