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MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — As Kansas State coach Bill Snyder reviewed tape of last Saturday's 58-28 win over UTEP, he caught a glimpse of arguably one of his fastest defenses since his return in 2008.
That speed also showed in a hard-fought, heartbreaking 20-14 loss to fifth-ranked Auburn the previous week. And that makes Snyder feel a bit more comfortable preparing for Texas Tech's high-octane offense on Saturday night.
"We're playing faster and that comes with experience, understanding assignments and recognition of things that are in front of you," Snyder said. "It comes with taking proper pursuit angles and a mindset of playing hard, playing tough and playing aggressive. All of that is in the developmental stages. The progress that is being made is positive."
So where has all that speed come from? A bunch of unheralded, unknown players who have stepped into starring roles for a defense that has emerged as one of the best in the Big 12.
Travis Green and Dakorey Johnson, two of the reasons for the improved speed on the defense, had never started a game at Kansas State before facing Auburn.
Now, the junior college tandem has cemented their names as part of a unit that finds itself in the top 15 in the nation in rush defense.
"They bring an attitude and they bring it every day, even at practice," defensive lineman Travis Britz said. "They are willing to work. They are willing to get better every day. So that really helps us get an attitude that we can do anything."
Green, a teammate of quarterback Jake Waters at Iowa Western Community College, took over the second safety position alongside Dante Barnett. Already, the speedy defensive back has racked up 13 tackles, including one for a loss.
"The switch has already been on since we started," Green said. "You cannot turn it on and turn it off. It has to be on for every team. At the end of the day, we have to come out with a plan and execute it."
Johnson's coming out party occurred when he intercepted Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, helping him to earn Big 12 defensive player of the week honors. However, the linebacker was injured against UTEP and his status is unknown for Saturday's game against the Red Raiders.
They aren't the only relative unknowns on a team stocked with plenty of stars.
As a first-year junior college transfer, Danzel McDaniel was looked at as an immediate impact player at defensive back. Already, he's lived up to his reputation, blitzing into the backfield from his spot on the corner and lighting up unsuspecting quarterbacks and ball carriers.
His bone-jarring hits have made for quite the collection of highlights.
"I like the way Danzel plays," Snyder said. "He's a focused young guy that plays hard. He's new in our program, so I'm always trying to learn more and more about him. I've really appreciated how much it means to him. For him, playing the game is really important. He's into it and he gets better and better."
As Waters watches from the sideline, the Kansas State quarterback — himself a relative unknown a year ago — can't help but marvel what the collection of unsung talent has done on defense.
"They're consistent right now," Waters said. "They have some dudes that can fly around. We have some guys that can stop the run; we have a little bit of everything. Our defense is pretty well-balanced and they're just being consistent in their play and that's what coach Snyder asks for and what we all want on both sides of the ball."
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