FORT WORTH They all learned the news at different times Saturday night, but it was obvious who found out first.
Following Kansas State’s 23-10 victory over TCU at Carter Stadium, a pack of Wildcats sprinted up the tunnel and into the locker room before their coach had left the field.
They chanted “We’re No. 1” the whole way.
“You play this game to ultimately be No. 1,” K-State receiver Tramaine Thompson said. “We understand we might be there. It’s exciting.”
It wasn’t until Bill Snyder addressed the team that Thompson got control of his emotions, and, in typical K-State fashion, stopped thinking about Texas A&M’s upset of top-ranked Alabama and began focusing on next week’s game against Baylor.
“We aren’t going to settle for that,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 right now. It’s not at the end of the season. We want to stay focused, stay humble and keep getting better.”
The Wildcats — who go into Sunday No. 2 in the BCS standings and No. 3 in the Associated Press rankings — might need to make a few improvements, at least on offense, to win their final two games. Their offensive line couldn’t stand up to defensive pressure from the Horned Frogs, John Hubert and Angelo Pease combined to rush for 46 yards and Collin Klein didn’t play up to his usual standards.
But on this night, he didn’t have to. Behind a suffocating defensive effort, K-State built a 23-0 lead by the end of the third quarter without much help from its senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite.
“The offense obviously didn’t play well,” center B.J. Finney said. “The defense had to stand up and answer and pick up the slack. They did a great job.”
While Klein was trying to shake off the lingering effects of an undisclosed injury that he suffered last week, his teammates were pushing the Horned Frogs backwards.
“We had real good pressure from our defensive line, our linebackers were there and as a secondary we were able to stop the pass and contain the run,” safety Jarard Milo said. “I felt like we had a great performance.”
They earned a victory that will likely vault the Wildcats to the top of the new BCS standings. With No. 1 Alabama suffering its first loss, the Cats control their own destiny in the national championship race. As long as they stay ahead of either Oregon or Notre Dame, which will likely occur if they win their final two games, K-State will play in its first BCS championship game.
K-State (10-0, 7-0 Big 12) is also now one victory away from clinching at least a share of its first Big 12 championship since 2003.
Those aspirations seemed to be in doubt when Klein missed most of the second half against Oklahoma State. Coaches confiscated his helmet after he took several hard hits on a touchdown drive in the third quarter, and he watched the entire fourth quarter from the sideline. He appeared to be suffering from concussion-like symptoms, but K-State never confirmed specifics on the injury.
Whatever was bothering him didn’t prevent him from starting against TCU (6-4, 3-4), though. Snyder said he was loose all week, and was so relaxed heading into the game that he slept on the plane ride to Texas.
“He played reasonably well,” Snyder said. “He made the plays he had to make in the ballgame, but we were probably a little conservative for him. We could have given him more chances than what we did.… He managed the ballgame, as he always does.”
Klein looked confident and loose as he warmed up, and he completed his first pass, an eight-yard pass to Curry Sexton.
But then he had some troubles. He made a poor pass into heavy coverage on the first drive of the game, and it ended up getting picked off by Devonte Fields. The poor decision was out of character for Klein. It was his third interception of the season and first since Big 12 play began.
He was also sacked three times and had trouble connecting with open receivers.
It wasn’t a performance that will help him win the most prestigious individual award in college football. He threw for 145 yards and rushed for 50. It didn’t help that he was going up against a stiff TCU defense. But he did deliver a few highlight moments. He hit Chris Harper for a 62-yard bomb in the first quarter and rushed for two touchdowns, including an impressive 34-yard scramble in which he cut left and beat everyone to the end zone.
“That’s exactly what he is about,” said kicker Anthony Cantele, who made three of four field goals. “He’s a tough runner and he is going to do whatever it takes to get it done.”
Klein was not allowed to speak with media following the game. But if this was an off night for him, most K-State fans will take it, especially when the Wildcats were so strong defensively.
Linebacker Jarell Childs made seven tackles and a sack, and defensive end Meshak Williams hurried TCU’s quarterbacks all night. Starter Trevone Boykin and backup Matt Brown combined for 178 passing yards, and the Horned Frogs’ running attack never got going.
TCU came into Saturday’s action averaging 24 points, and had scored at least 14 in each of their games. It didn’t score until the fourth quarter against K-State. This was its worst performance of the season.
Safety Ty Zimmerman helped matters by grabbing an interception, and Allen Chapman, and Milo both made seven tackles.
They were all insurance policies on a night when Klein wasn’t at his best, but K-State still celebrated.
“There are a lot of things I could nitpick about,” Snyder said. “But, collectively, I thought we played well across the board.”