Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein avoids WVU’s Kyle Rose during the Wildcats’ 55-14 win in Morgantown. (Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography)
Optimus Klein played like Optimus Unitas, and No. 17 West Virginia played like a team that never belonged in the national title discussion.
Fourth-ranked Kansas State’s hard-nosed quarterback Collin Klein scored on four short runs and was astonishingly productive in the passing game, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns as the Wildcats coasted 55-14.
“You can say what you want about his throwing motion, but it goes exactly where he wants it to go,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team has been outscored 104-28 in consecutive losses. “He’s hard to tackle, he gets in good plays, and he doesn’t turn the ball over. He doesn’t do anything wrong.”
Geno Smith threw his first two interceptions of the season, and West Virginia (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) did not produce an offensive touchdown until the midpoint of the fourth quarter when Smith hit Tavon Austin on a 1-yard pass.
“I take full responsibility for that because the ball’s in my hands on every play,” said Smith. “I have to do a better job of being a leader, stepping up and getting guys to respond. I am going to do that. I am going to dig deep. I have to look at myself in the mirror and just figure ways to get better.”
Kansas State (7-0, 4-0) scored on its first eight possessions and for the second consecutive week, West Virginia’s offense had no counterpunch. Smith threw for a season-low 143 yards, getting upstaged by Klein’s allegedly suspect arm.
There was nothing suspect about Klein’s 19-of-21 passing performance. Though, in truth, he frequently was throwing to wide-open receivers. Tyler Lockett was the biggest beneficiary, catching nine passes for 194 yards and two scores.
West Virginia co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, in what has become a weekly refrain, said coaches are cycling through various player combinations in hopes of fixing a unit that ranks among the worst in the FBS.
“I’m embarrassed,” he said. “This is not how West Virginia defense is played.”
The Wildcats finished with a 479-241 edge in total offense.
Smith was intercepted by Arthur Brown on the first play of the second half. That set up Klein’s 21-yard scoring pass to Chris Harper two plays later for a 38-7 bulge.
“We played well and we played aggressively,” said K-State coach Bill Snyder, whose team now owns three Big 12 road wins this season. “We pursued the ball. We had a relentless pass rush.
“We got two picks and really should have had a third pick. I told our team last night that if we got three picks against a very talented young guy, that we would stop the game and have a pep rally. But we didn’t get three, just two.”
Kansas State added a 16-yard touchdown drive on its next series after Tramaine Thompson’s 30-yard punt return. Again it was Klein finishing from 1 yard out, as the lead swelled to 45-7.
After Ty Zimmerman made Smith’s second interception of the night, Kansas State moved 77 yards to go 8-for-8 on scoring drives and lead 52-7. Klein found Lockett for a 20-yard touchdown.
“We played somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 players on defense,” Holgorsen said. “They are what we got.”
Kansas State piled up 346 yards in the first half — 226 of that courtesy of Klein’s passing, as the senior started 14-of-16. Smith was only 9-of-13 for 62 yards at halftime, when WVU trailed 17-5 in first downs.
Klein capped a 92-yard march by finding Lockett for a diving 10-yard catch in the corner of the end zone to give the Wildcats a 10-0 lead.
K-State went 64 yards on its next series, with Klein during in from 1 yard out to make it 17-0. After WVU punted from fourth-and-4 at midfield, Lockett and Chris Harper made 19-yard catches to set up Collins’ 8-yard TD run, capping a 75-yard drive o make it 24-0.
Austin’s 100-yard kick return, run back from several yards deep in the end zone, closed the gap to 24-7 and gave West Virginia a temporary spark. But K-State countered by going 78 yards and killing all but 17 seconds of the final 4:13. Klein’s third touchdown run of the half, this time from 1 yard out, made it 31-7.
K-State started the game with a 41-yard kick return by Tramaine Thompson and a 31-yard Klein completion to Lockett. But the Wildcats settled for a 3-0 lead after Josh Francis shoved Klein out of bounds for a 1-yard loss on third-and-4 from the WVU 15.