MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Badly in need of a boost offensively in Saturday’s second quarter, an opportunity presented itself for Kansas State receiver Chabastin Taylor. On third-and-8 at West Virginia’s 34, he was open in the flat, with room to run. Enough for a first down, and possibly more. Quarterback Will Howard noticed and fired in Taylor’s direction.
It hit Taylor in the hands.
And then it hit the ground.
He put his hands on his hips and looked down.
The dropped pass was a microcosm of another game against West Virginia that K-State rather would forget.
In recent years, when the Wildcats play the Mountaineers, it means a long day for K-State.
That was the case again Saturday, as a stingy, turnover-producing West Virginia defense stymied No. 16 K-State all day, winning 37-10 at Milan Puskar Stadium to snap the Wildcats’ four-game win streak and hand the visitors their first loss in Big 12 play.
“Congratulate West Virginia,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “They played really good today. We didn’t play our best. I thought our effort was good, but we just didn’t have great execution today.”
Saturday marks the fifth consecutive season K-State (4-2, 4-1 Big 12) has lost to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ streak comes on the heels of the Wildcats beating the Mountaineers five meetings in a row, with a victory in 1931 followed by four more wins (2012-15), which started upon West Virginia’s entry into the conference in 2012.
The continuation of the losing skid versus the Mountaineers wasn’t the only frightful statistic for the Wildcats on this Halloween.
- The 10 points are the fewest the Wildcats have mustered in a game under Klieman ... and the lowest tally since scoring six, in their most recent visit to Morgantown prior to Saturday, in 2018.
- Their 225 yards of total offense is a low point this season. (Previous: 289 in a win at TCU.)
- They rushed for only 41 yards, another season low, as well as the worst in Klieman’s two seasons in Manhattan.
- K-State freshman quarterback Will Howard tossed three interceptions. The last time the Wildcats had three passes picked off in a game was in 2015, when they were flattened 55-0 by Oklahoma.
Klieman made no excuses afterward.
“I’m disappointed, but like I told the guys after the game, we’re all going to take ownership in this, coaches included, myself included,” he said. “But we’ve got to be able to wash it away quickly.”
The result might have been different had K-State’s offense taken advantage of prime scoring opportunities early on.
After West Virginia kicker Evan Staley came up short on a 51-yard field goal attempt on the hosts’ opening possession Saturday, K-State promptly marched down the field, and eventually had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
The next four plays: Howard rush, no gain. Howard pass, incomplete. Howard pass, incomplete. Field goal, a 21-yarder from Blake Lynch.
The second down incompletion was the costliest. It hit fullback Jax Dineen in the hands as he was sliding to his right in the corner of the end zone, but he couldn’t corral it for a catch.
Not capitalizing on short fields reared its head again two more times in the first half.
On the first, K-State began a drive at West Virginia’s 47 following a 46-yard kickoff return by Malik Knowles. The drive ended after two plays: Howard tossed his second interception of the quarter, as West Virginia safety Sean Mahone picked off a pass intended for K-State wideout Seth Porter.
The second came on the Wildcats’ next possession.
One play after Taylor’s aforementioned miscue, Lynch missed a 52-yard field goal.
Three short fields.
Only three points to show for it.
The Wildcats’ defense kept the contest close — at least in the opening period. West Virginia (4-2, 3-2) didn’t score after either of Howard’s two first-quarter interceptions.
But the Mountaineers’ offense found their footing in the second 15 minutes.
It started with quarterback Jarret Doege connecting with Ali Jennings on a 5-yard score with 12:27 remaining in the half.
“When they got up 10-3, you could feel a little bit of air come out (of our team), because we weren’t moving the ball real well,” Klieman said. “And they were starting to get into a rhythm offensively. I thought the quarterback for them played really well and I thought he made a lot of really good reads.”
Doege kept making prudent decisions, too, tossing another touchdown (15 yards to Winston Wright) later in the quarter.
West Virginia’s star running back, Leddie Brown, also crossed the goal line in the quarter, scoring on a 9-yard run.
K-State finally found the end zone on a 35-yard strike from Howard to Knowles (the first score of the year for the sophomore wide receiver) with 1:05 left in the half, but the Wildcats still went into the break trailing 24-10.
The Mountaineers didn’t slow down after halftime, either. They shut out the Wildcats in the final two frames, outscoring the visitors 13-0.
The second half’s lone touchdown was a pick-six: West Virginia linebacker Dylan Tonkery victimized Howard, taking it 18 yards to the house to effectively seal the win for the hosts — especially the way the Mountaineers’ defense played.
To wit: K-State managed just one drive of 10 plays or more. Only two possessions lasted more than four minutes. And while the number of plays or a drive’s time of possession isn’t always an indicator of success — a drive can last two plays and 15 seconds and end with a touchdown — on Saturday, both of those areas spoke to the superlative showing by West Virginia’s defense.
Breaking it down in an easy-to-digest snippet: At one point in the first half, K-State’s offense ran 14 plays.
It gained only 15 yards in that span.
Saturday also marked the first time this season the Wildcats’ freshmen backfield duo looked like, well, players appearing in only their sixth games as collegians.
Along with his three interceptions, Howard barely completed 50% (19-for-37) of his attempts. He finished with 184 yards and one touchdown.
Deuce Vaughn, K-State’s leading rusher and receiver — the only player in the Big 12 tops on his team in both categories — was turned into a non-factor by the Mountaineers. The explosive, game-changing plays that he made routine in K-State’s first five games were nowhere to be found Saturday. His longest rush was 7 yards (he finished with 22 on nine carries); his longest reception was 5 yards (he had two catches for 1 yard, with the other reception losing 4).
Vaughn’s struggles weren’t happenstance.
“I think they tackle as well as any defense that we’ve played this year,” Klieman said. “I think that’s the biggest key: they didn’t allow him to break outside contain. ... They were going to bracket him wherever he was and make sure they kept him in front. I think they just did a really good job. We’ve got to block a little bit better for him. We’d love to have every game where he makes explosive plays, but give those guys credit on defense.”
K-State’s players felt this one more others, though.
Defeat is all they’ve ever known against the Mountaineers.
“Nobody on this team has beaten West Virginia yet that I know of. That’s what we wanted to do,” said third-year sophomore linebacker Daniel Green, who collected seven tackles, tying the personal best he set last year versus Mississippi State. “Not getting that ‘W,’ I think, hurt everybody.”
The loss also put Klieman in an unfamiliar position.
In eight years as a head coach, spanning 103 games entering Saturday, Klieman’s most lopsided loss came in his lone season at Loras College — his first head coaching gig — in a 21-0 setback to Central College on Sept. 24, 2005.
The most one-sided loss until Saturday’s 27-point spread, anyway.
The only other time Klieman ever lost a game by 20 points came in his first season at North Dakota State, when Northern Iowa won 23-3. The Bison responded by ripping off a six-game win streak and capturing Klieman’s first FCS national championship.
The manner in which his team lost Saturday is fuel to the fire.
“We’re going to learn from this,” Klieman said. “We got beat by a good football team that was way better than us today. It’s our job as coaches and as players to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”