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K-State Holds Weekly Press Conference Leading Up to Sunflower Showdown

K-State Athletics ReleaseNovember 2, 2021

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman and select players met with members of the media on Tuesday at the Vanier Family Football Complex as the Wildcats prepare for the Dillons Sunflower Showdown at Kansas this Saturday. A complete transcript of Klieman’s press conference (also streamed live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and archived here) are posted below, in addition to comments from select players.

The Wildcats and Jayhawks kick off at 11 a.m., on Saturday morning at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence in a game televised by FS1 with Adam Alexander and Devin Gardner on the call.

CHRIS KLIEMAN, HEAD COACH

Opening Statement…

“Good afternoon, everyone. Excited about the way we played on Saturday. I thought we played probably our most complete game since early September, and guys are playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief. I think it all starts with their preparation. We’ve been really doing a nice job preparing Monday through Thursday, watching extra film and meeting with coaches, and guys holding each other accountable to make sure that we are prepared. Then going out and having good press practices, and then just kind of cleaning things up on Friday and Saturday. We’re playing faster, we’re playing with more confidence, and, obviously, wins help that. We’ve been successful the last couple of weeks. So, energy has been good around here. We’re moving into the next week. Big rivalry game against KU, excited about the challenge go on the road and face a good KU team that we have to have great preparation and guys got to do a great job here early on this week to make sure we have good game plans on all three phases to give ourselves a chance to be successful on Saturday.”

On Kansas head coach Lance Leipold…

“I know Lance not as well as like Coach (Conor) Riley knows him really well. But, I’ve seen him at different conventions and stuff. I have so much respect for him for what he’s done at all different levels and success and winning national championships himself. I have so much respect for him, and everybody does in the profession because he’s got a great body of work.”

On the health status of Joe Ervin, Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks…

“Joe’s fine. Joe practice yesterday, felt really good. Malik and Phillip did not practice yesterday. We’re hopeful that they’ll practice today. If not today, tomorrow. So, I believe both will be good enough to play.”

On using Kansas’ game against Oklahoma as preparation for this weekend…

“Absolutely. The way you watch it game by itself, they dominated the football game. They were focused. They were prepared really well. They had good plans on both sides of the ball. They really shut down OU’s offense and had their way with them defensively. That, without question, was a big opportunity for them. Had a chance to win the game. So, it’s part of our cut ups. We don’t watch games individually but as part of our cut ups, and they did some really good things.”

On running game success…

“As we’ve gotten into Big 12 play, people have done a really nice job against us. We I thought we did a really good job this past weekend rushing for 140 or so and being able to run the ball late in the game like we were to try to close that game out. I think the balance has helped us. The fact that we’re throwing the ball. Skylar (Thompson) is throwing the ball for an awful lot of yards and throwing the ball to an awful lot of receivers. I think that’s going to continue to help us moving forward. But, I think the biggest thing for us is to stay balanced and make sure that we’re not just a run team or spinning it around all over the place, but to have balance like we did last week.”

On more tight ends playing in games…

“Well, Will Swanson has earned the reps. He’s done a really nice job being on scout team most of the year, and then that open week, he did some really good things in good-on-good, so to speak. So, we wanted to keep pushing him. Then, Konner Fox has been injured, missed most of fall camp and missed first half of the season. He’s finally getting back healthy and gaining confidence. Konner is an exceptional football player. He just hasn’t been healthy enough this year. I feel bad for him, but he is healthy now. So, he’s taken more of those reps. To your point about pitch count, yeah probably can keep Daniel (Imatorbhebhe) and Nick (Lenners) and Sammy (Wheeler) and some of those guys and cut the reps down a little bit to keep those guys fresh as well.”

On the rest of the team feeding off of Felix Anudike-Uzomah…

“Without question. They were excited for Felix. He brought a lot of energy with each sack that he was getting. You could tell everybody knew the kind of game he was having. People were feeding off that excitement. It didn’t matter if it was an offensive guy or defensive guy, everybody knew the kind of special day that he was having. It was pretty fun to watch on the sideline, pretty fun to watch postgame in the locker room. The accolades that he’s received this week are well deserved. It was just a fun experience for all of our guys to be a part of.”

On giving up the safety to TCU…

“We have to be able to get it out of there. We probably didn’t ID the blocks as well as we would have liked to. Maybe you throw the ball, I don’t know. We just have to be able to punch it out of there, and we weren’t able to do that. Part of that is just the execution wasn’t as good as it needed to be.”

