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September 27, 2012Three days after his second-quarter fumble recovery sparked momentum for Kansas State, and during a contest where every point proved crucial in a milestone 24-19 win at sixth-ranked Oklahoma, senior strongside linebacker Jarell Childs offered an admission that made his defensive touchdown all the more impressive.
K-State trailed 3-0 nearly 19 minutes into the meeting between undefeated squads that would determine an early favorite in the Big 12 Conference race, when Oklahoma senior quarterback Landry Jones dropped back on a third-and-13 play at his own 13-yard line. The gasps from the sellout crowd of 85,276 at Memorial Stadium could be felt clear to Stillwater when Justin Tuggle screamed toward Jones' backside and hit the flustered quarterback near the goal line.
On 136 plays from scrimmage in their first two games, the Sooners suffered just two turnovers -- one Jones interception, and one fumble. But their 20th offensive play against No. 15 K-State proved mighty costly. Tuggle's hit forced Jones to lose the ball, Childs corralled it, and in one movement, dove into the end zone to give the Wildcats the lead, thus spurring the quest to hand the Sooners their first-ever home loss to a nationally-ranked opponent in the Bob Stoops era.
It's a scenario that Childs can now afford to chuckle about.
"It was one of the most messed-up plays," Childs said on Tuesday. "We had three different people doing three different plays. We were all doing different coverages. I was actually in man-to-man while the rest of the team was in zone coverage. I went to press the running back and Landry saw me try to bounce, and Tuggle came out of nowhere and sacked him, knocked the ball loose, and it just landed in my lap.
"I dove into the end zone, which I didn't know the end zone was there, so I'm glad it was there."
Regardless of the confusion, a K-State defense that hadn't sacked an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar in 2005, delivered an early blow en route to helping K-State to defeat its highest-ranked opponent in a true road game in the 117-year history of the football program.
"Our coaches told us before the game that in order to win we were going to have to score on defense because they had a great defense and our offense probably wasn't going to get into the end zone that much," Childs said. "We took it upon ourselves to get into the end zone. That's what we did."
The impact wasn't lost on K-State senior quarterback Collin Klein, whose offense gained just 62 yards on 13 plays in the first quarter.
"We hadn't been able to get into the end zone on offense and we're ahead," Klein said. "I mean that's big time."
However, Childs' score becomes significant as it stamped another milestone for K-State -- and not only because its ascension from No. 22 to No. 7 over the first four weeks makes the 2012 squad the fastest in school history to reach a top 10 ranking.
The defensive score gave K-State a nation-leading 84 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, thus breaking a tie in the Football Bowl Subdivision shared with Virginia Tech entering Saturday night.
The 84 non-offensive touchdowns encompass 167 games. It spans countless personnel, a myriad of lineups on defense and on special teams, and a bevy of position coaches that also assume various roles on the special teams units. It runs through defensive coordinators Phil Bennett, Bob Elliott and Bret Bielema, Raheem Morris, Tim Tibesar, Chris Cosh and Vic Koenning, and finally first-year coordinator Tom Hayes.
The nation-leading trend started in 1999 under head coach Bill Snyder and continued with Ron Prince for three seasons. That was before Snyder resumed his position along the K-State sideline, ended a four-year bowless stretch in 2010, and earned National Coach of the Year after guiding the Wildcats to a 10-3 mark and a Cotton Bowl appearance last season.
The continuity in the past 13 years has been remarkable.
"You have to have good players, you have to have good coaches, and we all understand that," Snyder said earlier this week. "The emphasis that is placed in a variety of different areas makes a difference in what happens on game day. We've always placed a great deal of emphasis on being good in special teams and good on defense.
"If you're good on defense, you're probably going to get some turnovers, and some of those will probably lead to scores, or produce scores. If you're good on special teams, it's exactly the same thing, whether it's blocked kicks or returned kicks. But you have to put emphasis on it and believe in it, and really mean that that's what you're putting your emphasis on.
"An awful lot of times, on special teams in particular, there's lip service, and I don't think that's been the case here."
Since 1999, K-State is 46-18 (.719) when it scores a non-offensive touchdown and 84-46 (.646) in games when it relies solely upon offensive point production. The Wildcats' 84 non-offensive touchdowns have arrived in 64 of 167 (38.3 percent) games over the stretch. K-State is 31-7 in Manhattan when scoring a non-offensive touchdown, and 22-4 when doing so as a ranked team.
The impact becomes greater in Big 12 competition, as the Wildcats are 25-15 when posting a non-offensive touchdown, but only 31-35 when they're unable to do so in league play.
