WVU lets another slip away
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A week ago when West Virginia essentially melted down in the late going and lost a lead and a game to Texas Tech, Dana Holgorsen said the Mountaineers needed to work on their will to win.
A week, though, apparently wasn't long enough to make much of a difference.
Although the circumstances and certainly the opponent were different, West Virginia lost another second-half lead Saturday. And this time it was offensively-challenged Kansas State that managed to rally.
The Wildcats overcame a 12-7 deficit with three touchdowns on three straight drives over the third and fourth quarters and beat West Virginia, 35-12, Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The loss provided yet another crushing blow to West Virginia's hopes of earning its 12th consecutive bowl appearance. Needing six wins, the Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) must win three of their final four games. Next up is a trip to TCU on Saturday.
Kansas State snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 3-4 overall and got itself back into the race for a bowl in front of a homecoming crowd of 52,898.
West Virginia had been in much the same position a week ago against Texas Tech, leading 27-16 in the third quarter. That time, the WVU offense went five straight series without a first down and Texas Tech rallied to win 37-27.
The only difference this time was that the offense that rallied past the Mountaineers was not high powered like that of the Red Raiders. In fact, Kansas State had gone five series since scoring its first touchdown and had gained just one more first down. Interchanging quarterbacks Daniel Sams and Jake Waters, the Wildcats were a mess.
But then, trailing 12-7, Kansas State finally showed signs of life offensively in the third quarter and into the fourth. The Wildcats put together three straight impressive scoring drives capped by touchdown passes to Tyler Lockett (two) and Tramaine Thompson, the two wide receivers they had missed for most of the last two weeks.
Lockett's touchdown capped a monumental scoring drive -- 14 plays over almost 81/2 minutes -- and came from Sams. It was a 9-yarder in the back of the end zone on third down, Sams' third third-down completion of the drive.
Then just one series later, Kansas State went 78 yards in a much faster 3:40 to take a 21-12 lead. This time it was Waters hitting Thompson at the goal line on a 30-yard touchdown.
After a West Virginia turnover, Kansas State pretty much closed the door. Clint Trickett was stripped of the ball as West Virginia was driving fairly well, down just 21-12, and the Wildcats only had to go 54 yards to make it 28-12. They got much of that on Waters' 24-yard touchdown pass to Lockett with 71/2 minutes to play that made it 28-12 and all but closed the door. John Hubert scored with 21 seconds to play to round out the scoring.
Trickett, who has started the last four games, was eventually pulled in favor of Paul Millard after his fumble. Trickett finished the day 15 of 28 for 227 yards, without an interception or a touchdown.
Sams and Waters were both eventually successful throwing the ball, although it took them time to warm up. Sams was 8 for 8 for 93 yards and Waters 10 for 13 for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Lockett caught eight passes for 111 yards and three touchdowns, a year after catching 194 yards worth of passes in Morgantown.
Kansas State gained 448 yards of total offense.
In the early going, West Virginia was hampered by poor field position, an offense that couldn't escape it and a punter who couldn't kick his way out of it. WVU's first three possessions started on average at the 17-yard line and the Mountaineers couldn't dig out of the hole. Nick O'Toole's first three punts covered just 27, 33 and 36 yards, so Kansas State was starting near midfield every time.
The first two times it didn't matter. The third time, though, the Wildcats went just 47 yards to score and make it 7-0. But even then, it took a defensive breakdown to allow the score. Safety Darwin Cook didn't give cornerback Ishmael Banks any deep help on Lockett on a third-and-15 play at the WVU 35, and Waters hit Lockett for an easy 35-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
West Virginia got the score back, though, when the offense finally got a couple of first downs and changed field position. The Mountaineers had to punt on that possession, but got the ball back near midfield and went 47 yards for the score.
Most of that drive was Trickett. He completed passes to Charles Sims and Jordan Thompson -- Thompson surviving a big hit from Ty Zimmerman at the 8 -- and ran for gains of nine and six yards, the latter a touchdown scramble. But Kansas State blocked the extra point from straight up the middle and the Wildcats still led 7-6.
The Mountaineers didn't need field position to take the lead. Thanks to short passes that Sims turned into back-to-back 13-yard gains and a 50-yard bomb that Ronald Carswell caught from Trickett, WVU had a first down at the KSU 6. The Mountaineers had to settle for a 21-yard Josh Lambert field goal, but led 9-7 with 5:24 to play in the half.
West Virginia had a chance to extend the lead to 12-7 when Lambert lined up for a chip-shot field goal with about a minute to play. But holder Mike Molinari took the ball and ran off tackle. He got from the 9-yard line to the 5, but needed the 3 for a first down. Kansas State took over and ran out the clock.
The Mountaineers would add another three points and make it 12-7 early in the second half. The two teams had traded quarterback fumbles on the other end -- Trickett losing one at his 18 and then Sams fumbling into the end zone -- before Trickett hit Kevin White on an inside screen and White gained 43 yards on the play. West Virginia couldn't move the ball any further, but with the wind at his back Lambert easily kicked a 50-yard field goal to make the WVU lead 12-7.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1