MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The final touchdown pass drew only a slight first pump from Collin Klein. It was still the third quarter, but Milan-Puskar Stadium was half-empty. Most of the West Virginia fans had seen enough of a game that had turned into a Heisman campaign ad for the Kansas State quarterback.
Klein threw for a career-high 323 yards and three touchdowns and ran for four scores as No. 4 Kansas State got little resistance from No. 17 West Virginia in a 55-14 victory Saturday night.
The Wildcats (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) made it look easy. Klein completed 19-of-21 passes, and added 41 yards rushing.
“I think we all felt comfortable tonight,” he said. “The coaches did a great job of building a game plan and putting us in positions to succeed.”
No doubt. The Wildcats scored on their first eight possessions, including seven straight touchdowns.
“He doesn’t do anything wrong,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Klein. “He’s hard to tackle. He gets them in good plays. He doesn’t turn the ball over. You can say what you want to about the throwing motion but it goes exactly where he wants it go. He’s a good football player.”
Way too good for West Virginia to stop.
It was no surprise the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) were awful on defense, it’s been that way all season. For the second straight game, though, Geno Smith and the offense did nothing to keep it close.
Smith followed up a clunker at Texas Tech last week with an even worse game, throwing his first two interceptions of the season and finishing 21 for 32 for 143 yards. The senior has gone from Heisman Trophy front-runner to long shot in two weeks.
“We talked about it all week. Don’t get impatient. Don’t get impatient,” Holgorsen said. “You have the ball a couple of times and you look up there and you’re down 17 points and you start pressing. It’s inevitable.
“We’re trying to score 14 points in one play.”
Kansas State made it 52-7 with 2:25 left in the third quarter when Klein hit Tyler Lockett over the middle for a 20-yard score. Klein turned toward his sideline and gave a modest shake of his fist before joining his teammates to celebrate.
By that point a long line cars was creeping out of the parking lot. The only section of the stadium that was still filled, was covered in KSU purple.
The optimism and excitement that was pumping through Morgantown a couple of weeks ago is gone.
In Manhattan, it’s all good, and everything is on the table for coach Bill Snyder’s team. The Wildcats are the only unbeaten team in the Big 12. Their quarterback is the Heisman front-runner. And with five games left on the schedule, the Wildcats are serious national title contenders.
The first meeting since 1931 of the new Big 12 rivals was so lopsided that by the time it was over it was hard to even remember that it started as a battle for first in the conference.
On one side was Klein, aka Optimus Klein, the Wildcats’ methodical battering ram, whose passes don’t look like much, but usually find their target.
On the other side was Smith, the future NFL first-round draft pick with the video game passing statistics.
But Klein got to face West Virginia’s beleaguered defense, which ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 and the country in just about everything.
With the Mountaineers seemingly determined to at least stop the run early, Klein completed his first seven passes, including a 10-yard touchdown that Lockett made a stretching, toe-dragging catch on in the back corner of the end zone. That made it 10-0 in the first.
The K-State running game went to work on the third drive and Klein finished it off with a 1-yard plunge.
Klein made it 24-0 on the next Kansas State drive, taking an option keeper 8 yards. That gave him 39 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons to break an FBS record held by Eric Crouch of Nebraska and Stacey Robinson of Northern Illinois.
Tavon Austin finally put a little life back into the sellout crowd when he took the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for a score with 4:12 left in the first half.
The bad news for West Virginia was that it gave the Wildcats more than enough time to get the ball back in the end zone — which they did.
Klein hit Lockett deep for 44 yards and a few plays later he finished off the drive with another 1-yard dive.
The first half onslaught went like this for Kansas State: five possessions, 346 yards, four touchdowns and a field goal. The offense was unstoppable and the defense was just as good, holding Smith to 62 yards by flooding the secondary with defenders and taking away the down field throws.
Maybe the pressure of having to score every time he touches the ball has gotten to Smith, but that trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, which seemed like a lock after the Mountaineers won at Texas, is now in serious doubt.
As for Klein and the Wildcats, they will face tougher tests. The gap between the top and the bottom of the Big 12 doesn’t seem all that wide. But they have now won three conference road games, including at Oklahoma.
They came into the weekend fourth in BCS standings, behind Alabama, Florida and Oregon.
With their 73-year-old coach pushing all the right buttons and their happily married quarterback making all the right plays, the Wildcats might be due for a promotion.
Big 12 Conference
At Morgantown, W.Va.
No. 4 Kansas State 55,
No. 17 West Virginia 14
Kansas St. 10 21 21 3 — 55
West Virginia 0 7 0 7 — 14
KSU — FG A.Cantele 33, 11:25.
KSU — Lockett 10 pass from C.Klein (A.Cantele kick), 3:33.
KSU — C.Klein 1 run (A.Cantele kick), 11:23.
KSU — C.Klein 8 run (A.Cantele kick), 4:27.
WVU — Austin 100 kickoff return (Bitancurt kick), 4:13.
KSU — C.Klein 1 run (A.Cantele kick), :17.
KSU — Harper 21 pass from C.Klein (A.Cantele kick), 13:55.
KSU — C.Klein 1 run (A.Cantele kick), 9:00.
KSU — Lockett 20 pass from C.Klein (A.Cantele kick), 2:25.
WVU — Austin 5 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 7:31.
KSU — FG A.Cantele 42, 3:48.
A — 60,101.
First downs 24 18
Rushes-yards 39-146 27-88
Passing 333 155
Comp-Att-Int 20-23-0 23-35-2
Return Yards 40 0
Punts-Avg. 1-47.0 4-39.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 6-55 4-29
Time of Possession 33:22 26:38
RUSHING — Kansas St., Hubert 16-52, Pease 7-46, C.Klein 12-41, Sams 2-4, Robinson 2-3. West Virginia, Garrison 9-54, Buie 11-49, G.Smith 7-(minus 15).
PASSING — Kansas St., C.Klein 19-21-0-323, Sams 1-2-0-10. West Virginia, G.Smith 21-32-2-143, Millard 2-3-0-12.
RECEIVING — Kansas St., Lockett 9-194, Harper 6-96, Thompson 2-19, Tannahill 1-11, T.Miller 1-10, Pease 1-3. West Virginia, Austin 6-34, Bailey 4-34, Garrison 4-30, McCartney 3-26, T.Copeland 3-10, Nehlen 2-12, Woods 1-9.