In this week's Big 12 Q&A, we chat with Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis, who had more sacks last season than any other returning Big 12 defender.
What did you guys take away from the Stanford game?
Willis: I think the biggest thing we took away from it is the importance of tackling. Playing gap-sound. There were a couple times, the two touchdowns Christian McCaffrey had on us, someone got out of their gap. When that person got out of that gap, we didn't rally and tackle well enough as a defense. So I feel like since then we've improved on that. Even more important in conference, where there's so much space, we have to be good at that.
Even though you lost, you guys held them in check for much of the game. Did that give you more confidence as a defense?
Willis: After you lose, you feel bad. But then you get on the plane and get back and watch the film, everybody walked out of the room like, 'OK, we have an opportunity if we correct these mistakes to be good.' So I feel like a lot of guys, especially that haven't played before, gained a lot of confidence that we can do good things against a good team. That has boosted us a lot.
What kind of opportunity is this West Virginia game for you guys this weekend?
Willis: This will be a big opportunity for us to have a good game. As a defense, if we perform well, we'll give our offense good opportunities to put points on the board. West Virginia, they're a good football team. But we're going to find where we can attack to see what we can do against them. I think we have a good opportunity to do some good stuff as long as we prepare well and then do it on game day.
What challenges does West Virginia pose?
Willis: I would say, if you watch their offense, they run certain plays that are difficult for the defense to defend. The problem is, they make them look all the same. There are certain run plays that will look the exact same, but they're different, and you have different responsibilities, so you've got to be able to see which is which. Then they have a lot of plays that looks like run, but it's pass. You've got to be good reading your keys. On top of that, they've got good guys at skill positions. Wide receiver and running back. It's not like you can make mistakes and expect to beat them. Because they've got a lot of good players.
You don't hear about many college football players being really into NASCAR. How did that happen?
Willis: My dad works at a body shop in Kansas City. It happens to be owned by Rick Hendrick, who owns four NASCAR [teams], Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott. When I went there when I was young, I saw like a Jeff Gordon pop-up. Ever since then I started watching NASCAR since I was like 7 or 8. Since then, I've been hooked on it. I've been to a couple of races at Kansas Speedway. I just like everything about it. I also like the strategy part of it, which compares to what I have to do football-wise, as far as game planning for a team.
Do you have a favorite driver?
Willis: It was Jeff Gordon, but he retired. Right now, my favorite driver is Martin Truex Jr. The reason why is his consistency. He's not like on one of the big race teams. He's on a single-car team, but he's always competing with the top-tier teams.
Have you ever driven a race car before?
Willis: No. I wish I could. There is one bowl game, I think it's the Belk Bowl, where the teams get to ride around in the cars. I would like that opportunity. That would be pretty cool.