KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Carson Coffman has fond memories going to Kansas City Chiefs games with his father, who years ago played tight end for the organization. The Kansas State senior quarterback would just like to forget his last trip to Arrowhead Stadium. After starting the first four games, Coffman was benched prior to facing Iowa State here last season. He has different plans in mind when the teams meet again to open conference play on Saturday.
"It was pretty frustrating," Coffman said. "This year, I'm hoping to put on a show for them."
Coffman, currently the league's most efficient passer and ranked No. 14 nationally, comes off the best performance of his career in throwing for 280 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats' latest victory, a 48-24 win over Football Championship Subdivision opponent Missouri State last weekend.
For the first time in his career, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound native of Peculiar, Mo., is filled with confidence, as K-State, 2-0, prepares for Iowa State, 1-1, in an 11 a.m. kickoff that will be televised by Fox Sports Net.
Perhaps Coffman, who has tossed four touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception in 73 passing attempts dating back to last season, has reason to carry good vibes as well.
In two contests this season, Coffman has had the luxury of watching Doak Walker candidate Daniel Thomas rumble for 371 yards, the third most in the nation. Meanwhile, Coffman has taken on the part of the Wildcats' cool operator under center.
"That brings a lot of confidence to me," Coffman said. "My teammates feel I'm more confident than I was going into last week's game. I'm just ready to take on this role and pass when we need to pass and pass for big yards."
All the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Thomas has done is rush for the most yards of any player in school history after two games. He followed up a career-high 234-yard, two-touchdown effort in an opening win over UCLA with 137 yards and a score last weekend. Neither team could contain him.
Thomas expects Iowa State to try as well.
"I just need to keep doing what I've been doing the last two weeks," Thomas said. "The last two teams keyed on me as well, so I just have to continue what I've been doing and keep playing."
Thomas, who arrived as a junior college transfer a year ago, has posted 100-yard games seven of 14 times he's taken the field for the Wildcats. One of those missed opportunities came against the Cyclones, who limited him to 96 yards on 25 carries.
"Slowing him down is very important," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "I don't know if you can stop him. We had some effectiveness last year but he's been effective. (Defensive coordinator) Wally Burnham said after the UCLA game that he'd be the best back we'd face all season."
Iowa State looks to regroup after a 35-7 loss at No. 9 Iowa in which the Hawkeyes pounded for 275 rushing yards behind a stellar offensive line that out-muscled the Cyclones' defensive front.
The Wildcats' seem to possess a powerful offensive line as well. They figure they can do the same.
K-State's 259.5 rushing yards per contest ranks No. 14 nationally.
"We like to think of ourselves as an offensive line that'll come out and hit you in the mouth," K-State senior left guard Zach Kendall said. "That's exactly what Iowa did. It's hard to see what we need to prepare for because Iowa did such a great job. We're hoping we can duplicate what they do. We want other teams to look at our film and say, 'We want to play like K-State.'"
The Cyclones enter Arrowhead Stadium toting a forgettable memory -- a 24-23 loss to the Wildcats in the Big 12 opener last season in which K-State's Emmanuel Lamur blocked a Grant Mahoney extra-point attempt with 32 seconds left in the contest. Lamur, the Wildcats' leading tackler a year ago, missed most of last weekend with a hamstring injury but is expected to be available on Saturday.
"I don't know that any of us have a good taste about last year's game," Rhoads said. "There will be a hunger that goes along with walking into that stadium again rather than a disappointment or a sick feeling. We'll be in a different locker room and we'll be on a different sideline, so maybe that'll be a positive for us."
Or maybe not.
K-State is 4-1 all-time at the venue, where it has enjoyed a few exciting times, none greater than thumping top-ranked Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game. Since 1992, the Wildcats are 36-2 in September when they're the home team and they improved to 6-8 overall in Big 12 openers with the win over the Cyclones last season.
Team Stat (Rank)
opp 1st downs
Passing: Coffman 29-42, 346 yds, 4 TD
Rushing: D. Thomas 49-371, 4 TD
Receiving: B. Smith 9-113, 3 TD
Passing: Arnaud 47-80, 462 yds, TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Robinson 30-155, 2 TD
Receiving: Robinson 10-91
"This is huge. It's like the UCLA game to kickoff the season," Kendall said. "It's a benchmark game for us to see what we need to improve on. It all starts here. This is what we've been working for and we need to get off on the right foot."
Behind Coffman and a host of wide receivers that contributed to last weekend's aerial attack, the Wildcats look to hit the Cyclones on the ground and through the air.
"If you have everyone focusing on the run game, it hopes up the play-action pass, one-on-one coverage and gives us a better opportunity," said senior Aubrey Quarles who has eight receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown in 2010. "They'll be focused on (Thomas) and not the wide receivers."
Rhoads warned that the Cyclones cannot afford to overlook the passing attack.
"We're 100-something in the country at stopping the run and you're not going to win more games than you lose when you play that kind of run defense. We have to shore it up," he said. "I don't know if it's completely accurate saying we have to make them throw to win because they can throw the ball very effectively, too.
"They're balanced in the run and pass and by overloading too much you can put yourself too vulnerable the other way."
Meanwhile, a K-State defense that was embarrassed in allowing Missouri State 447 total yards, including a fourth-quarter 99-yard scoring drive, expects to bounce back after limiting UCLA to 313 yards in the opener.
"Our defense pretty much had a letdown even though we won," strong safety David Garrett said. "We want to prove something and (Iowa State) had a big loss against a great team in Iowa, so I know they're going to come out hungry and wanting to prove something."
Senior Austen Arnaud has thrown for 5,536 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for 1,045 yards and 14 scores during his career. But one year after tossing 17 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, he has thrown only one touchdown and suffered a Big 12-leading five picks in eight quarters.
Three of his interceptions came against Iowa, which limited him to 20-of-44 passing for 197 yards and one touchdown. The Cyclones harbor a capable back in Alexander Robinson who finished only behind Thomas in rushing in the Big 12 (99.5 yards per game) a year ago, but he had just 48 yards on 11 carries against the Hawkeyes. Arnaud gained just 20 yards on nine carries.
"We try to be physical and the most in-shape team on the field," Arnaud said. "We were jetting and running but physically we got handled a little bit. We have to get better and get more physical up front. We have to get more mentally tough."
Opponents have sacked Arnaud three times after the Cyclones allowed just 16 sacks in 2009, which ranked No. 21 in the nation.
The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Arnaud, who went 13-of-27 for 164 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 16 times for 84 yards and a score against the Wildcats last season, certainly has the defense's attention.
"You get a guy that's a passer and all you have to do is pressure him to get to him, but Arnaud is loose," senior defensive tackle Raphael Guidry said. "With one missed tackle, he can take it all the way."
However, Coffman believes the Wildcats possess a mentality that could help to lead them to victory.
"We've been trying to develop a tough mentality and Iowa State is a tough football team as well," he said. "We just want to carry that over from the last two games we've played and maintain our tough mentality."
It's a recipe Coffman hopes could help him leave Arrowhead Stadium with pleasant memories this time around.