MANHATTAN — For the second time in four days, the word "soft" came up in Bill Snyder's assessment of the Kansas State offensive line.
Sure, it was primarily in the context of pass protection, but it stung nonetheless.
"That's tough to take, but I don't think it's unearned," K-State center Adam Holtorf said. "We're definitely struggling and not living up to the expectations that were place on us.
"No offensive line wants to be known as that, and especially not all of us. We take pride in what we do (and) I can tell you that's something we don't want to stick around any longer."
Perhaps that was Snyder's intent all along. With all five starters back from a year ago, the Wildcats' line was touted as one of the best in the Big 12 and definitely the strength of an offense that last year finished second in the league in rushing.
Instead, the offense has been stagnant through the first two weeks, scoring just one touchdown each in a 27-24 victory over South Dakota and again last Saturday in a 31-10 loss to then-No. 18 Mississippi State. Not surprisingly, the line has borne the brunt of the blame.
"We haven't been as physical as I would have liked, and again a team like Mississippi State had something to say about that," Snyder said Tuesday during his weekly press briefing. "It's not like they got knocked around all over the place against Mississippi State, but I think we didn't get as much push as you'd like to have — movement with defensive linemen.
"We were a little soft in our pass protection. You'd see our quarterbacks on a few occasions had some bad throws, which makes them look like kindergarten quarterbacks, but they've got people up in their face where they end up short-arming the ball because they can't get the motion all the way through and consequently throw bad balls."
In other words, not what you'd expect from such a veteran unit.
"Of course it is (surprising)," said senior right tackle Dalton Risner, an all-Big 12 selection last year and a preseason All-American. "I expected to beat South Dakota handily and I expected to beat Mississippi State.
"Both those things didn't happen so far and we haven't been as good on offense, so a lot of surprising deals this year.
"From an offensive line standpoint, we've got to be able to get more movement up front and we've got to be able handle twists and handle pressures. We've got to execute."
Snyder did not suggest that the line — left tackle Scott Frantz, left guard Tyler Mitchell and right guard Abdul Beecham are the other returning starters — has taken success for granted, one of his favorite cautionary tales.
"I think they're guys that roll up their sleeves and they come to work," he said. "No, I don't think that they have taken themselves for granted. If indeed any of them did, then I think they've gotten the message by now.
"I think they're good workers. They come to practice every day and try to get things right."
That, Holtorf said, is what's so surprising.
"Going into the season we knew we had the opportunity to do something special and we're not doing it right now," he said. "We're dissecting the film and looking at it under as big a microscope as we can, trying to find every little thing that we can to try and improve, being able to be consistent throughout.
"We'll pop a run for 15 or 20 yards, then turn around and have a negative-gain play. It's frustrating, but we're doing everything we can to try and remedy that."
A key to getting better, according to Risner, is knowing when to move on. The Wildcats play their final nonconference game at home Saturday against Texas-San Antonio.
"First, let's learn from our mistakes," he said. "Let's make sure we know what we did wrong.
"But after that, forget about the game. If you want to let that drive you, sure that's fine, but you can't dwell on the misery and dwell on the past."
Thompson to start at QB
Snyder had hinted the day before that Thompson would be his starting quarterback this Saturday against UTSA and on Tuesday he confirmed it.
But the difference between Thompson and Alex Delton remains slim.
"Not a great deal (has separated them)," Snyder said. "Probably the last ballgame, Alex had a turnover — just a bad decision on his part — so, possession of the ball.
"There isn't one single criteria that I say, 'This made the difference' … but probably at the end of the day (Thompson) played a little bit better than Alex did."