Maybe the Holiday Bowl?
West Virginia — two weeks ago considered a major player for the Big 12’s BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl, if not the BCS Championship — is suddenly looking down the list of the bowl tie-ins of its new conference, the Big 12.
The No. 17 Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12), who looked bad in a 49-14 loss on the road at Texas Tech last week, looked even worse Saturday night on their home field.
In front of a packed house of 60,101 for a night game at Mountaineer Field, No. 4 Kansas State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) stole the show with a 55-14 thrashing to put itself in the driver’s seat for the conference crown and in the discussion for a national title.
“We lost to a very good football team tonight,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “You have to give Kansas State a lot of credit. They were mistake-free on all sides of the ball.
“There are no excuses, and it starts with me. We will fix what the problems are, and we’ll keep plugging along to try and get better.”
In what was billed as a Heisman Trophy showdown between WVU quarterback Geno Smith and Kansas State signal caller Collin Klein, only Klein lived up to the hype.
The 6-foot-5, 226-pound senior played a part in seven Wildcat touchdowns. He threw for three and rushed for four more, and in between he racked up 41 rushing yards and 323 passing, before leaving the game late in the final quarter.
“He doesn’t do anything wrong,” said Holgorsen. “He doesn’t make mistakes.”
Smith, meanwhile, looked like a different quarterback than the one who threw for a nation’s-best 24 touchdowns through WVU’s 5-0 start. He ended the game with just 143 passing yards, and on the second offensive play of the second half he tossed his first interception of the season, ending a string of 273 attempts without a pick — an NCAA record — and shutting down any hopes of a second-half comeback after the Mountaineers trailed 31-7 at the break.
Smith threw another interception later in the quarter with WVU, down 45-7 at that point, driving to try to finally put points on the board. With six minutes left in the third quarter, it was the first time all night that the Mountaineers had crossed midfield. But it again ended in disappointment — a common theme for the evening.
If it could go wrong for the Mountaineers, it did. The offense, which came into the game ranked as one of the Big 12’s best, managed just 18 first downs — only three in the first half — and 241 yards. WVU had just 86 rushing yards and 155 passing yards. The same team that posted 69 points against Marshall and 70 against Baylor earlier this season has scored only 28 points in the last eight quarters.
WVU didn’t find an offensive touchdown until 7:31 was left in the game when Smith hit Tavon Austin on a 5-yard touchdown strike.
“We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary,” said KSU head coach Bill Snyder of the play of his defense. “It has been a matter of week in and week out, just trying to improve day in and day out, and I think our defense did that. We played well, and we played aggressively.”
On defense, the news was worse for WVU. Kansas State had the ball 10 times in the game and scored on nine of those possessions.
The visitors finished with 479 offensive yards, 333 of them through the air. Klein — one of the worst passers in the league, statistically — suddenly transformed into Tom Brady, exploiting the much-maligned WVU secondary, which has found no solution for slowing down opposing aerial attacks.
“It was embarrassing,” said WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “It was unacceptable, but I’m going to make it better. If I have to stay here all night, I will.”
Aside from Austin’s 100-yard kickoff return, which accounted for the only Mountaineer points of the first half, WVU struggled. Tyler Bitancurt averaged just 39.3 yards on four punts, and Kansas State averaged 35 yards on three kick returns.
The result was a long, frustrating night for the home fans in Morgantown.
As poor as WVU looked, KSU looked equally as impressive. Everything seemed to go right for the Wildcats from start to finish.
Offensively, Tyler Lockett caught nine passes for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and John Hubert rushed for 52 yards on 16 touches, adding some balance to Klein’s ground attack.
Along with the two interceptions for the KSU defense, the Wildcats sacked Smith four times and shut down the Mountaineer ground game, forcing it into predictable passing situations. WVU was never able to get into a rhythm, and the big plays that told the story of the early part of the season couldn’t be found.
KSU was almost perfect on special teams, as well. Anthony Cantele made both of his field goal attempts, as well as seven extra points, and Ryan Doerr averaged 47 yards per punt. Lockett averaged 32 yards on a pair of kickoff returns, while Tramaine Thompson found 41 yards on his only return.
West Virginia will be off next Saturday before welcoming fellow new Big 12 member TCU to Mountaineer Field on Nov. 3.
KSU, which has now knocked off the conference’s preseason favorite, Oklahoma, and No. 2, WVU, both on the road, will host Texas Tech Saturday in its attempt to remain undefeated.
— E-mail: chuffman@
Smith’s INT streak ends as Mountaineers fall 55-14 to K-State
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