Matthew McCrane missed a 43-yard field goal with just a couple of minutes left to play, and Kansas State (2-2, 0-1) -- out of timeouts due to gross clock mismanagement earlier in the half -- was forced to helplessly watch West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) run out the clock in a 17-16 Mountaineer victory. It's West Virginia's first win over K-State since 1930.
The first half of the first quarter was completely unintelligible to the average Big 12 fan. K-State had to punt after receiving the opening kickoff. West Virginia drove into field goal range, but Josh Lambert -- in his first action of the year after a team-imposed suspension -- missed a 30-yard field goal. K-State went three-and-out again, and it was starting to look like K-State was in real trouble.
But after an Elijah Lee interception made possible by a crushing hit from Duke Shelley caused the ball to ricochet off the receiver's chest, K-State finally had the ball in West Virginia territory. Jesse Ertz was able to connect on a couple of very nice passes to Byron Pringle and Dominque Heath to get into the red zone. The season-long obsession with giving Winston Dimel the ball at the goal line paid off, as from the two Ertz faked a handoff to the fullback and eight Mountaineer defenders bit. Ertz was able to dash into the corner of the end zone for the game's first score.
West Virginia then embarked on another long drive, but the Wildcats played bend-don't-break to perfection, forcing a turnover on downs at their own 31 after 13 plays. Nine plays later, it was Matt McCrane's turn to take a shot at the uprights, and he hit from 37 to put the Wildcats up 10-0.
The rest of the first half was a bunch of going nowhere. McCrane added another three from 31 yards out, and could have added a third except the Wildcats' final drive of the half ended on an intentional grounding call on Ertz.
The second half began with K-State up to its usual frustrating tricks on defense, but the Mountaineers could only put a three-spot on the board, Lambert booting a 37-yarder to end the shutout. That drive was unnecessarily extended, as on second-and-long from the K-State 30, West Virginia was flagged for holding on a play that would have lost yardage anyway. But Jordan Willis was also flagged for roughing the passer, offsetting and wiping out the play entirely. It would have ramifications at the end.
Byron Pringle immediately returned the ensuing kickoff to the West Virginia 31, but it got pulled back to the 42 after review determined he'd nicked the sideline. The Wildcats got down to the two, but couldn't punch it in and had to settle for a 22-yarder from McCrane.
West Virginia charged downfield, and this time K-State couldn't stop them on fourth down. Howard hit Jovon Durante for 17 yards on fourth-and-six from the Wildcat 20, giving the Mountaineers four shots from the three. But on second down, Rushel Shell coughed up the ball and Kendall Adams recovered, saving the Wildcats once again. The Cats had to punt, and Howard hit Shelton Gibson for a huge 52-yard play (which honestly should have had another 15 added on, as the beaten D.J. Reed got hold of Gibson's helmet and de-capped him). But once again, the Wildcat defense forced a fourth down at their own 17.
Again, the Mountaineers converted. Howard dumped it off to Ka'Raun White, giving them a first down at the ten. Justin Crawford was ruled down at the half-yard line on the next play; Howard tried to sneak in, and the play was originally called a touchdown, but his knee hit the ground before he pushed forward and lost two feet and the review officials got it right. On their third try, the defense got deked. Howard rushed under center, faking the sneak, but he handed off to Crawford who just scooted around the edge and finally, after 46 minutes, West Virginia had found the end zone.
The next drive for K-State was absolutely dysfunctional, ending with a Rasul Douglas interception of an over-the-top Ertz pass intended for Heath. Both teams went three-and-out after that, the latter drive ending with a Matt Walsh punt which bounced back toward midfield, resulting in only a 31-yard flip and giving West Virginia very good field position.
This time, they didn't mess around. The Mountaineers did have to pick and poke, but a seven-yard connection between Howard and Durante tied the game with 6:11 to go, and the extra point put the Wildcats behind the eight-ball.
The offense, finally, responded. Starting with decent field position after a squib kick, the Wildcats slowly moved downfield, moving the chains and staying on schedule to set up McCrane's attempted winning kick. But it was not to be.
Ertz finished the day 10-29 for 166 yards with an interception, and had 25 yards on the ground on 12 carries. Both figures are not good news. Charles Jones led the way on the ground with 53 yards, but it took him 16 carries to get there. Warmack had 35 yards on 8 touches. Winston Dimel had only one carry, and this is probably the first time we've ever said he should have had more. Pringle led the receivers with 4 catches for 61 yards. Overall, the Cats had 286 yards, 120 on the ground.
West Virginia racked up 422 yards, 124 on the ground. Howard was 24-41 for 298 with a touchdown and a pick. Crawford ended up with 104 yards on 18 carries, while Gibson caught three passes for 104 yards; Daikiel Shorts added five for 72, and Durante had seven for 67.
So, what did we learn?
1) This offense still needs work.
Setting aside problems with Jesse Ertz, which we'll get to in a minute, there are still issues. They may not actually be on the field; it could be in the booth. But the offense stuttered the entire game, despite the offensive line generally winning the battle. As much grief as the Dimels have received from segments of the fanbase, K-State's playcalling on the drive following Pringle's big kickoff return has to be questioned; maybe Dimel got all those carries early in the season because he's the best option.
2) Timeouts are still a huge problem.
K-State called their third timeout of the first half with 12:29 to play. They called their second timeout of the second half with 13:36 to go in the game. Obviously, this is a problem, and this one has to be laid on the booth. They're taking too much time trying to find the perfect play, failing most of the time anyway, and can't get them in on time.
3) Jesse Ertz is fine throwing at people, but not so much ahead of them.
Virtually all of Ertz's incompletions were a result of leading his receiver, but overthrowing him -- either laterally or downfield. Part of this may be a result of throwing off the back foot. He needs more technical work on this, but it may actually cost the team before he develops real comfort with the throw.
4) Bend-don't-break actually works sometimes.
This was possibly the best example of the scheme in a long, long time. Even West Virginia's first touchdown required three plays once the first-down marker was the goal line, and multiple drives today ended with a change of possession or just a field goal even though the defense allowed the Mountaineers to move the ball.
5) We still don't know what to make of this team.
We thought today would be a decisive indication, one way or the other, as to what we can expect from this team going forward. And we were wrong. Dead wrong. This could still be a nine-plus win team. It could be a six-win team. We have no idea, and we probably won't know next week either as K-State plays a team that (a) a school of fish could gain 300 yards on and (b) even K-State's defense is probably not going to shut down.
In short, we recommend that if you have any heart medication, you be sure to take it next Saturday afternoon. You'll need it.