On Kansas quarterback Jason Bean…

“He’s really athletic, really fast. He’s probably the fastest quarterback that we’ve seen thus far. I think (Spencer) Sanders is pretty comparable at Oklahoma State, but as far as a guy that really wants to run the ball and can stretch the field sideline to sideline, and then has the speed to get around the corner or stick his foot in the ground and get north and south. Something that has us really concerned as we begin and continue with our preparation this week. We have to find ways to try to keep him somewhat in the cylinder, in the box a little bit. We have to great job rallied on him and bring him down, because I think he does add a dimension running the football. They try to get him the ball on the perimeter that we haven’t seen yet this year.”

On Kansas’ offensive against Oklahoma State’s defense…

“I think you got to give Oklahoma State’s defense a lot of credit. I think they’re really underrated. Maybe they’re not underrated, I just think they’re a phenomenal defense. They play fast. They know where their fits are at. They’ve got a bunch of veteran guys. We found out, that’s a tough defense to go and try to crack. So, I think when you get behind the sticks and you’re end up in third and long – and we were there as well – it’s just hard to beat that defense.”

On how the run fits have benefited the defense…

“Couple things – we’re getting good disruption up front. I t starts with the nose tackles in Timmy (Horne) and Eli (Huggins). Then what we’re getting out of our defensive ends, we’ll rotate those guys. I think that’s the first part of it. We’re getting good disruption and good penetration up front so that guys can be able to run and know where their fits are at. But, to be able to get off blocks as well. Then it’s still the preparation of knowing what the bread-and-butter run game is. We knew that against Texas Tech. We knew that against TCU, and we were able to slow that down. I think it builds confidence in the guys when we’re able to take away some of the bread-and-butter plays. It’s going to be kind of the same thing this week. We have to be able to stop the some of their primary run game. Some of that’s the quarterback, and some of that’s just a really good young tailback.”

On the perimeter coverage…

“It’s getting better. Really pleased with our corner play and our safety play over the last few weeks. Making less mental errors. Playing really fast. Playing within the confines of the defense. Getting a pass rush is helping that, but we’re also covering guys long enough that it’s allowing our pass rush to get there. They go hand in hand, us being able to rush the passer due to the fact we’re covering a little bit better. I think Coach (Joe) Klanderman is doing a really good job of mixing up man and zone. We’re not strictly a zone team or even a man team on certain situational football situations. We’re doing some really good things, and we have to continue it, though. For us to keep the leverage of the defense and keep the ball in front of us is important.”

On how to keep the team focused for this weekend…

“One, we’re just trying to improve as a team. We went through a rough stretch and we’re trying to continue to get better. I feel like the guys are getting better every day. It’s about attacking one day at a time. If you do that, try to give yourself a chance to go 1-0. We have an awful lot of Kansas kids on this football team that this game means an awful lot to those people. It means a lot awful lot to our fanbase. It means an awful lot to the state. It’s cool because I think it means an awful lot to the guys from out of state with us having close to 60 Kansas kids, somewhere in that vicinity of kids from our state. Those guys from Georgia or Texas or Colorado or wherever else, they want to play their tails off for these kids from Kansas.”

On the significance of the rivalry game…

“Potentially, but you can’t get into that stuff on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. We got to focus on our preparation. I think all that stuff will take care of itself with the excitement of the game as we get to Friday and Saturday. We told the guys, ‘We cannot play this game on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We have to focus on our preparation of each of those days so that we are prepared.’”

On being one of the top four tenured coaches in the Big 12…

“I didn’t realize that, for starters. It’s part of the business. It’s the unfortunate part of the business that we all sign up for it. It’s not just the head coaches, it’s a lot of support staffs and families and assistant coaches and all people are involved. It’s unfortunate, but we also understand it’s part of the business. But, I didn’t think I would be one of the longer-tenured coaches already in just three years. It’s been hard for me to believe it’s already in the middle of our third season here.”

On how KU will go about Felix Anudike-Uzomah…

“Well, I think a lot of it has to do with his (Jason Bean) athleticism. He avoids a lot of sacks because he’s so athletic and he feels pressure. He does a good job of getting rid of the football and avoiding negative plays. That’s a credit to him. It’s a credit to their offensive staff to make sure that he is avoiding those negative plays. Our concern is him scrambling around and making plays, whether it’s with his arm, which we’ve seen him do on the run or scrambling and making big first downs. It’s 3rd and 6, 3rd and 7 and nobody’s open or people are covering people, and that kid takes off and runs from first down. We’ve seen him do it in a number of games. So, that’s why for us to be balanced and knowing when we can rush three, four, five or six, just to try to continue to change things up for him.”

