West Virginia’s Tavon Austin streaks 100-plus yards on a kick return that was the Mountaineers’ only score of the game’s first 53 minutes. (Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography)
A handful of pivotal plays from Saturday night, when No. 4 Kansas State mauled No. 17 West Virginia 55-14:
1. Facing third-and-5 on the game’s opening drive, Collin Klein connects with Tyler Lockett for 31 yards.
The Wildcats went to a four-receiver set from their 48-yard line. Though WVU dropped eight defenders into coverage, Lockett came open on a deep in-route. He found space in front of free safety Karl Joseph and behind linebacker Isaiah Bruce, who threw up his arms but missed a chance to deflect the pass by failing to locate the ball as he retreated.
2. West Virginia forced to punt on its first possession after having second-and-1 at its 43.
Following a wretched performance at Texas Tech, the Mountaineers offense needed to get its grove back in a hurry. But a second-down screen pass fell incomplete when K-State’s 299-pound defensive tackle Vai Lutui followed Andrew Buie into the flat.
Then came the third-and-1 try, which was a real gut-punch: Wildcats linebacker Arthur Brown stalemated lead blocker Cody Clay (despite giving away 25 pounds to the WVU fullback) and dropped Buie for a 2-yard loss.
3. Klein spots blitz, lofts 10-yard pass to Lockett in the back corner of the end zone for a 10-0 lead.
Second-and-9 typically favors the defense, but no situation ever truly favors West Virginia’s defense, and this play was no different. Though the Mountaineers showed a four-man front initially, Klein sensed a blitz coming when he spotted Joseph in man coverage on Lockett in the slot. Klein checked the play with his linemen, who picked up Bruce blitzing off the left edge, and Lockett beat Joseph to the corner, getting two feet down on a splendid diving catch.
“(Klein) gets in good plays,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen. “He doesn’t do anything wrong.”
4. Kansas State answers Tavon Austin’s 100-yard kick return with a momentum-killing bomb from Klein to Lockett.
Any spark WVU derived from Austin’s runback was extinguished on K-State’s ensuing drive. Though Lockett was overthrown after he beat freshman cornerback Ricky Rumph, Klein found him on the next play for 44 yards after Lockett crossed up Joseph with a double move.
Lockett closed the evening with nine receptions on 194 yards, coming within 3 yards of doubling his season output. He caught his second and third touchdowns of the season.
Joseph was one of seven freshmen who played defense Saturday for West Virginia. WVU co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said he’s never coached a unit so reliant upon rookies, “but we’ve got to find a way to make it work … even if that means going out there in one front and one coverage. We’ve got to find the kids that can understand what we need to do.”
5. Geno Smith’s string of 327 passes without an interception ends on WVU’s first play of the second half.
Smith tried to force the ball to Jordan Thompson on a deep out-route, but K-State nickel back Randall Evans cut underneath to deflect the pass, which Brown intercepted at the WVU 24-yard line.
“We talked to (Smith) at halftime about just relaxing,” Holgorsen said. “Then we get out there, and the first play of the second half we underthrew it and the guy tipped it up and No. 4 (Brown) made a good play.”
Astonishingly accurate on pass attempts of 15-plus yards during WVU’s first five wins (22-of-33), Smith has gone just 2-of-23 on downfield throws the past two weeks, according to ESPN’s stats research.
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