Editor’s note: In this season-long series, Mercury sports editor and Kansas State beat writer Ryan Black offers a trio of thoughts on the Wildcat football team’s latest game. The most recent was Saturday’s game at West Virginia, which K-State lost 37-10.
Tip your cap to oddsmakers: They installed West Virginia as 3.5-point favorites at the outset of the week. By kickoff, the line had increased to 5.5 points.
Yours truly still picked Kansas State to win, 28-24.
The final score: West Virginia 37, No. 16 K-State 10.
The (other) final score: Oddsmakers 1, Ryan 0.
The final scoreline told no lies. West Virginia thoroughly dominated. The Mountaineers had their way with the Wildcats in nearly every statistical department.
They had more passing yards (301 to 184). They had more rushing yards (184 to 41). They had more first downs (23 to 13). They had a commanding edge in time of possession (34:14 to 25:46).
K-State had its chances, to be sure. It had short fields on three occasions in the first half, but came away with a grand total of three points on those forays. Once West Virginia’s offense got going, there was little K-State could do.
No, an Oklahoma-like comeback wasn’t in the cards.
West Virginia’s defense, far better than Oklahoma’s, wouldn’t allow that.
It didn’t help the Wildcats’ cause that Will Howard had his worst game as a starting quarterback (19-for-37 passing, which included three interceptions) and that the Mountaineers kept the Wildcats’ most dangerous offensive weapon, Deuce Vaughn, in check.
It simply was a forgettable game for the Wildcats; head coach Chris Klieman said the team will have to “wash it away quickly” with a game against Oklahoma State on tap Saturday.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the game: How did this West Virginia lose to Texas Tech the previous week? Teams will have bad days from time to time, but it’s hard to believe the Red Raiders put up 34 points on the Mountaineers’ defense, which more than lived up to the hype as one of the nation’s best against the Wildcats.
Klieman’s problems with Brown
It’s been covered extensively, and in more detail, on other occasions, but the coaching matchup in Morgantown, W. Va., pitted the two men at the top of the list to replace Bill Snyder following the Hall of Famer’s retirement in December 2018. Klieman got the gig; then-Troy coach Neal Brown returned to Alabama, before West Virginia tabbed him as its new head coach in January 2019 following Dana Holgorsen’s departure for Houston.
Klieman has had more on-field success than Brown since they joined the Big 12. Klieman is 12-7 at K-State, with a 9-5 record in conference play; Brown is 9-9 and 6-8, respectively. Klieman took the Wildcats to a bowl last season; Brown and the Mountaineers stayed home after finishing 5-7.
Klieman is 3-1 at K-State versus ranked teams, with two of those being victories over then-top-five Oklahoma squads.
Brown is 2-4 against ranked foes as West Virginia’s head man ... but both of those wins have come against Klieman and the Wildcats.
Don’t you think the 0-2 record versus Brown will be on the forefront of Klieman’s mind when the Mountaineers come to Manhattan next year? (Klieman won’t say this publicly, though. He’s not the type to engage in any talk that takes the focus away from the team, always stating his only priority is taking things day by day.)
If the 0-2 record isn’t enough, this surely will stick with Klieman: The 27-point defeat is the most lopsided loss he’s had in 104 games as a college head coach.
Let’s just say we expect next year’s K-State/West Virginia game to be circled on Klieman’s calendar.
WR corps continues to struggle
The lone bright spot for K-State offensively came in the second quarter, when it scored its only touchdown of the game. It came on a 35-yard pass play from Howard to Malik Knowles. As hard as it is to believe, that marked Knowles’ first touchdown this fall — five and a half games into the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
For a player many expected to become the undisputed go-to receiver for the Wildcats upon Dalton Schoen’s graduation, Knowles’ lack of progress this season has been staggering. We’ve heard from K-State’s coaching staff that part of this is physical; Knowles has been banged up with nagging, undisclosed injuries for most of the season. Still, it’s clear it’s partly mental, too. Knowles has dropped a number of passes this season, and that’s never good for a receiver’s confidence.
The touchdown catch might be the catalyst for Knowles to finish with a flourish in K-State’s final four regular-season games and the bowl to come. It didn’t come immediately, though: The touchdown was his only reception during Saturday’s loss.
Knowles’ lack of production is baffling.
He ranks sixth — sixth! — on the team in both receptions (four) and receiving yards (77) this year. He’s capable of so much more — he proved that last season, when he received votes as the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year after catching 27 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns. He put up those numbers despite, yet again, battling various injuries for the majority of the season.
Vaughn is terrific. Tight end Briley Moore has shown to be dependable, too. But for K-State to avoid a deflating end to the regular season — with games left against Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas, a 1-3 record in that span is a distinct possibility — it needs the receiving corps to step up.
Knowles is the best of the bunch.
He just needs to prove it with a stellar finish to his sophomore campaign.