MANHATTAN — If the past seven months of life with the coronavirus pandemic has taught them nothing else, the Kansas State Wildcats have learned the margin for error with the accompanying uncertainty is razor thin.
They have to remain vigilant.
And that was Chris Klieman's message to his team as soon as they stepped off the field last week following an emotional 38-35 upset victory on the road against Oklahoma.
Neither Texas Tech, which visits Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the Wildcats' Big 12 home opener, nor the virus, care much what happened a week ago.
Much like K-State, Texas Tech (1-1, 0-1 Big 12), raised its game in the Big 12 opener, leading No. 8-ranked Texas in the closing minutes of regulation before falling in overtime, 56-53. The Red Raiders barely survived their season debut two weeks before that, edging Houston Baptist, 35-33.
Following K-State's disappointing 35-31 loss to Arkansas State in the season opener, Klieman implored the Wildcats to take stock and redouble their efforts in the two weeks leading up to Oklahoma. Now they must guard against turning into one-hit wonders.
"They did a great job, and it just can't be one game," Klieman said. "It has to be sustained.
"We need to do this for the long haul, and that's the challenge we made to our guys. We didn't play well in week one and you lose. We played well (and) played hard in week two and had an opportunity to win."
When you don't know what life will look at from one day to the next, there's not much point in dwelling on the past.
"We better put it behind us in a hurry, or we're going to not be ready on Saturday," Klieman said. "What we did today is great, but it pales in comparison to what you can do the next day.
"And right now we have to move on, and I think our guys did a nice job of that on Monday. But that's been kind of our mantra for the last year plus, is tack great days and don't worry about yesterday. Worry about today and let's win the dang day, and we're going to try to do that today."
Sophomore defensive tackle Jaylen Pickle, who made his first career start against the Sooners, heard the message loud and clear.
"Every day is a different day," said Pickle, who started in place of Eli Huggins. "You've got to win every single day and then it's just build on every day and every win, and build on every loss, too, because there is always something you can learn."
Pickle got the start when Huggins was unavailable. The Wildcats also were without cornerbacks Lance Robinson and Kiondre Thomas and running back Harry Trotter among others, presumably as a result of positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing.
And that's the other reason the Wildcats can't let their guard down.
It forced them to shuffle positions in the secondary, with Jahron McPherson moving from free to strong safety and cornerback AJ Parker to nickel, while sophomore Ekow Boye-Doe and junior college transfer Justin Gardner drawing their first starts at the corners. It also gave electric freshman Deuce Vaughn a bigger role at running back, where fellow true freshman Keyon Mozee also came up big with a 78-yard pass reception.
Because he and his staff don't know for sure who will be available from one week to the next or even on a daily baseball, they have had to prepare more players at the cost of developing continuity at certain positions.
"So let's throw that pandemic word out there again," Klieman said. "Let's put all our eggs in one kid's basket and all of a sudden that kid goes down on Wednesday or Friday.
"Now we have to find a way to get all those reps to somebody that we could have split those reps up (earlier).
"Really, that's at every position for us. We're trying to get the reps evenly distributed, so that when something does happen and a guy goes down, we can't say that kid has only had 10 snaps and now we've got to play him 50."
Klieman's staff already embraced a philosophy of utilizing any players they felt were up to the job, and it paid off against Oklahoma, where the Wildcats rallied from a 21-point second-half deficit.
"The biggest examples I would use is of our game last week and when you watch the Texas Tech game last week," said offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. "I felt as if we were as fresh and ready to go as you could be in the fourth quarter. And I felt that, when you watch the game, we were in better shape.
"And it wasn't because each individual was probably in better shape, but we use as many people as we can. When you watch the Texas Tech game, by the fourth quarter and overtime, you could see that they were two teams that were gassed. They were spent."
The Wildcats definitely will need to keep fresh on defense against a high-powered Tech offense that ranks 10th nationally in total offense, seventh in passing and ninth in scoring. Quarterback Alan Bowman averages 377.5 passing yards per game, completing 66 percent of his attempts with seven touchdown and four interceptions.
Tech also has the Big 12's leading rusher in SaRodorick Thompson, who has run for 222 yards and four touchdowns.
With what has been a revolving door in the secondary for K-State, plus the fact that Texas Tech pushes the tempo offensively, linebacker Elijah Sullivan said it is imperative that the Wildcats are on the same page.
"It just gets you a different guy to communicate to, and that’s what we’ve been working on throughout the whole time we’ve been back," Sullivan said. "Just being able to communicate as a defense, as a whole, no matter who’s back there.
"We have had a lot of guys kind of move around. As you know, Jahron (McPherson) was back there at strong safety this week. But the biggest thing is communication no matter who’s out there."