Of K-State's 84 non-offensive touchdowns, returning an interception for a score (26) has been most frequent, while kickoff returns (17), punt returns (16), blocked punts (17), fumble returns (seven) and blocked field goals (once) have also contributed to points.
To put it another way, kickoff and punt returns combine make up 39.2 percent of the non-offensive scores while interceptions at 30.9 percent are most prevalent on defense.
Prior to Childs' touchdown, K-State amassed a pair of special teams scores in its first three games of 2012, re-emphasizing the annual directive to opponents: Watch out.
"It's just that mentality from Coach of 'We're going to score,'" said Klein, who played at wide receiver and on special teams as a redshirt freshman in 2009. "We've got to have production out of those units and we've got to have points out of those units. It's the mentality. I'm not on special teams this year, but it's one of those things where you're almost surprised when you don't score, because you're expecting to score."
Junior wide receiver Tramaine Thompson in the fourth-quarter of a 51-9 win over Missouri State sprinted 89 yards for the longest punt return since Jordy Nelson went 92 yards against Baylor in 2007.
"Coach Snyder's always harping about being a solid special teams and scoring those non-offensive touchdowns," Thompson said. "He's been harping on it, trying to get us to contribute more on special teams. Hopefully, we make him proud."
Sophomore Tyler Lockett, a 2011 first-team Walter Camp All-American whose 35.2 yards per kickoff return led the nation and set a Big 12 record, punished North Texas early in a 35-21 win Sept. 15.
Last season, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder became the first player in school history to return a kickoff for a touchdown in consecutive games. One week after he became just the second K-State player ever to return a kickoff 100 yards (a 41-34 win at Texas Tech), Lockett went 97 yards at Kansas (a 59-21 victory).
He returned a kickoff 96 yards against the Mean Green for his third career touchdown on kickoff returns, the most of any active sophomore in the FBS, and second most in school history only to Brandon Banks, who had five between 2008 and 2009.
"Tramaine blocked one player just enough so he couldn't get to me in the end," Lockett said. "Great thanks to those other 10 players on the field that help me."
For all of the history and mystique that's surrounded the Wildcats' penchant for producing non-offensive touchdowns through the years, no combo of threats might be as unique as Lockett and Thompson.
The pair of speed demons, both natives of Tulsa, Okla., actually also both attended Carver Middle School. The Thompson and Lockett families go way back to when their grandfathers were close.
Now Lockett and Thompson combine to give opponents nightmares and provide perhaps the top return duo in the nation.
Lockett currently ranks third nationally in averaging 39.0 yards on five kickoff returns with one touchdown. Thompson averages 50.5 yards on two punt returns with one touchdown, but he doesn't yet average enough punt returns per outing this season to qualify in the national statistics.
"I love that kid," Thompson said. "Watching Tyler grow as a football player is amazing to me. We can go pretty far. We're from the same city, went to the same middle school, and we've put out a lot on tape (for opponents) that could be really good for us in the future."
The non-offensive touchdown has proven decisive. Aubrey Quarles returned a kickoff 92 yards in the fourth quarter as K-State held on for a 49-41 win at North Texas in the final regular-season game of 2010. A Nigel Malone 24-yard interception return in the first quarter helped to set the tone in K-State's narrow win at Texas Tech. While Allen Chapman's 60-yard interception return against Brandon Weeden wasn't enough in the 52-45 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma State last season, Childs' fumble recovery in the end zone last Saturday was precisely what the Wildcats needed to get going in Norman.
"You've got to give half that credit to Tuggle," senior middle linebacker and All-American candidate Arthur Brown said. "He definitely made that happen."
It's a total team effort.
And there's a sense of pride that surrounds the opportunity to contribute to such a phenomena on the scoreboard.
"Coach Snyder tells us (about the non-offensive scoring trend)," Childs said. "He tells us every week, so we try to stay on top."
However, in order to fully understand the trend, go back to the beginning.
Of course, the knack for non-offensive touchdowns at K-State began long before 1999. Why, in the previous season, David Allen became the first player in Division I-A history to return a punt for a touchdown in three consecutive games and became just one of five in history to return four punts for touchdowns in a single season.
But the trend since 1999 was bore during the season opener. Returning All-Big 12 senior defensive end Darren Howard intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards in the third quarter for the final score in a 40-0 shutout of Temple. The Wildcats caught the fever, as they scored a non-offensive touchdown in each of the next three games, including twice in a 35-17 win at No. 15 Texas.
The 1999 team's nine non-offensive touchdowns marked the most until the 2002 team posted 12. That remains the most in a single season by a K-State squad during this nation-leading stretch.
In the five times K-State has posted at least 10 wins since 1999, all five have come during campaigns in which the Wildcats accounted for at least five non-offensive touchdowns in that season.
