What would happen if Kansas State gave the football to Alex Barnes and kept giving it to him like a workhorse running back?
It’s a question K-State football fans have asked — often at the top of their lungs — all season.
They finally got their answer during a 42-21 Wildcat victory over Baylor on Saturday at McLane Stadium.
Saturday’s box score
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Barnes, a bruising yet seldom-used rusher, took control of K-State’s backfield in the second half and erupted for 129 yards and four touchdowns. His highlights included, but were not limited to, hurdling over a defender for a score, bulldozing a would-be tackler for a score, and slipping through a mob of defenders for another two scores.
“He was a monster,” K-State senior receiver Deante Burton said. “That kid is a beast, very hard to tackle. I loved his intensity. He knew we were going to lean on him, and a lot of guys with his age would have folded under that pressure, but he grabbed the opportunity and handled it like a fifth-year senior. He went out there and made big plays for us.”
The redshirt freshman from Pittsburg displayed the same speed and power that allowed him to average a team-high 7.8 yards per rush in K-State’s first nine games, only this time Barnes saw extended action. Instead of his measly three-carry average, he got the ball 19 times.
Baylor couldn’t stop him.
“I just liked that he did what he always does, and that’s run extremely hard,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He makes a few miss on his way, sometimes not always. He is a gifted, powerful-type runner, which we have always known … He made some things happen that who knows whether another running back would have done the same thing.
“He knocked some balls in the end zone, he got some first downs when he had people hanging on him. He just ran aggressively and hard.”
The Wildcats have rotated between four running backs, starting Charles Jones and mixing in Justin Silmon, Dalvin Warmack and Barnes. But they scrapped that approach in favor of Barnes in the second half.
The move paid dividends.
K-State (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) won in Waco for the first time since 2002 and beat Baylor (6-4, 3-4) for the first time anywhere since 2011.
“Since I have been here, Baylor has done nothing but ruin our seasons and break hearts,” Burton said after catching two passes for 67 yards. “It was nice to give them one.”
The Wildcats are also now eligible for a bowl game for the seventh consecutive season with the opportunity to improve their postseason stock in their final two games against Kansas and TCU.
Baylor continued its free fall from 6-0 with a fourth straight loss.
“The thing that we worried about is exactly what happened,” Baylor coach Jim Grobe said. “Coach Snyder and his team did a nice job controlling the clock. They had 36 minutes of possession time. In our offense, especially when we’re trying to go fast pace, you got to make first downs and you got to score points. … Obviously, we didn’t do that.”
Barnes helped K-State break open an ugly game it trailed 14-7 at halftime. His four touchdowns, all in the second half, allowed the Wildcats to jump ahead 28-14.
It was a huge contrast from a dull first half.
It featured a 15-play drive from Baylor that covered 80 yards and lasted nearly five minutes, but failed to result in a single point. Then came an 11-play drive from K-State in which the Wildcats never crossed midfield.
K-State scored its lone early touchdown thanks to a 40-yard scamper from quarterback Jesse Ertz on a broken play. It occurred on a fourth-and-2 from midfield with Baylor in position to stuff Ertz, but he bounced to the outside and eventually found room for a long gain.
Winston Dimel punched in a short touchdown run moments later.
Baylor capitalized on a pair of K-State fumbles to score its first 14 points. First, Dominique Heath dropped a punt to set the Bears up with excellent field position. Baylor quarterback Zach Smith took advantage and found Blake Lynch for a 25-yard touchdown.
Later, Ertz fumbled while trying to scramble at midfield and Baylor capitalized with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Chris Platt.
K-State’s defense played a stellar first half, but penalties and turnovers negated its positives. At halftime it looked like Baylor, even with a freshman quarterback making his first start, was in good position to win.
That changed when K-State turned to Barnes, the first freshman in school history to score four touchdowns in a game.
“I knew that we as a unit would have a big day on the ground,” Barnes said. “I didn’t realize that it would be me specifically, but I knew that we were going to get it done.”
He led the Wildcats on three touchdown drives in the third quarter and helped Dimel score with a nice block in the fourth quarter.
“They started to get a little bruised up and they weren’t really liking us coming down hill as much as we were,” Barnes said. “So we took advantage of that.”
K-State controlled the clock and maintained the ball throughout the final two quarters.
With Donnie Starks intercepting two Smith passes, Dante Barnett picking off one, and K-State’s defensive line putting constant pressure on Smith the Wildcats did more than enough to win.
That made for a jubilant locker room. This was, without a doubt, the happiest the Wildcats have been after a game all season.
Not only did they claim an important victory, they found a workhorse running back.
“Alex is a heck of a running back and I love the way he runs,” right tackle Dalton Risner said. “He is always balling out in spring ball, always doing a great job in spring camp. That is what you are going to get from Alex moving forward, if not more.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State 42
BAY: Blake Lynch 25 pass from Z.Smith (Callahan kick), 6:43
KST: Dimel 2 run (Patterson kick), 3:55
BAY: Platt 24 pass from Z.Smith (Callahan kick), :10
KST: Barnes 11 run (Patterson kick), 10:41
KST: Barnes 1 run (Patterson kick), 2:41
KST: Barnes 2 run (Patterson kick), :30
BAY: Stricklin 19 pass from Z.Smith (Callahan kick), 7:28
KST: Dimel 2 run (Patterson kick), 3:55
KST: Barnes 9 run (Patterson kick), 3:08
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Kansas St., Barnes 19-129, C.Jones 6-46, Ertz 17-46, Silmon 4-11, Dimel 3-8, (Team) 2-(minus 3). Baylor, Linwood 24-110, Blake Lynch 3-13, Nicholson 1-3, Fuller 0-0, Hawthorne 1-(minus 7), Z.Smith 4-(minus 9).
PASSING: Kansas St., Ertz 16-25-0-177. Baylor, Blake Lynch 0-1-0-0, Z.Smith 27-45-3-258.
RECEIVING: Kansas St., Pringle 5-46, Burton 4-82, Zuber 4-32, Heath 2-7, Reuter 1-10. Baylor, Cannon 9-91, Zamora 7-49, Blake Lynch 6-63, Platt 3-34, Stricklin 1-19, Linwood 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: None.