Klein nearly flawless in Wildcats’ rout

By Joshua Kinder

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia fans had seen enough.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein delivered the knockout blow midway through the third quarter when he scored his sixth touchdown of the game, forcing Mountaineer fans to the exits.

It’s too bad, too, because Klein was busy putting on a show Saturday night.

The senior threw for a career-high 323 yards and scored seven total touchdowns to lead the fourth-ranked Wildcats past No. 17 West Virginia 55-14 at Milan Puskar Stadium.

K-State improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big 12, while West Virginia (5-2, 2-2) suffered its second straight embarrassing loss.

The anticipated Heisman quarterback duel between Klein and West Virginia’s Geno Smith never happened, either. From the get-go, it was all Klein and no Smith, as the Wildcats racked up 479 yards of total offense to rout the Mountaineers in their first Big 12 meeting.

Klein was an efficient 19-of-21 passing with three touchdowns, while rushing for 41 yards and another four touchdowns in what was easily the best game of his career.

“I started calling him John during the game because he was rocking (No.) 7 John Elway,” said Chris Harper, who had six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. “He was throwing it. Even at halftime, we were throwing it back and forth before the second half started, and the ball was spinning — I haven’t seen it spin like that. They were giving him opportunities and he was taking advantage of it.”

Smith, on the other hand, struggled, as he was never able to find a rhythm in his high-octane passing offense that entered the game averaging more than 45 points and almost 550 yards a game.

The presumed Heisman frontrunner — until Saturday night — completed 21-of-32 passes for 143 yards, while throwing his first interceptions of the season — one to Arthur Brown and the other to Ty Zimmerman. The Big 12’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year had completed 274 passes in a row without throwing a pick, again, until Saturday night.

“I would agree that we didn’t get into a rhythm,” Smith said. “We didn’t run too many plays in the first half and that was on us… I take full responsibility for that because the ball is in my hands on every play. I have to find a way to help guys make plays.”

Defensively, K-State was at its best so far this season. The Wildcats held the Mountaineers to just 243 yards — 155 passing and 88 rushing — and sacked Smith four times, while collecting eight tackles for loss.

K-State coach Bill Snyder said there was no secret blueprint to shutting West Virginia down on its home turf.

“We didn’t do anything that was out of the ordinary,” he said. “It was just a matter of us trying to improve day in and day out and I thought our defense did that. We played well, we played aggressive, we pursued the ball and had a relentless pass rush and did get our hands on Geno Smith.”

The beneficiary of Klein’s career passing night was Tyler Lockett, who caught nine balls for 194 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and a 20-yard score late in the third that put the Wildcats up 52-7.

K-State fired the first shot of the game on its first possession when Anthony Cantele was good on a 33-yard field goal. He also supplied a bookend 42-yarder with 3:48 remaining to make it 55-14.

The modest start was only the beginning for K-State, though, as the Wildcats scored 24 unanswered points before West Virginia got its first touchdown of the game on a 100-yard kickoff return by Tavon Austin with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. The Mountaineers’ only offensive TD game didn’t come until the 7:31 mark of the fourth quarter when Smith found Austin for a 5-yard touchdown pass with K-State already leading 52-7.

“Our team played well,” Klein said. “We were able to score when we got the ball, our defense came up with some big stops and everybody contributed, was focused and locked in.”

Klein completed nine passes of at least 15 yards, including gains of 28, 31, 33, and 44 to Lockett. The quarterback was perfect on his first seven passes of the game.

But as good as Klein was throwing the ball, he proved to be equally as effective running the ball. He had an 18-yard scramble in the second quarter to set up his second rushing TD of the game. Klein then moved the chains on a third-and-7 when he rushed 15 yards to the WVU 1 in the closing seconds of the first half. He scored one play later to put the Cats ahead 31-7 at halftime.

And despite his performance, Klein was, of course, his normal self, humble to the end. But after Saturday night’s showing, Klein could very well be in the driver’s seat for the most coveted individual award in the game.

“Anything I can do for my team - whatever that looks like — I’ll get it done,” he said. “I’m just trying to be the best I can be with what God has given me… We just need to keep moving forward and go from there.”

From West Virginia, the Wildcats will return home to face the surging Texas Tech Red Raiders next week at 2:30 p.m. It’ll be the first of two straight home games for the Wildcats, who have won 17 of their last 20 games dating back to last season.

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