If only Kansas State could play Miami every week.
Just a week removed from scoring at will in the rout over the Hurricanes, offense suddenly became difficult for the Wildcats on Saturday, needing just about every break to come away with a 35-21 victory over North Texas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“If you don’t prepare yourself well, about anything can happen,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “And we weren’t prepared well…There probably isn’t anything we don’t need vast improvement on — and that’s on both sides of the ball.”
The 15th-ranked Wildcats improved to 3-0 to close out nonconference play, but the win didn’t come easy against a pesky Mean Green team playing on the road against its second top-15 opponent in three weeks.
“That’s why you play the game,” K-State quarterback Collin Klein said. “Everybody can beat you. Hats off to (North Texas) — they’re a tough team. They’re going to do some good things…We would have liked to execute a little better, but we got it done.”
K-State turned the ball over twice, was nearly doubled in time-of-possession and needed a pair of overturned instant replay calls to help get into the end zone. It was just that kind of night for the Wildcats, who had minus-1 yard of total offense in the first quarter and relied on two big special teams plays to stay in the game.
The Wildcats, who finished with 373 total yards, led 14-7 at halftime after a 96-yard kickoff return from Tyler Lockett in the first quarter and a 38-yard touchdown pass from Klein to Tramaine Thompson in the second.
Thompson proved to be a bright spot on an otherwise sour night for the Wildcats, who struggled offensively most of the game — finishing with five receptions for a career-high 102 yards and two scores.
Lockett’s big return — the third of his career — was the only scoring K-State could muster in the first quarter. The Mean Green (1-2) held the ball for nearly 12 minutes in the opening quarter, totaling 94 yards of total offense, while all K-State could do is produce a pair of three-and-outs and negative yards.
“We had six snaps in the first quarter — that’s a lot of time to be standing on the sideline sucking your thumb,” Snyder said. “Then we got on the field and sucked our thumbs.”
Special teams also bailed K-State out in the second quarter when Vai Lutui blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt by Zach Olen with 4:46 remaining in the opening half tied at seven apiece.
“Special teams saved us,” Snyder said. “It made a difference in the ballgame.”
And yet, it was still anyone’s game in the third quarter as North Texas opened the second half with a long, methodical 14-play, 88-yard drive that chewed up almost eight minutes of clock — capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Antoinne Jimmerson. The Mean Green couldn’t tie the game, though, as Olen’s extra point try was off target — leaving the Cats with a 14-13 lead they would never surrender.
K-State answered North Texas a few minutes later and began to finally start pulling away when Klein ignited the first of three straight scores for the Wildcats. The senior quarterback connected with Thompson on a 21-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone — a play that was originally ruled incomplete but overturned after an official review.
“I immediately pointed at the ref because I could feel it,” Thompson said, knowing he was in the end zone. “Playing receiver for as long as I have, you kind of know where you are on the field and you can feel it when you ran it and when you’re out.”
But again, nothing came easy for the Wildcats, as all three scores in the second half had to be reviewed — including John Hubert’s 6-yard fourth-quarter TD run that was confirmed and Klein’s 1-yard sneak that was initially ruled short but overturned to give K-State a 35-13 lead with 6:44 to play.
Klein, who threw an interception late in the second quarter, finished 15-of-20 passing for 230 yards and two scores. He also rushed 11 times for 85 yards and one score, including a long rush of 27 yards in the fourth quarter.
K-State will now turn its attention to No. 5 Oklahoma, which had a bye on Saturday, and will host the Wildcats this week in Norman for a 6:50 kickoff on FOX.
Thompson said he knows his personal success against North Texas means nothing on Monday with the game at OU looming.
“It’s going to be short-lived,” he said. “We’ve got to get ready for next week — that’s a huge game.”