Dana Holgorsen screamed at his players on the sideline. The head coach begged for his West Virginia defense to step up against Kansas State. He searched for answers against the Wildcats defense. And, a little later, he looked like a man resigned to his fate.
It was still in the first quarter.
Yes, as the pain of a second-straight Big 12 embarrassment seared into the Mountaineers’ psyche like flame into a couch, K-State, on the other hand, impressed the computers enough with the 55-14 road win to get a bump past Oregon to No. 3 in the latest BCS rankings despite being ranked No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
“What do you want me to change,” Holgorsen asked afterward. “We played somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 30 players on defense. They are what we got. We’re going to focus hard on them, especially with all the young guys we have.”
From the start, K-State and quarterback Collin Klein systematically undressed the WVU defense, first by repeatedly exploiting extremely soft corner coverage before later mixing in more rushes as the Mountaineers were forced to spread out; a move they had to make in an attempt to slow players like wide receiver Tyler Lockett, who racked up seven catches for 146 yards and a score in the first two quarters.
Along with Klein’s career-high 322 yards passing and seven total touchdowns, Lockett’s 258 all-purpose yards (198 receiving) led a group of spectacular performances that nearly featured a trio of 100-plus all-purpose yards achievers. Wideout Chris Harper spent his evening new-school swagging his way down the field with six catches for 96 yards and a fantastic touchdown grab in traffic (on a dead-eye throw from Klein). And, Tramaine Thompson finished with 92 yards through a mix of receiving, kickoff and punt returns.
It was the fourth-straight road win against a ranked conference opponent for the Wildcats, which return home next Saturday against surprising, and surging, BCS No. 14 Texas Tech.
“I was certainly pleased with it,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “I was pleased with the way our youngsters approached the ball game and how they traveled and kept their focus. We played well. We made mistakes and need to get better, but collectively, I think we did a nice job.”
The Morgantown Mugging wasn’t about West Virginia getting exposed (again). No, this was about Kansas State being one of the best teams in college football. It has a Heisman-winning level quarterback leading one of the most powerful and efficient offenses in school history. It has an All-American and a speedster returning kicks. It has an NFL-ready linebacker anchoring a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in any game this year.
Defensive tackles chase down screen passes to the sideline. Defensive ends regularly create their own pressure. The secondary continues to create turnovers. And, the whole group likes to give opposing ball carriers snot bubbles; just like the starting running back who has decided, with his full 5-7, 190lb frame, it is more fun to punish would-be tacklers than the other way around.
Oh, and the team is disciplined to the nth degree, so throw that in there too. All of that combined is why K-State has emerged as one of four serious teams to this year’s BCS Championship mix. It is why, come Monday, Klein’s and K-State’s name will be everywhere (even more), and Kansas City Chiefs fans are crossing Geno Smith off any quarterback hopeful list.
Of Alabama, Florida, K-State and Oregon, I rank the remaining regular-season schedules this way:
1) Oregon — Colorado, @ #9 USC, @ California, #17 Stanford, @ #7 Oregon State, (Pac-12 Championship)
2) Alabama — #11 Mississippi State, @ #6 LSU, #20 Texas A&M, Western Carolina, Auburn, (SEC Championship game)
3) Kansas State — #14 Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, @ TCU, @ Baylor, #23 Texas
4) Florida — #10 Georgia (neutral site), Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, @ #12 Florida State, (SEC Championship game)
Way more so than in recent years, the BCS System and games left appear ready to police themselves in a reasonable order. The SEC Championship will knock one of those two teams out of the mix. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, Oregon should be able to get through its slate, with a likely second game against Lane Kiffin and USC in the conference championship. and K-State just has to take care of its own business week-to-week. (Where have we heard that mantra before?)
With the ‘Cats, I gave this scenario a week ago, but consider this if KSU runs the table: should Tech finish out what it has started this season, Texas stays ranked and Oklahoma State and/or TCU sneak back up in time, Kansas State could play (and beat) five or even six games against Top 25 opponents. Half your season against that? Salty.
Speaking of schedules, it’s starting to enter the outer edges of conversation. Oregon and Kansas State were, in fact, scheduled to face each other to begin the 2011 and 2012 seasons, thanks to Ron Prince’s scheduling pursuit of excellence. Removing the series, which didn’t result in a buyout for either school, was one of the very first orders of business for Snyder when he returned.