MANHATTAN — Baylor has a once-in-a-generation football player, but Bears coach Art Briles took off Robert Griffin's saddle and stopped riding him.
Perhaps Briles is unaware of the Legend of Bill Snyder. If you're fortunate enough to have a Snyder-coached Kansas State team down, it's best to kick it.
But instead of letting Griffin and his offense do what it does best — throw caution to the wind and throw a bunch of balls down field to talented receivers — Briles tried to protect a 35-26 lead during the final 17:36.
Now, repeat after me: When you try to protect you almost always end up preventing.
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And because this is a different Kansas State team with a bunch of playmakers on — wait for it — defense, that's exactly what happened.
The opportunistic Wildcats, behind the inspired play of linebacker Arthur Brown and the determined play of quarterback Collin Klein, rallied to win 36-35.
Told to back off, Griffin — playing like a top-drawer Heisman Trophy candidate for three quarters — went too far. His play late in the game became lackadaisical.
He threw a key interception, waiting just a tick too long for a receiver to come open and then being hit by K-State nose tackle Ray Kibble as he releasing the ball. It was intercepted by Brown, who returned the ball 10 yards to the Bears' 15-yard line, setting up the go-ahead field goal.
On Baylor's next possession, Brown ran down Griffin for a three-yard loss on first down, putting the Bears in a hole they couldn't dig out from. Griffin's last gasp — a fourth-down pass from Baylor's 35-yard line, was batted down by K-State defensive end Jordan Voelker.
What a win for the Wildcats.
What a loss for Baylor, which rolled up 378 yards of offense on its first 40 plays, 9.45 yards per play. But the Bears' final 22 plays resulted in 51 yards, 2.32 per play.
It's as if Newt Gingrich started calling the plays.
With a 35-26 lead and a hammer in its hand, the Bears put it down and picked up a watch. Briles decided the clock was his best friend.
Methodically, Baylor used 6:08 and 16 plays to drive 43 yards into field-goal range for Aaron Jones. But his 47-yarder, which came after a six-yard loss by Griffin following a poor pitch, missed.
Kansas State took it from there.
Klein, who consistently walks a tight rope, drove the Wildcats 70 yards on 13 plays. The final eight plays of the drive were rushes, including six for 26 yards by Klein, whose 113 rushing yards led K-State.
Klein is no Griffin.
Yet when Kansas State needed its quarterback most, he delivered. Klein turned a so-so game — he completed only 13 of 28 passes, threw an interception, was sacked once and made a few questionable decisions — into a winner, further elevating his status as a doer, not a thinker.
I questioned how many games K-State could win with Klein at quarterback. But his rough-around-the-edges style is negated by his ability to lead. Snyder said most of Klein's 25 rushing attempts were by design, but one that wasn't was his 63-yard run on the first play of the second half, the first of three plays that resulted in an 82-yard touchdown drive and gave the Wildcats a 26-21 lead.
And K-State's defense is legit. It's amazing the difference Brown, a middle linebacker, has made. There were times Saturday when Baylor moved the ball at will up and down the field, the way the Bears have all season. But during those times when Baylor struggled offensively, it was usually because Brown was in the middle of their plans.
"Everybody knows Arthur is going to make the big play,'' K-State sophomore linebacker Tre Walker said. "If there's one thing you can take out of this game, it's that we have a lot of heart and we're going to fight until the end.''
Griffin had completed something like 114 percent of his passes going into Saturday's game. He had more touchdown passes than incompletions. And there were times against K-State that he looked invincible.
But there were just enough times that he didn't. Some of those were because of a Wildcats' stiffening defense, others were because the Baylor coaching staff did everything but taser him late in the game.
Griffin completed 23 of 31 pass attempts and threw for five touchdowns. There are All-Americans who would die for those numbers.
Instead of giving the game to him to win or lose, however, Baylor turned to a running attack that produced 2.8 yards per carry.
Instead of protecting a victory the Bears prevented one.
Instead of accepting a loss, Kansas State found a way to win. It's becoming a prevailing theme for the Wildcats through the 2011 season.
Kansas State is 4-0. Snyder, to no one's surprise, is pulling every bit of potential out of his team. The Cats are good enough to be dangerous. And if you don't put them away, they'll beat you.