AMES, Iowa — At some point in every football season, a team has an off day. It doesn’t execute perfectly, it commits too many penalties and the coach rides home thinking about everything that went wrong.
Saturday was one of those days for Kansas State, but it will be hard for Bill Snyder to stay upset for long.
The No. 6 Wildcats, certainly off their game compared to their 5-0 start, defeated Iowa State 27-21 on Saturday in front of a record crowd of 56,800 at Jack Trice Stadium.
“We were able to hang together in a very difficult environment and just get it done when we had to get it done,” senior quarterback Collin Klein said.
The win boosts K-State’s Big 12 championship hopes.
Most expected the Wildcats upcoming trip to No. 5 West Virginia to be a showdown for conference supremacy, but the Mountaineers suffered a blowout loss at Texas Tech on Saturday.
K-State is the final undefeated team remaining in the Big 12, and can take a commanding lead in the league race with a win at West Virginia this week. It already owns a road win over Oklahoma and can further improve its tie-breaker stock.
Saturday, the Wildcats made things hard on themselves by committing as many penalties against Iowa State — nine — as they did in their previous five games. There were also communication problems between the press box and the sideline, which made it difficult for K-State coaches to signal plays to Klein and led to timeouts.
Frustration set in early.
“That’s tremendously out of character for us,” Snyder said. “We have been the least-penalized team in the country. Now we became the most-penalized team in the country.”
A close game was to be expected given how close this series has been lately. Though the Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) have beaten the Cyclones (4-2, 1-2) five straight times, all five have been nail-biters and decided by seven points or fewer.
Without its error-free style and Iowa State holding it to 364 total yards, K-State had to gut out another narrow victory over its Farmageddon rival.
Klein was the main reason. While some around him struggled, he played arguably his finest game.
Not only did he throw for 187 yards and rush for 105 and three touchdowns, he was at his best when it mattered most. Snyder continually gave him total control on third downs out of an empty backfield, and he delivered with completions and scrambles for first downs.
With Iowa State leading 14-10 in the second quarter, Klein found Tyler Lockett over the middle for a 45-yard gain that led to a touchdown 1:30 before halftime.
In the second half, he showed patience in the pocket, finding Chris Harper four times for 51 yards and waiting for holes to develop up front before taking off for long runs that gave K-State leads of 24-14 and 27-21.
“I was really impressed by him, especially today because all three of the linebackers we played against were really good,” Harper said. “That was probably the best group of linebackers we have played … I don’t think they get the credit they deserve.”
Still, the Cyclones had two chances to win.
Trailing by six with 4:24 to play, Iowa State returned a kickoff to the 40-yard line and had plenty of time to score a go-ahead touchdown. The Cyclones have done it before against highly-ranked opponents, upsetting No. 2 Oklahoma State in overtime last year and beating three other ranked teams under Paul Rhoads.
But they couldn’t re-create that magic. K-State forced a turnover on downs after four plays.
The Wildcats were unable to pick up a first down to run out the clock on their next drive, but accomplished the next-best thing. Ryan Doerr pinned the Cyclones at their own 3 with a punt, and ISU was stopped on four downs.
“It came down to which team executed better,” Rhoads said, “and they executed better down the line.”
Once again, K-State won a close game. After last season, that was something its players were used to.
“It was very familiar, but it’s not last season,” senior cornerback Nigel Malone said. “This was one of the first times that this team had been put in a situation like that, so good thing that we did carry over some of the traits from last year and held guys in late-game situations.”
Iowa State quarterback Jared Barnett hurt K-State early with his scrambling ability. He only rushed for 35 yards, but he kept plays alive with his feet and threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wildcats figured him out as the game went on, though, with junior safety Ty Zimmerman intercepting him at the goal line in the second quarter and Randall Evans making a team-high nine tackles. They held the Cyclones to 231 total yards and clinched the game with big plays in the final moments.
“It’s all about how you respond,” senior linebacker Arthur Brown said. “We came up with some mistakes and did some things we probably shouldn’t have done, but we responded to it. That’s why we were able to come out and be successful today.”
Now it’s a week to prepare for West Virginia, which was a top-five team before Saturday’s loss.
“We ended up being 1-0 today, but we weren’t 1-0 on every play,” Klein said. “That’s something we are striving for and just have to keep working at and keep getting better.”