MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair looks back on the way Kansas State ran the ball last year, especially in critical games late in the season, and can't help but feel accountable.
''We were kind of embarrassed with our run game,'' Whitehair said. ''We really took it to heart. Going back and looking at film, we have a lot of room to improve.''
The Wildcats averaged 189 yards rushing over the first five games, but wound up eighth in the Big 12 at just over 134 per game. That's 44 yards fewer than the previous year, and the lowest production on the ground at Kansas State in six seasons.
But with the loss of dynamic playmakers on offense - quarterback Jake Waters and wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, foremost - the Wildcats plan to lean on their ground game again this season. And that means leaning on an experienced offensive line, one that may have a little extra motivation after the way it performed late last season.
''We feel pressure,'' Whitehair said, ''but we also have four guys returning, so we take a lot of pride in that as well. Hopefully we'll use that to our advantage.''
Whitehair is joined by fellow seniors Boston Stiverson, Luke Hayes and Matt Kleinsorge up front. Together, the four of them have started 92 games in their college careers.
The only departure is B.J. Finney, a four-year starter now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the leader of the offensive line group, set a record with 52 consecutive starts, and is one of just three players in school history to earn all-conference honors all four years.
Reid Najvar and Dalton Risner are the leading candidates to take over for him.
''B.J. just had a lot of experience,'' Whitehair said. ''He had been playing since his redshirt freshman year. He just knew the offensive very well, and that's what a center brings to the offensive line. He was a leader. It all started with him, and once B.J. made his calls it was a lot easier for us to do that. Now I've kind of stepped into that role.''
The experience of the offensive line is important for several reasons.
Kansas State will be breaking in a new quarterback this season, regardless of who wins a four-way battle before the opener Sept. 5 against South Dakota State. The offense is also complex, with the quarterback run game mixed with elements of a pro-style attack in an unusual hybrid.
Offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said last year's struggle running the ball was not entirely the fault of the line, but rather the health of the quarterback. Waters was banged up in a win at Oklahoma on Oct. 18, and ran less the rest of the season to protect his ailing shoulder.
''That's a big part of what we do,'' Dimel said. ''The other part is that we do so many different things in the run game that people really decided to pick their poison. It got to the point where (teams) were like, `Play smart football and don't let K-State run the ball all the time. Make them throw it.'''
Coach Bill Snyder believes he has the pieces up front to get back to Kansas State's roots. He also believes his veterans can provide some leadership for the rest of the team.
''They have all played and all have the experience,'' Snyder said. ''Cody is a captain. Luke Hayes during the course of the summer provided wonderful leadership for not being selected as a captain. He stepped up during the course of the summer and provided great leadership, and has continued to do so and I am pleased with him about that.''