K-State already has three non-offensive scores in its first four games in 2012, matching its total during the entire 7-6 campaign in 2010.
On the big stage, and during the Wildcats' biggest regular season win in recent memory, and in the midst of battling to halt a five-game skid to the Sooners, Tuggle and Childs teamed to enact among the rarest of non-offensive touchdowns for the Wildcats. Childs' touchdown marked just the seventh fumble return for a score since 1999 and the first in nearly two seasons.
The only method of scoring more rare for K-State is returning a blocked field goal for a score. Defensive back Randy Jordan remains the last to do so, as he took a blocked field goal 93 yards during a 44-10 win at Baylor in 2002.
Snyder, 163-83-1 overall in his 21st season, showed little emotion on the sideline following the defensive score against the Sooners. Whether it's a 97-yard kickoff return or Childs pouncing on a ball in the end zone, it's almost as if the 72-year-old, the oldest active head coach in the FBS, expects these things to occur on the field.
"That's accurate," Snyder said. "Collectively, yes, we're not without our issues from time to time, but overall, collectively, I think we've done reasonably well."
The frequency becomes of essence as well.
Consider K-State is 14-2 when posting multiple non-offensive touchdowns in a game. The two losses were against Fresno State in 2004 and against Nebraska in 2008. The 2002 team had four games with multiple non-offensive touchdowns. K-State has had at least one game with multiple non-offensive touchdowns in 10 of the past 13 seasons entering the 2012 campaign.
Then there's the personnel. A total of 50 different players have contributed at least one non-offensive touchdown since 1999.
While Banks leads K-State with five kickoff return touchdowns during the stretch, Terence Newman remains the only player to score off a punt return (twice), a kickoff return (once) and blocked punt (once). Aaron Lockett returned three punts and one kickoff for a score. Courtney Herndon, a defensive back, returned two blocked punts for a score, and also returned a fumble and an interception for a score.
Free safety Bobby Walker is the only K-State player since 1999 to return three interceptions for a touchdown in the same season. After returning an interception 73 yards in the 2002 season opener against Western Kentucky, Walker picked off Seneca Wallace twice on consecutive passing attempts, returning the pair of interceptions 45 and 26 yards in a 58-7 win over Iowa State.
The timing of such scores also becomes intriguing.
Consider K-State has scored 18 non-offensive touchdowns in each of the first and second quarters, 26 in the third and 22 in the fourth quarter.
K-State is 26-8 when scoring a non-offensive touchdown in the first half. That includes 10 interception returns, nine punt returns, nine blocked punts, six kickoff returns and one fumble return.
Punt blocks account for six touchdowns in the second quarter, the most of any category.
During its current stretch, K-State has returned four second half-opening kickoffs for a score. Each arrived during a victory. Aaron Lockett returned a kickoff 97 yards in a 64-0 win over New Mexico State in 2001, Banks took kickoffs 92 yards against Tennessee Tech (a 49-7 win) and 97 yards against Texas A&M (a 62-14 win) in 2009. Then, of course, Tyler Lockett opened the second half at Kansas with his return to the end zone.
Interestingly, eight of 22 non-offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter arrive by interception returns, which account for twice as many non-offensive scores as any other method in the final quarter. K-State is 7-1 in games when it posts a fourth-quarter interception for a touchdown. Who could forget Mark Simoneau's 37-yard interception return in the fourth quarter in a 35-17 win at No. 15 Texas in 1999? Ted Sims' 27-yard return in the 35-7 victory over undefeated Oklahoma in the 2004 Big 12 Championship Game? Brandon Archer helping Snyder to go out in style with a 45-yard return in a 36-28 win over Missouri in 2005?
"Just recognizing how huge it is as a defense for us to go out there and be able to make impact plays like that, it really helps out our offense," Brown said. "It really propels our team."
It did exactly that during a historic night in Norman.
Of all the many notable plays Brown has made in his two seasons at K-State, his interception of Robert Griffin III in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 36-35 win over No. 17 Baylor last season often first comes to mind. Brown was unable to reach the end zone on that play, which he believes would've been his first touchdown since an interception during his senior season at Wichita (Kan.) East High School.
Usually reserved, Brown's eyes lit up earlier this week when asked whether Childs' latest score perhaps emitted a fire inside the belly of one of the nation's top defensive playmakers.
"I'm not really thinking about getting into the end zone," Brown said. "If I'm put in the right position to grab a fumble and take it 100 yards, I'm definitely willing to do so. You'll definitely see me do it."
Crazy talk? Hardly.
For more than a decade, no program has done it better.