On what Ross Elder has done to earn more playing time…

“He just knows our system so well. He can play multiple positions. He probably split snaps last week with Cincere Mason, and Cincere is playing really well. We’ve kind of moved Cincere around positions like we have Ross. Both of them are really intelligent football players. So, we’re trying to give guys equal snaps. I don’t think either one of them we want to play 50-60 snaps, but if we keep both from around 30 or 35. Ross knows those the defense really well, and his confidence is gotten better. He’s playing on a lot of special teams as well.”

On Reggie Stubblefield’s energy…

“Yeah, he has a lot of energy, Reggie does. He cares, and he’s a great teammate and a guy that I think our kids feed off some of his energy. I think that Reggie is appreciative of the opportunity to play Big 12 football. Appreciate the opportunity that Kansas State has given him. He’s continued to improve. He’s another kid who’s played corner, he’s played safety, he’ playing a little bit of our Nickel Sam backer. I’m excited that he’s having a really nice super senior year when I don’t think in the summer Reg knew where he was going to play football.”

On Deuce Vaughn’s all-purpose yards…

“For us, it’s all with him with all-purpose yards and touches. We’re trying to find ways we can get him the football, whether it’s out of the out of the backfield, in the backfield, being in a slot receiver. The other thing that that we keep finding more and more is when he is in the slot, a lot of people are double him, which gives Daniel (Imatorbhebhe) or Phillip (Brooks) or Landry (Weber) or Kade (Warner) or any of these wide receivers or tight ends some more one-on-one opportunities. There’s some times that that he’s just been a decoy for us, but then everybody else we know has man coverage. I know he’s a nightmare to have to prepare for because we see it in practice all through spring and fall camp of, we get into certain formations, it’s like, ‘Ok, he’s man-to-man on the linebacker. We’re totally screwed here unless we put a safety down there to help him.’ That’s the thing that excites me is he’s an unselfish player, too. Deuce wants to win. He knows we’re going to find ways to game the football, but most importantly he wants to win. However that helps the team to do it, he’s going to do that. Last week late because of Phil and Malik (Knowles) being down, we had to put him back on punts. He might be the guy that goes back on punts and kickoff returns, which is another way to get the kid the football. Malik and Phillip are really good, but then you’ll send you see 22 back there, do you want to kick it to him real badly? I don’t think they probably do. But, he might be the guy that goes back on kicks and punts based on how Malik and Phil continue to progress.”

On how winning this game makes K-State bowl eligible…

“We have not talked about that at all. I’m excited because we’re continuing to improve. I told the guys that on Thursday after practice last week after finishing up the TCU prep. Just watching us and guys moving faster, playing faster, playing with more confidence. That’s what I’m excited about. There’s a lot of season left, and we want to just continue to get better each week.”

On not wanting this to be the team to lose the 12-game streak to Kansas…

“I don’t think you want to ever approach anything like that. It’s out there. Do you talk about it? No, because you bring light to something. It’s like bringing light to negative things upon yourself as a person or a program or a corporation. I think it’s more of, we have to do the things – and that’s what we talked about on Saturday night in the locker room after the game – why were we successful the last two weeks? I really believe it was the preparation we had, which gave us confidence which also led to giving us more belief on the field. If we do those things, that’s what’s exciting us as a coaching staff is we’re getting better each week. The kids are gaining more confidence and belief through our preparation. So, will the guys talk about some of that stuff? I don’t know, but it’s not anything that we bring up as a staff.”

On the high scoring margin in fourth quarters…

“We’re always trying to be in great condition and continue to work the game from an adjustment standpoint to make sure that we’re putting our best foot forward in the fourth quarter. But, we look at we got to start faster in the third quarter on offense. We have to start faster in the first quarter on defense. We look at more of the things that are maybe limiting us or limiting our success as a football team. How can we shore up those things? I didn’t think we were particularly really good on special teams on Saturday. I thought we were we were okay. I was excited that Chris Tennant got a chance to kick a field goal to get him a chance in that situation rather than PATs. I thought our punt and kick coverage were just okay. I thought our kick return unit was just okay. We didn’t really have many opportunities on punt return. They (TCU) did a really nice job. But, those are the things we have to continue to improve on, just like fourth quarter, we’ve had success. Red zone, we were better in red zone defense last week. Can we continue to put points on the board when we get in the red zone on offense?”

