MANHATTAN, Kans. – Dan McCarney knows Big 12 Conference football and he knows Bill Snyder. They say knowledge is power and McCarney's collected wisdom nearly made for a powerful upset.
McCarney coached at Iowa State from 1995-2006. The Cyclones, in the early days of the Big 12, went to five bowls during that span. A neat trick, considering they had made four bowl trips in their history before McCarney. OK, so it wasn't the kind of building job Snyder pulled off at Kansas State, but it was impressive nevertheless.
In his second season coaching at North Texas, McCarney had a solid game plan against the 14th-ranked Wildcats. For three quarters, the Mean Green went Kansas State on Kansas State. They controlled the clock and the football with a grinding rushing attack, accurate short passes and clever play calling. UNT took the opening kickoff of the second half and used 7:57 to drive 88 yards in 14 plays to cut K-State's lead to 14-13.
What the Mean Green didn't have was the player wearing a purple jersey with No. 7 on the back. Quarterback Collin Klein made the plays on two touchdown drives that made sure the Sun Belt Conference didn't notch another upset (we're looking at you, Arkansas and Kentucky). The Wildcats scored three touchdowns over a 13-minute span to close out a 35-21 victory Saturday night.
"Any team coached by Dan McCarney is going to be a well-coached team," Snyder said. "Their offensive line knocked us around. Their backs ran hard, the quarterback threw it well, they had an excellent game plan. For the most part, their defense played lights out. They forced two three and outs to start the game and that set the tone for most of the first half."
Snyder said the Wildcats' first two quick-as-a-blink possessions led to his team "sucking their thumbs" on the sideline. The Mean Green (1-2) finished with a 37:04 to 22:56 edge in time of possession and ran 20 more plays.
After falling behind 7-0, the Wildcats got a charge from Tyler Lockett's 96-yard kickoff return that tied it up.
"The kickoff return was probably the difference in the game," Snyder said. "Special teams saved us."
So did Klein. For the second consecutive week, Klein made a meager number of pass attempts pay off. He was 15-of-20 for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Both of his scoring strikes went to Tramaine Thompson. The first, a perfectly thrown, in-stride 38-yarder gave K-State a 14-7 lead late in the first half. The second capped an eight-play, 77-yard drive that answered a Mean Green touchdown trimmed the Wildcats' lead to a single point. Klein found Thompson with a 21-yarder on the left edge of the end zone. Ruled incomplete on the field, a replay review changed the call to a TD that made it 21-13 and eased the angst and tension of the 50,290 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
"We had schemed for that first touchdown and we just waited for the right time to call the play," said Thompson, who had five catches for 102 yards. "The second touchdown, I was pretty sure I was in. You play receiver long enough, you get a pretty good idea where you're at on the field. Thank God for instant replay."
After last week's 52-13 dismantling of Miami (Fla.) the Wildcats – who were picked by the media to finish sixth in the Big 12 - gained considerable national respect. Snyder, to borrow a theory from Bill Parcells, thought his team "ate the cheese."
"We didn't practice well this week," Snyder said. "When you don't prepare well, this is what can happen. It was the attitude we took after last week's game, with the practice environment. I was worried all week.
"Last week we tackled well, this week didn't. Last week we lined up well, this week we didn't. Last week we communicated well, this week we didn't. There aren't any facets where we don't need improvement."
With a trip to No. 5 Oklahoma (idle Saturday) for a prime time game up next, Snyder cautioned that his team had to get better or it would lose "150-0." Klein, who is becoming a clone of his coach in the way he approaches the game, understands the sentiment. But he knows that what's expected before a game is played can change once toe meets leather.
"North Texas came in here and played like we like to play," he said. "The ran the ball, dominated the clock. After those first two series, I didn't even feel like I was playing in the game.
"Every game has its own identity and sometimes that identity changes during the game. That's why we play the game. Anybody can beat you … and you can beat anybody."