For weeks now, everything has been building to Kansas State’s game this Saturday at West Virginia.
It was supposed to be a matchup of unbeatens, both ranked in the top five and with the Big 12 title, perhaps even more, on the line for both teams.
West Virginia was coming off a pair of high-scoring games — wins against Baylor and Texas — and the Wildcats were still riding the high of defeating Oklahoma on the road just a few weeks ago.
All that had to happen was for both teams to take care of business this past weekend and the matchups of matchups was set.
That proved to be easier said than done, however, when unranked Texas Tech handed the Mountaineers an embarrassing 49-14 loss in Lubbock over the weekend, knocking West Virginia down to No. 17/15 in the polls.
West Virginia’s loss left the Wildcats as the top-ranked and only undefeated team left in the Big 12 this season and squarely in the driver’s seat for the league title.
Considering that, Saturday’s game in Morgantown — to be televised nationally on FOX at 6 p.m. — still has huge implications for the Wildcats going forward.
K-State (6-0, 3-0) is chasing its first league title since 2003, but more importantly, the Wildcats are still in the hunt for the national championship — if they keep winning.
To do that, K-State will have to get past a reeling West Virginia team led by Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Geno Smith, who’s been nothing short of amazing through his first six games.
Unbeaten or not, the Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1) are still very dangerous and pose a multitude of problems for any team they face.
“We’ve just got to go to school and figure some things out,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Saturday afternoon. “We’ve done some research on them… They’re a dynamic football team and we’ll have more than our hands full.”
K-State has yet to face a team quite like West Virginia this season. Sure, Oklahoma was a major test on the road, but until this past weekend, the Mountaineers had one of the most prolific offenses in the country, averaging more than 45 points and nearly 550 yards a game.
It all starts with Smith, who has passed for 2,271 yards and 25 touchdowns while throwing no interceptions. Smith passed for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 70-63 win over Baylor on Sept. 29.
No need to worry Wildcat fans, Snyder has a plan to stop the dynamic quarterback.
“I’m going to send somebody out there to kidnap the quarterback… and three or four of those wide receivers, as well,” Snyder quipped.
All joking aside, Saturday’s game has the potential to be a shootout, perhaps like the Wildcats’ game at Oklahoma State a year ago when K-State lost 52-45. West Virginia, as good as its offense has been, has struggled on defense — ranking ninth in the Big 12 by surrendering almost 500 yards and 37 points per game this season.
In the Big 12 alone, the Mountaineers have allowed 52.3 points and a whopping 593.3 yards a game.
West Virginia averages 44.0 points & 558.3 yards on offense, and allows 52.3 points & 593.3 yards on defense in Big 12 play.
Senior receiver Chris Harper said the Wildcats are ready, even if a shootout is required to get the key win on the road.
“We’ve been ready for it,” he said. “It’s been hard not to look too far down the road because we’re excited about it.”
Nigel Malone would rather the game not come down to which team has the ball last, though. The senior cornerback has his sights set on stopping Smith and the Mountaineers.
“They’ll bring it to you,” he said. “If you’re looking for it, they’ll bring it to you. They have good receivers and Geno Smith is being efficient with the ball — no picks.
“It’s exciting, but we’re never scared. You can’t play scared, especially playing corner.”
Facing a challenge like Smith and West Virginia is exactly why Malone wanted to play at K-State.
“When I was being recruited here, I knew they threw the ball (in the Big 12),” Malone said. “That was something I looked forward to, playing against good quarterbacks, good receivers.”
Malone will see a lot of both on Saturday.