Once again, Kansas State needed a big performance out of its defense to stay in the game. And once again, it got it.
Until the Wildcats’ offense could get things rolling in the fourth quarter, the K-State defense stymied West Virginia’s potentially high-powered offensive attack, holding the Mountaineers to 367 yards and just 12 points in a 35-12 win on Saturday.
Some of the Wildcats biggest defensive stops came after the kinds of plays that gashed them in a 35-25 loss to Baylor two weeks ago. Twice the Mountaineers turned big plays down the field, and both times they were held to just a field goal.
The first time came in the second quarter with K-State ahead 7-6. West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett hit Ronald Carswell for a 50-yard pass to the K-State 6-yard-line, but the Mountaineers had to settle for a 21-yard field goal.
In the third quarter, Trickett found Kevin White on a 43-yard pass from the Mountaineers own 20, but West Virginia gained just four more yards the rest of the drive and kicked a 50-yard field goal to take a12-7 lead. From there, it was all K-State.
With the exception of those big plays, K-State head coach Bill Snyder was pleased with the performance from his defense.
“The fact that (West Virginia) had bad field position a good portion of the time, my guess is there’s a touchdown and field goal that come off the board if they don’t,” Snyder said of the defense’s performance. “I wasn’t happy with the big play and maybe a couple others in there as well, but we dramatically cut down on that. We’ve got to limit those period.”
Senior safety Ty Zimmerman echoed Snyder on that statement, saying they still have to correct that area of their game. But Zimmerman thought it was the type of performance that the defense, and the whole team, could use going forward.
“We’ve been kind of down these last few weeks, it did a lot for our confidence,” he said. “Hopefully we can build on it next week.”
It was the third straight game that saw the Wildcats’ defense slow their opponent’s rushing game. K-State held West Virginia to 103 yards on 29 carries, after holding Baylor to 114 and Oklahoma State to 85.
Sophomore defensive end Marquel Bryant said they have worked hard to take away the run.
“We have to stop those,” he said of rushing plays. “We have times where they break through, but the deal is get there, keep them inside the box so the guys in the secondary can come help us out. We did hold them. We work hard and we were getting at these boys’ necks.”
Junior defensive end Ryan Mueller said the run defense kept West Virginia from getting in a rhythm offensively.
“Going into the game we knew they were very, very talented,” he said. “We didn’t want them to get going, get comfortable. I’m glad we limited them to minimal rushing yards. It was a good team victory for K-State, definitely a must-win for us.”
The defense also forced the Mountaineers into three turnovers, all in the second half. Alauna Finau knocked the ball away from Trickett on the Mountaineers’ first drive of the third quarter, and Blake Slaughter recovered.
After K-State took a 21-12 lead in the fourth quarter, Zimmerman, who led the Wildcats with 12 tackles, stripped the ball from Trickett and Dante Barnett recovered. Dorrian Roberts ended the game by picking off West Virginia backup Paul Millard as time expired.
K-State, which held a Big 12 opponent to the fewest points in Manhattan since Kansas scored 10 in 2009, has steadily improved its defensive performance since taking its first bye week of the season, prior to the Oct. 5 game at Oklahoma State
Bryant said after Snyder had the whole team get together for an exercise during that bye week, players started to search within themselves to find what they could improve about their performances — both individually and as a team.
And since that meeting, the defense has been playing at a high level.
“These last few games were a big turnaround for the defense,” he said. “I don’t know if something sparked with us, but we all came together. Since the OSU game, we’ve just been going at it.”