ANALYSIS: Wildcat football advantages flipped in loss to West Virginia

Head coach Chris Klieman on the sidelines at game against West Virginia in 2019. The Wildcats lost to the Mountaineers 24-20. (File photo by Dalton Wainscott I Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State football team’s limitations finally caught up with it in a 37-10 rout in Morgantown, West Virginia. The Wildcat youth at quarterback, poor execution on third down and lack of offensive firepower initiated a total collapse as they were exposed by the Mountaineers on both sides of the ball.

“They came out just a little more prepared than us and they were just executing, of course that’s frustrating,” sophomore linebacker Daniel Green said.

K-State clawed its way to 4-0 in Big 12 Conference play thanks to a plus-eight turnover margin, non-offensive touchdowns and explosive play from the running back position. When those advantages were flipped, K-State could not overcome it.

“We didn’t play our best,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “I thought our effort was good. We just didn’t have great execution today.”

True freshman quarterback Will Howard, who showed flashes through two and a half games, was flummoxed by the West Virginia defense. He threw three interceptions, including a batted screen pass that was returned for a touchdown midway through the third quarter to shut down any comeback hope K-State had.

“We’re for sure not going to hang this on Will Howard because I think he’s continuing to improve,” Klieman said. “We have to be better for him and we have to be better with a lot of the things we’re doing offensively … The one thing that I’m not worried about is Will’s confidence.”

On defense, K-State did it’s best to nullify the other two interceptions forcing a missed long field goal and pushing West Virginia back nine yards before forcing a punt.

“We had numerous opportunities to get something going and we struggled on short fields,” Klieman said. “We had like a third-and-nine and brought pressure and they picked it up and beat us in man coverage. Then they got up 10-3 and you could feel a little bit of air come out.”

Klieman is right, K-State certainly had opportunities early to put themselves in a position to make the game competitive, but they did not execute. After the missed Mountaineer field goal, K-State drove down to the West Virginia two-yard line but were held to a field goal of their own.

“We really needed to punch that in on that first drive,” senior running back Harry Trotter said. “I think we had first and goal from the two or so after that run. We need to get points there. We need seven instead of three.”

The Wildcat offense also showed a flash of a comeback with a two-and-a-half-minute touchdown drive right before the end of the first half. The 35-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Malik Knowles cut the West Virginia lead to just 14.

The Wildcats could not maintain that momentum through the intermission and West Virginia burned the clock and answered to start the third.

“I thought that was a big touchdown for our confidence going into half,” Klieman said. “The problem right after that was they got a field goal on their first drive of the third quarter and took about six minutes. We couldn’t get off the field.”

K-State struggled on third down on both sides of the ball all season. They converted only six of 14 third downs while letting the Mountaineers convert half of their 18 third downs and one of two fourth down conversions.

“We had them on third and long several times and they were able to get out of it,” senior defensive tackle Drew Wiley said. “That kind of stuff is tough, and we need to really lock in and be prepared for it.”

K-State also struggled at the running back position. Freshman running back Deuce Vaughn, who lit up defenses this season, was limited to 22 rushing yards and one receiving yard.

“They did a good job schematically on defense,” Trotter said. “It was tough for not only Deuce, but the offense in general. We had less than 50 yards rushing and to win games we need to be better than that.”

K-State as a team rushed for only 41 yards and 1.8 yards per attempt. West Virginia junior running back Leddie Brown ran 24 times for 102 yards and as a team they put together 184 yards on the ground.

“We’re all going to take ownership in this [loss], coaches included, myself included, but we’ve got to be able to wash it away quickly because we have to get ready for a really good Oklahoma State team,” Klieman said.

The Wildcats will set their sights on Oklahoma State in Manhattan next weekend.

Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, an alumnus from Olathe, Kansas. I graduated in spring 2022 with a Masters in Mass Communication, and I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. I covered K-State sports for the Collegian for four years.