On getting Daniel Imatorbhebhe the ball…

“He’s really benefited from a couple of great play actions that we’ve done and us being able to run the ball at those specific times where maybe somebody in the back end falls asleep. He’s a guy that can take it the distance, which he’s done in two big-time plays that he’s had. I think it’s within the framework of our offense of how much he gets the ball whether it’s X amount of catches. There’s not any secret to it other than the fact that we know he has that big-play capability. When he gets the ball in his hands in the open field, he’s tough guy to bring down. He’s got great speed.”

On trying to get better in November but also trying to keep the team healthy…

“Well, it’s really hard because guys’ bodies are beat up. We’ve got to do a great job of making sure that we keep guys fresh during the week, as well as getting guys repetition so that we know what we’re doing. Rotating guys, we’re rotating an awful lot at certain positions. At other positions, we don’t have the depth to rotate. Just probably doing the same thing. The one thing that I have appreciated, even when we were struggling a little bit, we didn’t reinvent the wheel offensively. We didn’t reinvent the wheel defensively and say, ‘We’re going to make wholesale changes on things.’ We stayed with a lot of our bread and butter, even if that meant we threw the ball more against Texas Tech. I see line up and no-back and one-back sets all spring, all fall long for when those opportunities come that we have to use it, we do. Really, the last two weeks on defense we’ve played as base a defense as we have that we’ve done all spring, all fall. We’re just executed it better. So, if we’re doing that and executing it better, then I know the guys are gaining more confidence. You can see that because we still are going K-State ones vs. K-State ones on each side of the ball every Tuesday and Wednesday, whether it’s 10 plays, 16 plays, something so that we can continue to get good-on-good against each other.”

On deciding who is going to play in four games to preserve redshirts…

“Yes and no. It’s so hard to keep track of right now. It really is because all those guys that played last year, you don’t really have to count that. So, it’s so difficult. Anymore, I think if a young man can help you and help your team win, you want to have conversations with that kid, but give him the chance to play, because you just never know what’s going to happen to you. Look at Taylor Poitier – we’ve played him last year late in the season when he started to get really good. Well, we were so excited about it. Then, he loses this year to an injury, (same with) Khalid Duke. So, if a kid’s healthy, I think you try to play him because you just can’t predict the future as far as if they’re going to be healthy for all three, four or five years they’re here.”

On the specialness of K-State vs. KU rivalry…

“I think it’s so special for our state. It’s so special for both fanbases to be able to say it’s a short drive for either team to be able to go watch their watch their home team play on the road. I know it’s really important to the to the coaches here. It’s really important to our players that are from the state. I always have our a few of our Kansas kids address the guys early in the week about the importance of the rivalry. Last night we had Mason Barta, who has a great history in the rivalry. Nick Allen did last night. Ekow Boye-Doe, who doesn’t say a lot, but he’s a Lawrence kid and how important this game is. There’s other ones that did it as well, but that that’s the thing that you want some of these guys from outside the state to realize how great this rivalry is and how special it is to play in this game and have an opportunity, because people will be excited. We’re going to get KU’s best shot, and I think KU is going to get our best shot. You have to say anything special about getting ready to play this game, and I’m sure Lance (Leipold) won’t have to say anything either. It’s a fun game to be a part of.”

On the feeling of receiving the trophy after the game…

“I can’t remember because it was a COVID before. We’re just looking to prepare this week to give them the chance to be successful.”

On the confidence that came from winning the TCU game…

“I haven’t noticed anything yet. I know our guys were proud of how well we played for four quarters. We had some slip ups here and there offensively or defensively. But, for the most part we played a full four-quarter game. Obviously, against Texas Tech, we did not but found a way to win. That’s why I thought that game was such an important win as we didn’t play our very well at all in the first half and still found a way. Then you take that confidence belief you had from that game and come home and play at home on Homecoming, which is a special time to win at Homecoming. Our guys play as well as they did. I’m looking for crisp practices this week where there’s limited mental errors. There’s limited mental mistakes where our guys are flying around playing fast, having great communication in pretty locked in on their assignment. We’re still making some mental errors and things that we can clean up. That’s the thing that, even when you have success like we did this past week, we can still say, ‘Ok, we still have to shore this phase of our offense up or this phase of our defense.’ It’s probably easier to get their attention after a win to say, ‘You know what? We can be better.’ They can see it as a watch film that we definitely can be better.”

On Tyrone Howell being disqualified against TCU…

“He misses the first half of this next game. I didn’t realize that until Sunday that they let us know that it’s probably similar to a targeting penalty. So, he’ll miss the first half of this game.”

On Kansas running back Devin Neal…

“He’s a tremendous football player to play as a true freshman. I got to know Devin through the recruiting process. So much respect for he and his and his family. Great, great young man. I’m excited for his success that he’s having as a true freshman. Hopefully we can limit that success this weekend, but great kid great family.”

