The first half was an absolutely bonkers festival of insanity, but Kansas State exerted control in the second half as they cruised to a 48-31 win over West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
The Wildcats scored 41 points in the first half, and took a 41-25 lead into the locker room, but the teams only combined for 13 points in the second half, including a scoreless third quarter. That first half saw two pick-sixes and a total of nine touchdowns; no drive by either team ended with anything less than a touchdown or a turnover until 1:46 remained in the half.
K-State (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) won the toss, elected to receive, and got off to a hot start. They opened with a five-play 69-yard drive which ended on a perfectly designed 15-yard touchdown run by Deuce Vaughn. Four plays later, Cincere Mason picked off Garrett Greene and took it 37 yards to the house, and with only 3:09 off the clock K-State had a 14-0 lead.
But the Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6) struck back. They mounted a successful drive, culminating with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Greene to Sam James; four plays later they returned the favor as Will Howard threw an ill-advised pass to his fourth checkdown which was jumped by Malachi Ruffin for a 43-yard pick six. Casey Legg missed the extra point (his first miss of the season) to preserve K-State’s lead.
The ensuing drive saw DJ Giddens get stuffed on the first play, but Howard connected with Phillip Brooks for 19 on the next play and then Giddens found the edge and raced for a 49-yard touchdown to give K-State some room again.
The Cats forced a four-and-out, the big names on defense all converging on Greene as he tried to sneak for a yard on fourth down and eating him. Howard almost threw a pick on the next play trying to avoid a sack, but got the ball out of bounds. Two plays later, Howard found Malik Knowles for 26 of the 27 yards they needed for a fourth touchdown. K-State snapped the ball and Howard threw a touchdown pass to Brooks, but it was blown dead before the snap so the officials could review the call on Knowles’s catch to see if he’d scored.
He hadn’t, but Howard snuck it in on the next play anyway to give K-State a 28-13 lead with 2:17 to go in the first. West Virginia took three plays to score as Greene hit James for a 71-yard score, but the Cats got it back after Howard found Ben Sinnott for 39 yards to get into the red zone and end the first quarter, and found him again two plays later for a 15-yard touchdown.
West Virginia drove, eating almost seven minutes before another touchdown pass to James from the five. The Cats then chewed up five minutes themselves, settling for a 43-yard field goal from Ty Zentner; a big sack of Greene by Brendan Mott helped force a three-and-out punt, and the Cats tried to pad the lead. Getting to the Mountaineeer 27 with 32 seconds left, Howard was sacked on third down, forcing a 53-yard attempt on Zentner. West Virginia tried to ice him; he made the kick that was waved off easily, then slipped the re-try inside the left upright to give K-State a 41-25 halftime lead.
The third quarter? A lot of nothing. West Virginia burned over half the quarter, aided by an incredibly stupid play on which Felix Anudike-Uzomah flattened Greene after the whistle and then Khalid Duke shoved Greene when he got up, but the end result was just Legg missing a 44-yard attempt. The Cats then had to punt after only five plays, but Mott’s third sack of the game at the Mountaineer 6 forced the Mountaineers to return the favor, and the quarter ended as K-State drove starting from the West Virginia 44.
That drive ended in failure as, on 4th-and-2 from the 19 Chris Klieman opted to go for it — an error, in our view, as a field goal would have made it a solid three-possession game. A miscommunication between Howard and Vaughn left Howard with no choice but to go deep, and he overthrew Sinnott.
The next play, Julius Brents bailed out the decision by picking off Greene. Three plays later, Howard completed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Knowles and K-State stretched the lead to 48-25 with 12:24 to play.
The Mountaineers responded, scoring on a 13-yard run by Greene with 9:30 to play. But Nick Allen sacked Greene on the two-point attempt, keeping the game a three-possession affair. The Cats burned clock, turning it over on downs with 3:36 to go; the defense forced a four-and-out and the offense rode out the clock.
Howard was 19-27 for 294 yards, throwing two touchdowns but one unfortunate pick-six. He also ran for a score. Knowles was his primary beneficiary this afternoon, catching six passes for 111 yards and a score; Sinnott was 3-85 with a touchdown. Brooks, Warner, and Sammy Wheeler had 10 catches combined for 98 yards.
Your leading rusher for the day was DJ Giddens, with 78 yards on 12 carries and a score. Vaughn was 22-67 with a touchdown. K-State outgained West Virginia 437-369, and in the air 294-216; the Mountaineers had a slight edge on the ground at 153-143.
Penalties were a mild factor, although with the final margin of victory not a relevant one. K-State only got flagged four times for 30 yards, three of those just being procedural penalties. West Virginia got popped eight times for 41, about half of which were pretty much the fault of their coaching staff, with illegal shifts and the like.
Time of possession was a wash, with K-State winning that 31:36-28:24.
What We Learned
1) Kobe Savage is a huge loss.
In the first half, West Virginia had their way with the Wildcat defense after the initial pick-six. Greene was picking on the Wildcat secondary, and the absence of Savage was obvious and palpable. However...
2) Joe Klanderman saved the game at halftime.
The improvement of the defense after the break was incredible. The mental lapse on the part of Felix and Duke also seemed to fire the defense up, so it wasn’t all bad. The defense held West Virginia to 127 yards in the second half, a sure sign of good adjustments by the staff.
3) The offense is on fire.
K-State scored on 7 of 12 drives, and two of those drives on which they didn’t score they were just trying to burn the clock. They only punted once. We’ll take it.
4) Brendan Mott is pretty good.
His name’s been called during the season, but he shone today with three sacks. Even this team’s supposed second-fiddles are good players, and let’s not forget this. (VJ Payne also played well in Savage’s absence; the secondary problems were more on a bad first half for Josh Hayes and Brents.)
5) We’re gonna have to do this ourselves.
At the time we’re publishing, Texas is railroading Kansas, so the Wildcats do not clinch their spot in the Big 12 title game today. Baylor could put the question to bed on Black Friday, but the bottom line is that K-State’s fate remains entirely their own.
Players of the Game
Our offensive award this week goes to Malik Knowles, who had a 100-yard day, 77 of which came after the catch. Mott gets the honors on defense; until Austin Moore had a tackle for loss late in the game, nobody other than Mott even had one.
The Sunflower Showdown, in prime time, on FOX. K-State may have already clinched their rematch with TCU by that morning, if Baylor knocks off Texas next week; if not, K-State will be playing to earn it on their own and you know the Jayhawks would love to ruin their chances.