|The Mountaineers suffer a beating for the second straight week, this time from Tyler Lockett and the Wildcats. (Getty)|
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Kansas State's problem Saturday night was Texas Tech. Its problem sure wasn't West Virginia, because West Virginia was no problem at all. No. 4 Kansas State demolished the No. 17 Mountaineers 55-14, a performance that should catapult the Wildcats toward a BCS title shot -- and quarterback Collin Klein toward the Heisman Trophy.
But there's the Texas Tech thing.
Everything Kansas State did to West Virginia on Saturday night? Texas Tech did it to West Virginia last week.
"They beat 'em like we did," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, and that's almost exactly right. The Red Raiders demolished West Virginia 49-14 on Oct. 13, a performance that exposed the Mountaineers' defense as one of the worst in Division I-A.
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This is a serious issue, Kansas State fans, not an example of anyone hating on your team. Hate on Kansas State? Not me. Not at all. If you were following me on Twitter on Saturday night, you saw me swooning over everything Kansas State, from the coach to the quarterback to the defense. At one point, the word "swoon" literally appeared on my Twitter feed -- and that was after the Wildcats marched off the field at halftime.
They formed a compact square, roughly eight or nine players deep and eight or nine across, and jogged into the locker room. It looked like a moving rectangle, or a platoon. It was impressive, and it was a metaphor for the winning ways of legendary Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. His teams are organized, disciplined, together. Listen to the man himself, after the game. This is how he started his press conference:
"I was certainly pleased with how our youngsters approached the game," Snyder said, "and how they traveled and how they kept their focus."
West Virginia? Bad approach. Bad focus. But at least they didn't have to travel -- because I'm not sure they could have found the airport.
After a 5-0 start that had the Mountaineers in the BCS discussion, this team is in disarray. Its defense Saturday was an embarrassment, and I don't throw out that word loosely. But this was bad, and by the second quarter the home crowd was booing every time a Kansas State receiver found another huge expanse of open field and pulled in a Klein toss for big yardage.
"What do you want me to do?" asked WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. "We played somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 30 guys on defense. They are what we got."
True -- and anyway, the home crowd was booing pretty much everything: Holgorsen's decision not to go for it on fourth-and-4 at midfield with the Mountaineers trailing 17-0 in the second quarter. The 25-yard shanked punt on the next play. And Kansas State's 19-yard pass from Klein to Harper on the play after that.
It was that ugly for West Virginia, which played defense like it had eight guys on the field -- none of whom could tackle. The game's silliest play came late in the first half, Kansas State facing third-and-7 at the Mountaineers' 16. Klein took the shotgun snap and ran around the right end. No fake, no lead blocker, no pulling guard. He just took the ball and ran, and damn near scored. He reached the 1, then scored on the next play to make it 31-7 at the half.
"I gotta be honest," Harper said. "Everything was working."
And no player in the country is as reliable as Klein, who has 41 rushing touchdowns ... since the start of last season. He ran for four TDs and threw for three Saturday, a Heisman breakout day for him in part because he was so good -- and in part because his top competition wasn't.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was held to 47 yards rushing and 9-of-20 passing for 113 yards and an interception in a comeback win against Purdue -- a comeback engineered by his backup after Miller left the game with an injury. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ran for just 27 yards and was intercepted three times in a loss to LSU.
And Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith of West Virginia? He threw his first two interceptions of the season against Kansas State, and while he still has an absurd TD/INT ratio of 26 to 2, he has been ineffective two weeks in a row. How can Heisman voters consider him the best player in the country when he's not necessarily the best player in his own huddle? WVU receiver Tavon Austin is among NCAA leaders in all-purpose yardage and provided West Virginia's only highlight Saturday with a 100-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, which cut Kansas State's lead to 24-7. By the time West Virginia scored again, it was the fourth quarter. And the score was 52-7.
Long story short: Collin Klein is the only serious Heisman candidate who hasn't fallen back to the field. He is pulling away steadily, relentlessly.
"He doesn't do anything wrong," Holgorsen said. "He doesn't make mistakes. ... He is a good football player."
Maybe even better than that. Klein doesn't have the gaudiest stats -- he's on pace for about 2,200 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing, solid numbers if not Day-Glo Heisman stuff -- but he scores all those touchdowns and he wins all those games, and he makes almost no mistakes.
"He played well," Snyder said. "He plays like Collin. His number are not always indicative of the fact he has such great command of the game."
His numbers Saturday were indicative of near-perfection. Klein was 19 of 21 for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
"I started calling him John during the game, cause he was rocking it like No. 7 -- like Elway," Harper said. "The ball was spinning. I've never seen him spin it like that."
This was Klein's Heisman game, but there's that whole Texas Tech thing. Last week Red Raiders quarterback Seth Doege -- coming off a dud where he threw for 203 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions against Oklahoma -- torched West Virginia for 499 yards and six touchdowns. That diminishes what Klein did Saturday because, honestly, everyone's doing it to West Virginia.
All of which leaves Kansas State right where it started before kickoff: One of the best three or four teams in the country, with one of the best two or three players. Collin Klein became the Heisman front-runner on Saturday night, but he needed some of his chief competition to stumble.
The same goes for Kansas State, even now: Quite possibly deserving of a spot in the BCS title game -- but probably needing its chief competition to stumble.