AMES, Iowa — This was a trap game for Kansas State, coming to Iowa State. Yes sir, everybody in Ames was out early Saturday morning, ready to snare these sixth-ranked Wildcats inside Trice Stadium, where the biggest crowd in the stadium’s history showed up to watch.
They expected an upset like the one the Cyclones pulled off last season against Oklahoma State, which came to town as a national championship contender and left with a disheartening defeat.
One national pundit after another lined up to say how dangerous this game was for K-State, a week before its showdown with West Virginia in Morgantown.
Well, it was dangerous. And the Wildcats, who have been so good about their Ps and Qs all season, colored outside the lines a bunch.
But they still rode quarterback Collin Klein and a shutdown-when-it-needed-to defense to a 27-21 win. The Wildcats gave Iowa State two opportunities late, one a legitimate chance and the other that would have required a miracle. And with those chances, the Cyclones couldn’t even produce a first down.
K-State is 6-0 for the second year in a row and “Miracle in Manhattan II” is still on schedule.
As you would guess, K-State coach Bill Snyder wasn’t happy with the way his team played. But you could tell he wasn’t all that disappointed to get out of here with a win, knowing how dangerous Ames can be.
I heard one Iowa State fan say to another how exciting the game was. I hung around for a bit just to hear the response.
First, there was a raised eyebrow. Then pursed lips. I could tell excitement wasn’t what this fan was looking for.
"Yeah, maybe, but we just can’t get over the hump against these guys,’’ the fan said. "We’re always close but we never win.’’
Iowa State has dropped five straight to K-State by an average of 5.3 points.
The Wildcats came into the game as the least-penalized team in the country and left, as Snyder quipped, "the most-penalized team in the country.’’
It wasn’t quite that bad, but K-State did get whistled for nine — the same number it had in the previous five games — for 62 yards.
The sure-handed Wildcats also turned the ball over on a botched punt catch by Tramaine Thompson deep inside their own territory. But what could have been a disaster became no harm, no foul when safety Ty Zimmerman intercepted a pass by Iowa State’s Jared Barnett at the goal line.
It never felt like K-State was ever in any real danger of losing. Conversely, it never felt like the Cats were on the verge of a blowout of ISU, which last week knocked off previously-unbeaten TCU in Fort Worth.
Iowa State is a solid team, but K-State’s advantage was clear. The Wildcats had Collin Klein and the Cyclones did not.
It wasn’t that Klein was so special Saturday, either. In the Klein highlight reel, his performance against Iowa State is probably relegated to the second act.
But it seems as if every time K-State needs him to do something to help the team, he does something to help the team.
He scored three rushing touchdowns on runs of 2, 6 and 12 yards. He has 43 rushing TDs for his career, five shy of Darren Sproles’ K-State record.
But it’s not the touchdown runs or the record chase that makes Klein special. He has a slew of assets that are difficult to quantify.
That’s a lot of words when one — intangibles — could suffice. But Klein is worth a lot of words.
When the big lug takes off running, he has the footwork to make tacklers expecting to make a hit swing and miss. Klein is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. Imagine how hard it must be to make defenders swing and miss.
He sets up his own runs, often times, with a wily ability to stand nearly still behind his offensive line until a hole starts to open.
Then he breaks through like a tsunami, destroying everything in his path.
Klein is that rare quarterback of whom there is so much to say that his ability as a passer gets pushed way down the list. But he does have some ability as a passer and was an efficient 16 of 24 for 187 yards.
His third-down conversion percentage is among the best in the country.
On 4th-and-1, he’s money. And I haven’t even mentioned those intangibles — leadership, intelligence, passion, perseverance — that are the cherry on top of Klein’s yummy cream-filled middle.
Klein, too, speaks to the genius of Snyder, who has molded him from that piece of putty that gets tossed out after a school play day into a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. There was a time not so long ago when Klein was seen as a space-taker in the K-State program. Now the Wildcats are clearing space in their trophy case for what he’s brought and could legitimate bring to the program.
Put Snyder in a laboratory with a prospective quarterback and the mad doctor almost always produces a game-changer.
This is turning into another effusive Klein column, isn’t it? And it shouldn’t necessarily be, because his performance Saturday wasn’t one of his best. It was just typical Klein, but even on a day he was typical he was the difference.
When Iowa State most needed a Klein moment from its quarterback, Barnett fell flat.
When Klein falls, he’s usually in the end zone. He carried the football 25 times against Iowa State and has toted it 492 times in his career and 415 times the past two seasons. He takes shot after shot on these runs, dusts himself and calls his number again.
Even Snyder, when asked about Klein, has stopped trying to come up with flowery descriptions. Klein isn’t about flowers. He’s about the dirt in which they’re planted and the thorns some produce.
He’s pure grit, masking the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.
Iowa State set its traps for this game, but Klein is big, big game.
It’ll take more than a trap to bring him down. He chews through traps.