August 31, 2008

K-State opener sure felt like old times

OK, it was just North Texas, which despite concerns about its contorted version of a spread offense turned out to be the Not-So-Mean Green, but Kansas State's 45-6 season-opening victory on Saturday sure felt like old times. And it felt that way literally from the opening coin flip, when Coach Ron Prince uncharacteristically deferred his choice to the second half and let North Texas have the ball to start the game.

So much for his offense-first approach to most of the coin flips he's won during his first two years. This time, Prince put his defense on the field first and was rewarded with a three-and-out series.

"That's our job: To get the ball back to our offense," senior nose tackle Brandon Balkcom said. "This camp has been a really good camp for us and I feel like Coach Prince has a lot of confidence in us and what we should be, but we also have a lot of expectations."

Remember when K-State would kick off to open a game, pin its competition deep, get a long punt return and score early in the contest? It was how Bill Snyder coached. And quite often, right out of the gate, the Wildcats would be ahead on the scoreboard and the visitors would be on their heels.

It only seemed fitting on a night when the university would honor its outstanding 1998 team and induct four legendary players from the heyday of Snyder's program into the stadium's Ring of Honor, that Prince's third Wildcat team would open the 2008 season in memorable fashion.

North Texas ended its opening drive by punting from its own 8, Green punter Truman Spencer squirted a 30-yard line drive down the middle of the field and into the waiting arms of Deon Murphy who turned up the east sideline and returned the ball back to the 8. A UNT penalty moved the ball to the 4 and Keithen Valentine's first carry as a Wildcat was a 4-yard touchdown run.

Seven-nothing. 13:03 on the first quarter clock. K-State's time of possession? Five seconds.

"We had some big plays on special teams and defense and it helps the offense get going," senior guard Gerard Spexarth said. "We started our first drive on the 4-yard-line and punched it in right away. That's a confidence builder with special teams and defense on your side."

It was the first play of a game that would leave Wildcat fans feeling not just misty-eyed for those once-dominant days but partying like it was, with apologies to the artist once again known as Prince, 1998.

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