MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A battle for Big 12 supremacy left Kansas State and West Virginia heading in opposite directions.
No. 4 Kansas State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) is rolling through a tough conference schedule and turning away all challenges. The latest victim: the Mountaineers.
“I’m very proud of our guys and how we’ve been able to hang together in adversity and prosperity,” quarterback Collin Klein said. “And we just have to keep moving forward.”
That means returning home for games against No. 15 Texas Tech (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday and Oklahoma State on Nov. 3.
Kansas State went 3-0 over a four-week stretch of road games that included wins at No. 8 Oklahoma and Iowa State. The Wildcats seem to be improving with each game.
West Virginia? Things are going downhill fast. The offense is broken down, the defense is nonexistent and the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) have plummeted from No. 5 to No. 25 in The Associated Press poll in two weeks.
Against West Virginia, the Wildcats made it look easiest of all, scoring on their first eight possessions and winning 55-14 Saturday night.
“I think we all felt comfortable,” Klein said. “The coaches did a great job of building a game plan and putting us in positions to succeed.”
That Kansas State succeeded on offense wasn’t big news. The Mountaineers had surrendered an average of 53 points over its past four games, and they let Klein throw for a career-high 323 yards and three touchdowns and run for four scores.
What was surprising was how West Virginia’s offense — so explosive in its first five games behind Geno Smith — came up with a dud for the second straight week.
Kansas State has not allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points all season. And the Wildcats forced Smith to throw his first two interceptions of the year.
Smith now has been limited to a touchdown pass apiece against two straight solid defenses after picking apart teams such as Marshall, Baylor and Texas, all among the worst defenses in the country.
“I’m not going to sit here and point fingers at anyone else,” Smith said. “I’m the leader of this team, the leader of the offense, and as an offense we didn’t do enough. Those guys score points, so what? We’ve got to go out there and match it, and that’s our job. And as an offense you can’t be worry about what’s going on with the defense.”
That will be up to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. They will use a bye week to see what repairs can be made to a defense that has yet to improve in any phase.
Holgorsen and DeForest insist there’s nothing wrong with the way the 3-4 defense is drawn up. They just want execution and overall effort. In the least, they would like a leader to emerge from an inexperienced group.
“It’s hard, because you want someone to step up, grab the team and say ‘Come on, follow me,”’ DeForest said. “But we don’t have that on defense. And until we do, we’ll struggle. It’s up to us as coaches to try to find leaders, but it’s up to the kids to be leaders. You can’t always lead as a coach; you’ve got to have someone from within to pull them with you. It’s part of it.”
West Virginia will need to win the rest of its games, starting with TCU at home on Nov. 3, to keep alive any hope of a BCS bowl bid.
And after one of West Virginia’s worst home losses in school history, attention about the Heisman Trophy shifted from Smith and toward Klein. That race still has a lot of playing out to do, but Klein’s leadership is turning more heads.
“He played a great game,” Smith said. “Hats off to that guy and their team.”