Note: Due to an unexpected addition to the household yesterday, this entry was postponed a day. We’ll have both days 97 and 96 posted this Sunday.
For our fourth installment of the 100 day countdown to kickoff against North Dakota State University, the number 97 represents the percentage of games K-State has won since 1990 when leading at halftime. That’s right, 97 – and that’s a pretty hefty number.
I typically scoff at these types of stats when they’re thrown on the television (e.g., a certain pitcher is 18-2 lifetime when throwing seven complete innings and not allowing more than four baserunners, or a basketball team is 15-1 when holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting). The sample size cited is usually too small to matter – particularly in football, when an announcer proclaims, say, Minnesota is 8-1 when Adrian Peterson rushes for 150 yards. It may be true, but doesn’t pass the test of statistical significance. And secondly, duh – if a team puts up a number correlated with wins, they’ll probably win that game.
However, this 97 percent number is different. You expect a team to win the majority of games it owns a halftime lead in, and probably 60 or even 70 percent would be a reasonable expectation. However, 97 percent is an incredible statistic. Football is a game of two halves, and it’s entirely common for a team to come back and win. So here’s what this figure tells us:
- K-State exhibits superior in-game coaching. Teams have one week to prepare for the next opponent, and don’t always know what to expect. Yet in the face of mismatches, gimmicks, and other unexpected issues, it’s a coach’s responsibility to adjust, substitute the right personnel packages, and help players adjust on the fly. Remember in 2010 when Collin Klein was the surprise starter over Carson Coffman as a sophomore? It changed the Wildcats from a pro-style team to a strictly option threat, with Klein only attempting four passes all game but registering 25 carries while demolishing Texas 39-14. What’s amazing is that K-State scored the most points of any period in the third quarter (15) – after the Longhorns had the opportunity to go into halftime, discuss the appropriate response to the option attack, and get it right.Bill Snyder is better at in-game adjustments than Mack Brown. He’s better at in-game adjustments than just about every coach out there. His meticulous attention to detail means that his players are prepared for any contingency, and they’re able to respond to even the unexpected. It’s also part of the reason the team owns so many halftime leads in the first place.
- Conditioning: It’s a well-known theme – running backs who can wear down defenses, bulky teams unable to keep pace with quicker ones, etc. And it’s rare I watch a Wildcat running back and think, “man, he looks exhausted and unable to torn the corner this second half,” or look at the linebacking unit and worry about the ability to stand up in the fourth quarter. Oregon is a great example – the team may have been overmatched as a whole, but K-State was in the Fiesta Bowl the entire time and never faltered. In fact, the Wildcats outscored the Ducks in the fourth quarter of that game, despite the general consensus that Oregon could demolish any opponent in the second half by simply wearing them down.
- Superior run game: Darren Sproles, Daniel Thomas, John Hubert. Michael Bishop, Ell Roberson, Collin Klein. This team has a lineage of tremendous running backs and running quarterbacks. And when they hook up, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Tying in to point number two, K-State’s running game is almost always able to wear down defenses and control the time of possession. And then the team strikes in the second half with big plays against a tired opponent, allowing the Wildcats to not only maintain but also extend halftime leads.
It’s been a helluva ride rooting for this team in the Bill Snyder era. And while I’m admittedly too young to remember the early years, this team is 159-5 when leading at the half since 1990. That includes a 10-0 mark last year (K-State was behind before coming back to beat Texas, while both Baylor and Oregon led at halftime in the squad’s two losses). That’s also a lot of wins overall. And with K-State ranked in the top 25 coming into 2013, it looks like the program has no intention of letting up.
To work backward in the countdown, visit 98 days, where we examine the season of heartbreak that was 1998.