In the days leading up to Kansas State’s trip to Norman, the week was filled with cautious hopes and national columns, piano playing in front of ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and the daunting task of taking on Oklahoma at Owen Field.
The stage was set on multiple levels, and while people in and around Manhattan may have already known, the Wildcats just took their resurrection act from backyard to Broadway. The team felt it was ready for the leap.
“No, I don’t think so,” quarterback Collin Klein said upon being asked if the win was a surprise. “Coach Snyder says to have no limitations and play to the best of our ability. We have to do what we need to do in order to be ready for a battle and when the time comes we have to go battle.
“We believe that together, we’re able to get it done. It’s a big step, a big win.”
This bunch isn’t just fun to cover like the 2011 well-mannered group that stole hearts in a surprise season. This is the same group of nice boys, but a streamlined, faster version, a legitimate Top 10 team, a serious national dark horse that, with a quarter of the season complete, has proven it belongs in every conversation behind Alabama, LSU and Oregon. But, then again, why limit anything at this point? That would be a disservice to the example set by the 2000 Sooners.
Behind a superb defensive effort, some fantastic legwork from John Hubert and the ever-steady leadership of Klein, the Wildcats started the game as an extended-drive itch and transformed into an opportunistic, turnover taking, rank-dropping rash for the Sooners, who appeared from the start as unsure and unsteady as any Bob Stoops-led team had ever looked facing K-State. That feeling, too, had started earlier in the week with Stoops making a point to ask the crowd to be loud, and defensive tackle David King telling the media the D-line wanted to prove itself.
Looking back, those were unfamiliar cracks in the Crimson and Cream swagger, and those creeping feelings of doubt followed the Sooners on to Owen Field.
While Sooners quarterback Landry Jones stumbled around and played what he later called “pretty terrible” football, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops screamed, and wide receiver Trey Metoyer found what life in the middle of the field is like with an Arthur Brown in his midst, Hubert and Klein churned out 211 of KSU’s 219 rushing yards. Hubert earned 131 yards on 23 carries, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and scoring the game-sealing touchdown with 7:27 remaining in the game.
His touchdown run left OU linebacker Tom Wort flat-footed in the hole, a whiff of a tackle in a live version of the Oklahoma drill.
“Coaches always tell me to have a low pad level and keep your feet moving and to just never give up,” said Hubert, who moved his Big 12-leading rushing total to 426 yards. “Their defense didn’t wrap up and I just came out with a touchdown.”
Klein was a modest 13-of-21 throwing the ball for 149 yards and no touchdowns on the stat sheet. However, it was Klein’s arm and accuracy on the deciding drive that led to Hubert’s nine-yard touchdown run. A 21-yard completion to tight end Travis Tannahill opened the drive that began at the KSU 23. Then later, on 3rd-and-12 at the KSU 42, Klein found Tramaine Thompson on the sideline, and Thompson scampered for 26 yards and a first down. After a couple of Hubert runs resulted in another first down at the OU 25, Klein then hit Tannahill for 13 more yards to the nine before Hubert capped it off with a run up the middle.
At that point of the game, in that environment, that drive was championship and Heisman-level football. It can’t be faked, and it’s why all previous expectations of this team for the rest of the season should be reconsidered, mine included. I pegged the Wildcats as a four-loss team before the year, largely based on the schedule. Having won at Norman, that’s all off the table, especially when one considers another stout defensive effort that featured speed (in the form of Justin Tuggle rushing off the edge and forcing a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown) and toughness (OU’s tandem of Damien Williams and Dominic Whaley managed just 85 yards between them on 19 carries).
The Big 12 race certainly shook itself up with K-State’s performance, and Hubert laid out the team’s next goal.
“We just take it one game at a time,” Hubert said. “We have a bye week and then Kansas next, so we’re just going to rest and watch film.”
And, as far as K-State on the national scene?
“It gives us confidence and momentum,” Hubert said. “We just want to rest and keep getting better. We are one of those teams that can be in the top five easily, but we like to be underdogs. It gives us confidence to go out and play hard.”