By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When does basketball season start?
That was the thought of thousands of West Virginia University Mountaineer fans as they filed out of Milan Puskar Stadium halfway through the third quarter of Saturday night’s do-or-die meeting with Kansas State, each and every one of them mourning the loss of what once seemed destined to be a great football team.
Outplayed in every facet of the game by the Big 12s best team, the Mountaineers were completely embarrassed in a 55-14 defeat that left the Wildcats atop the conference at 4-0 with a regular season record of 7-0 and WVU twisting in the wind at .500 with a 2-2 Big 12 record and now 5-2 overall.
Virtually gone were thoughts of a conference championship and instead of a BCS bowl standing there in their future, it looked more like the Alamo Bowl or its likes after quarterback Collin Klein finished doing unspeakable things to the WVU defense … or what passes for it.
Klein completed 17 of 19 passes for a career high 323 yards, three of the passes good for touchdowns, while he also ran for 41 yards and four TDs. That yardage may not sound like much, but one of every three times he touched the ball he took it into the end zone.
“He doesn’t do anything wrong. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s hard to tackle. He gets in good plays and doesn’t turn the ball over,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Oh, and about the talk that he doesn’t pass very well?
“You can say what you want about his throwing motion, but it goes exactly where he wants it to go,” Holgorsen said.
The same could not be said about Geno Smith on this night as the WVU quarterback saw his shot at the Heisman Trophy die, completing 21 of 32 for 143 yard and one touchdown. He was sacked four times and, yes, his consecutive streak of passes without an interception ended at 327, short of Russell Wilson’s FBS record streak at N.C. State.
He did set a single-season record of 273 passes without an interception before being picked off by linebacker Arthur Brown on his first pass of the second half.
“I felt I went in the right direction (with that pass), but the guy just made a nice play,” said a disappointed Smith.
“This is one of those things where we have reached our low. This is as low as it gets,” Smith continued. “I have never dealt with an adversity of this magnitude. I have never lost two games in this manner.”
The Mountaineers lost last week to Texas Tech, 49-14.
That the defense has been terrible is no longer a story, but the offense?
What has gone wrong? Holgorsen said whatever it is, it will be fixed.
“I don’t forget how to coach offense. The schemes have been the same for a long time, and they’ve been successful,” Holgorsen said.
The atmosphere was festive when the Mountaineers kicked off to Kansas State and there was nothing to forecast what was to come when the defense stiffened to hold that first possession to a field goal.
Who knew it would be the last time they would keep the Wildcats from going into the end zone until the final quarter.
It was a first half in which WVU had neither any defense – which has come to be expected – or offense.
The statistics, which sometimes can lie, were totally accurate in expressing it.
Klein passed for 226 yards, completing an uncanny 14 of 16 passes, not bad for the team that ranked last in the Big 12 in passing. The yardage was just 60 shy of his career high.
One of the passes was a 10-yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett, who might have had a better half than even Klein. Lockett caught seven passes for 146 yards, shadows of Baylor’s Terrance Williams, who caught 17 passes for 313 yards.
West Virginia had been trying to cover the whippet fast Lockett out of the slot with true freshman safety Karl Joseph and it was a dismal mismatch, leading to Joseph finishing the half with nine tackles, six of them after completions to Lockett.
On the other side of the coin, WVU’s offense was being completely stymied by a rock-ribbed Kansas State defense that was slapping them silly. At halftime, K-State had 346 yards gained to just 74 for the Mountaineers, actually having more points with 31 than WVU had plays run with 20.
Smith was 9 of 13 for a paltry 62 yards, a long completion of 13 yards, which was better than the total of 12 yards the Mountaineers gained on the ground.
If it weren’t for Tavon Austin’s gift for returning kickoffs, the entire half would have been a whitewash, but he gathered one kickoff in at the goal line, ran to his left, cut up the middle of the field into a hole so wide it looked like one the Kansas State offensive line had opened and ran 100 yards for the touchdown.
For a just a moment the stadium erupted in cheers, the WVU players rushed down to the end zone to celebrate with Austin … the players except for the defense, which was still trying to catch its breath and knew it had to go back on the field.
So, too, did Klein and company, licking their lips as they went out there and took the ball down the field again for the final score, this on a sneak by Klein.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.