SKYLAR THOMPSON, SENIOR QUARTERBACK

On the emotions in this being his last Sunflower Showdown…

“You know it is crazy. I have only played in two of these games over the time I have been here, so it is definitely going to be special knowing it’s my last one. Going on the road and playing Lawrence. I have told a lot of people that one of my favorite games at K-State was in 2019 when we played there. It’s a fun atmosphere, especially when the majority of the crowd was purple when we were there. It’s really cool to see that our fanbase obviously cares a lot about this game and the support from the attendance of people we have at this game is pretty cool. So, on top of that, I know how much this game means for the guys on the team that are from Kansas, and I try to put myself in their shoes as far as what it would feel like for me to go play at the University of Missouri. That is the biggest thing for all of us that are not from the state of Kansas, even though I pretty much am, kind of. Just trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the people that are from this state and how much the game means to them and go get the win for them this weekend.”

On paying attention to how close Kansas played Oklahoma…

“Oh 100%. You go watch that game, I thought they outplayed Oklahoma, and they did everything they wanted to do and dictated the game, truly. Oklahoma made some plays here and there that ended the game to win it, obviously. I thought KU played really, really well. You even watch these guys on film and they’re a lot better team than what their record says. You can tell they are getting better each and every week and the guys are playing hard. I could only imagine with the way the season has gone for them that would be hard to do in their shoes. Those guys are standing, they’re fighting, and they are wanting to win. So, we are going to have to be ready to play.”

JAYLEN PICKLE, JUNIOR DEFENSIVE TACKLE

On being friends with Jason Bean…

“That’s Malik’s (Knowles) old quarterback. We’ve hung out a couple times. It’ll be fun playing against someone that you know pretty well personally. It’s always fun to play against him, even though I didn’t play him in high school or anything. So, Malik obviously has something more to this game. I watched his high school film and his college film. So, we’re ready for him.”

On what this rivalry means to him…

“It means a lot, obviously, being from Kansas and not getting offered there and them kind of overlooking me. They told me basically I didn’t have good enough grades and wanted me to take the ACT again for them to offer me, and I told him it was kind of pointless at that point.”

On two of Felix Anudike-Uzomah’s sacks against TCU being taken away…

“Yeah, that kind of hurts a little bit just seeing what he did that game. But, onto the next one. Maybe this game he will get eight and set the bar a little higher.”

COOPER BEEBE, SOPHOMORE OFFENSIVE LINE

On the upcoming game at Kansas…

“For me personally, it’s just another week on our schedule. I know some guys take this game very personally, but for me, no it’s just another week, another game for me.”

On special meaning to winning against Kansas…

“You know, there is definitely going to be an edge in us, not for me personally, but for the other guys. They were on the offensive line and they were overlooked. I had an offer from Kansas, but it is going to mean a lot to them to go out there.”

ROSS ELDER, SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK

On how the locker room is feeling for the KU game…

“The KU game always brings excitement to the locker room. We’re just going to try to keep this thing rolling.”

On what the Kansas kids’ messages were to the team…

“It’s usually the same every year. This week just means a little bit more sometimes to certain Kansas kids. So, playing KU for me is one of the more exciting games to play every year. So, we’re excited.”

On early memories of this series…

“One of my early memories is I was sitting in the south end zone when Collin Klein played here, and Tyler Lockett caught that long touchdown pass. There are definitely some other early memories. I used to go to Lawrence when I was young and watch those games and they’ve been good memories.”

FELIX ANUDIKE-UZOMAH, SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE END

On what the primary challenge K-State is faced with this week…

“I’ll say the QB is a pretty good scrambler. That’s going to be a huge challenge. We’re going to gameplan around him and see how we can keep him in the pocket and get to him a lot quicker.”

On what this game means to him…

“Yes, kind of. They didn’t recruit me because I was undersized. So, that’s basically the fuel I’m going to use. I used that last year and got a sack against them. So, hopefully I can get a sack against them in this game too.”

On if he got four or six sacks on Saturday…

“I personally think six, but the NCAA makes the rules. I don’t really know how it makes sense to make it four. So, yeah, I don’t know. They should probably change that. Honestly, I use it as motivation. My buddy Nate (Matlack) at Texas Tech did the same thing, and they didn’t count them as sacks. I don’t get how it’s not a sack if you sack him behind the line of scrimmage and he’s trying to throw the ball.”

Copyright © Meridian Media, 2021. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced without Meridian Media’s express consent.

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