MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Collin Klein ran for four touchdowns and threw three TD passes as No. 4 Kansas State got little resistance from No. 17 West Virginia in a 55-14 victory Saturday night that turned a matchup of Heisman Trophy contenders into campaign ad for the Wildcats’ quarterback.
Klein was 19 for 21 for a career-high 323 yards and ran for 41 yards for the Wildcats (7-0, 4-0 Big 12).
It was no surprise the Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) were awful on defense, it’s been that way all season. For the second consecutive game, though, Geno Smith and the offense did nothing to keep it close.
Smith followed up a clunker at Texas Tech last week with an even worse game, throwing his first two interceptions of the season and finishing 21 for 32 for 143 yards. The senior has gone from Heisman front-runner to long shot in two weeks.
Kansas State (7-0, 4-0) scored on its first eight possessions, making it 52-7 with 2:25 minutes left in the third quarter when Klein hit Tyler Lockett over the middle for a 20-yard score.
Milan-Puskar Stadium was already half empty by that point, and a long line cars was creeping out of the parking lot.
The optimism and excitement that was pumping through Morgantown a couple of weeks ago is gone.
In Manhattan, Kan., it’s all good, and everything is on the table for coach Bill Snyder’s team. The Wildcats are the only unbeaten team in the Big 12. Their quarterback is the Heisman front-runner. And with five games left, they are serious national title contenders.
The first meeting since 1931 of the new Big 12 rivals was so lopsided that by the time it was over it was hard to even remember that this matchup started as a battle for first in the conference.
On one side was Klein, the Wildcats’ methodical battering ram, whose passes don’t look like much but usually find their target.
On the other side was Smith, the future NFL first-round draft pick with the video game statistics.
But Klein got to face West Virginia’s beleaguered defense, which ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 and the country in just about everything.
The first half went like this for Kansas State: five possessions, 346 yards, four touchdowns and a field goal. The offense was unstoppable and the defense was just as good, holding Smith to 62 yards by flooding the secondary with defenders and taking away downfield throws.
Maybe the pressure of having to score every time he touches the ball has gotten to Smith, but that trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, which seemed like a lock after the Mountaineers won at Texas, is now in serious doubt.
As for Klein and the Wildcats, they will face tougher tests. The gap between the top and the bottom of the Big 12 doesn’t seem all that wide. But they have now won three conference road games, including at Oklahoma. They came into the weekend fourth in BCS standings, behind Alabama, Florida and Oregon.
With their 73-year-old coach pushing all the right buttons and their happily married quarterback making all the right plays, the Wildcats might be due for a promotion.