MANHATTAN — Can anyone beat Kansas State?
That’s the question college football fans are asking themselves. Following another impressive victory Saturday — a 55-24 pummeling of No. 15 Texas Tech — the No. 4 Wildcats have as good a resume as you can find.
They have gone on the road and beaten No. 25 West Virginia and No. 8 Oklahoma, they have crushed Miami and Texas Tech at home and the Big 12 championship is theirs for the taking.
K-State started the week ranked third in the BCS standings behind Alabama and Florida. Florida suffered its first defeat Saturday, so K-State will likely move up to second when the new standings are released Sunday.
At the least, the Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) have strengthened their grasp on a conference title by handing the Red Raiders (6-2, 3-2) their worst loss of the season. Finishing second in the Big 12 last year is clearly pushing the Wildcats now.
“Every time we have beaten somebody I just think back to how we got embarrassed like that last year,” receiver Chris Harper said after catching five passes for 99 yards. “It takes me back to how OU played and how they were clicking and the confidence that they had. We have gotten to that point. Our guys are out there, knowing what they are doing, playing fast and executing like none other.”
Indeed, it was another near-perfect day for K-State.
Senior quarterback Collin Klein solidified his status as the Heisman Trophy favorite by scoring four touchdowns against one of the Big 12’s best defenses, and the Wildcats boosted their case as national championship contenders in front of 50,766 fans at Snyder Family Stadium.
The only thing that had coach Bill Snyder remotely upset afterward was the way things started. It wasn’t a blowout from start to finish. The Red Raiders effortlessly scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game and outgained the Wildcats 234-143 in the first half.
If not for defensive end Meshak Williams knocking down a pass, forcing a fumble on a vicious hit to Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege and blocking a field goal in the first two quarters, K-State would have trailed at halftime.
“Meshak plays well and he has been improving and just falls in line with what we are talking about,” Snyder said. “He just gets better and better and better.”
Thanks to his contributions, K-State went to the locker room up 13-10.
“That’s very satisfying knowing that you played like you did and you can still get better,” Harper said.
Still, it was gut-check time.
“We always come out in the first half and always start slow,” running back John Hubert said, who rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns. “Then we come into the locker room and Coach Snyder gets on us and we pick it up. We came out in the second half and we finished great.”
The Wildcats never looked back after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half. Behind Klein, who threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns, they broke the game open.
The first score of the second half came on a 21-yard pass from Klein to Tramaine Thompson with 11:31 remaining in the third quarter. Then defensive back Randall Evans forced and recovered a fumble to set Klein up with 16-yard touchdown run less than a minute later. Texas Tech answered with a touchdown of its own to make the score 27-17, but K-State clinched the game on the next drive when Klein found the end zone on a 22-yard run.
Hubert started the fourth quarter with a 15-yard score, then linebacker Arthur Brown scored on an interception return and backup running back Angelo Pease finished off the afternoon with a touchdown run to make the score 55-17.
All the while, K-State’s defense held Doege to 331 yards and frustrated Texas Tech throughout the second half.
“The first quarter we played pretty good defense, after that I do not think we made them punt,” Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “You cannot do that against a good football team. We knew that we had to play perfect.”
The four teams remaining on K-State’s schedule — Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas — will likely have the same mindset.
The toughest part of the Wildcats’ season is behind them. They don’t have another ranked opponent on their schedule.
K-State players had a hard time ignoring that fact Saturday evening. But they have faced the pressure of being undefeated all season. They think they know how to handle it by now. The win over Texas Tech was another example.
“There are bigger things at stake, and I recognize that we are human and we do make mistakes and are susceptible to complacency or whatever you want to call it,” Klein said. “But that is the first step – to be able to identify, attack it and go against that sin nature every day.”