MANHATTAN, Kan. — Expanding toward 270 pounds and wearing a No. 91 jersey hasn’t changed Ezekiel Rose, who remains a receiver at heart.
That’s the position he enjoyed during high school in Clarksdale, Miss., before moving to junior college and making defensive end his full-time focus.
Those pass-snagging hands still possess their dexterity, though, as Kansas State learned during a foolish few seconds leading up to halftime Saturday.
When the Wildcats should have been heading to the locker room, they attempted an unnecessary screen pass that Rose intercepted at the line of scrimmage. The turnover became “the difference in the game” on the ensuing snap when Will Grier closed the half by heaving a 30-yard touchdown.
Following West Virginia’s 28-23 win, Rose labeled the turnover a case of “See ball, go get ball.” But it was more complex than that.
Wrestling against K-State’s All-Big 12 right tackle Dalton Risner, Rose saw quarterback Skylar Thompson cocking to throw — and in a flash of scouting report recall, the defender bounced outside.
“I was fixing to go inside but I thought, no, he likes Window 1,” Rose said.
Whether it was calculated or charmed, he made the right move right into the path of Thompson’s throw. As he leaped to bat it down, Rose noticed the ball didn’t come out hot, so he grabbed it.
“Second nature,” he said.
The unnatural part came a split-second later when the excitement of the moment overcame Rose, who spilled to the turf, his hope for a pick-six turning into a self-tackle.
“I was running but my feet weren’t on the ground. Like Fred Flintstone running.”
Yabba dabba doo for WVU, which still saw 10 seconds remaining before halftime and, at the minimum, a chance to tack on a gift field-goal. Instead, Grier made those 10 seconds adventurous.
A pass designed to consume 6 or 7 seconds became all-or-nothing when Grier went Johnny Football and Dana Holgorsen went damn near ballistic. Sliding right, back-pedaling, then rolling left, Grier’s scramble ate up the spare time and bore all the markings of an opportunity wasted.
“I knew that I hung on the play too long,” he said. “I kind of got caught. I looked up and I didn’t know how much time was left. So I knew I just had to make this work.”
How he made it work — an off-balanced 30-yard flick that found Ka’Raun White in the end zone — produced a highlight so reckless and ridiculous it’s sure to be mimicked by kids playing backyard football across the Mountain State.
“Will knew he was in trouble,” Holgorsen said. “He came to me and apologized, and I said ‘You don’t have to apologize for throwing a touchdown.’ But our offense right now — and this is not good — is basically Will scrambling around and making plays downfield. It’s not very efficient.”
West Virginia’s final points of the half became its final points of the game, just enough to win the day and leave everyone second-guessing K-State’s clock-mismanagement that started the sequence.
The Wildcats possessed 48 seconds, the ball at their 39-yard line and a wail of a kicker leg on the sideline. But after opening with a 4-yard loss on first down, and letting more than 20 seconds elapse, the drive was kaput. Take a knee and go in trailing 21-20, or take a deep shot that might actually threaten to accomplish something. The middle screen to lumbering fullback Winston Dimel had a risk/reward factor that didn’t compute, especially with a freshman quarterback off to a 6-of-15 start.
K-State didn’t erect a statue of Bill Snyder for decisions like this one.
“I guess we could have run the clock out. In hindsight, that would have been the best the thing to do,” Snyder said. “Apparently we thought we could get it up field and have a chance at a field goal. We had about 40 yards to go or so. We didn’t. Bad call on my part.”
So Snyder apologized for his strategy that failed, Grier apologized for one that worked, and at the center of the whole episode, Rose gave the natural response for a pass thrown into his clutches: “Thank you.”