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Mountaineers neutralize K-State

Arne Green
West Virginia  linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo (7) celebrates after tackling Kansas State Wildcats tight end Sammy Wheeler (19) for a loss during the fourth Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.

The Kansas State Wildcats climbed to the top of the Big 12 standings by sweating the details.

West Virginia simply made them sweat.

Not only did the Mountaineers dominate on both offense and defense, they also neutralized No. 16-ranked K-State's dependence on special teams, turnover margin and damage control to overpower the Wildcats, 37-10, Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia.

"Congratulate West Virginia. They played really good today," K-State coach Chris Klieman said after the Wildcats lost for the first time since their season opener, falling to 4-2 overall, 4-1 in the Big 12. "We didn't play our best.

"I thought our effort was good, we just didn't have great execution today."

The Wildcats also had no answer for a West Virginia offense that used plays of 30-plus yards to set up each of their three second-quarter touchdowns on the way to a 24-10 halftime advantage.

In addition to special teams dominance, the Wildcats had built their early-season success on limiting explosive plays by their opponents and quick-strike capabilities of their own.

All of it went missing against West Virginia (4-2, 3-2).

"We weren't very good on third down on defense," Klieman said. "They got a couple of big plays on third down that got them a couple-score lead and we couldn't overcome it."

Offensively, the Wildcats failed to cash in on early, settling for a 21-yard Blake Lynch field goal after stalling on first and goal at the West Virginia 2. They started their next two series in Mountaineer territory, but quarterback Will Howard's first of three interceptions ended one drive and a missed 52-yard field goal try ended the second threat.

"We really needed to punch it in on that first drive," said senior running back Harry Trotter. "We need seven instead of three there, and we've got to capitalize when we do get the ball in good field position."

The initial field goal drive covered 64 yards, and the Wildcats put together a 73-yarder to score late in the first half and cut the deficit to 14. The touchdown came on a 35-yard strike from Howard to Malik Knowles, but that was their only play from scrimmage of over 30 yards.

"We had our chances early," Klieman said. "Maybe punch that first score in, rather than getting three (points).

"That didn't help us. Then we had a couple of opportunities with good field position late in the first quarter … and didn't do anything with it."

West Virginia did plenty, limiting K-State to 225 yards total offense and 73 in the second half. The Wildcats finished with just 41 yards rushing.

West Virginia, meanwhile, balanced a 301-yard, two-touchdown passing performance by quarterback Jarret Doege with 184 yards on the ground for 485 yards total. Leddie Brown had 102 yards on 24 carries and a score, while Alec Sinkfield added 85 yards.

"They're a really well-balanced offense," said K-State defensive tackle Drew Wiley, who had a solid game with seven tackles, including 2.5 for loss and a sack. "I think for us today it was probably the play-action passes that we really struggled with.

"Transition rushing, and then getting pressure on play-action passes. They were a tough, physical team and their running back is very talented. I thought their (offensive) line was pretty good and obviously their quarterback was making a lot of plays today."

Neither offense found the end zone in the second half, but the West Virginia defense did when linebacker Dylan Tonkery sniffed out a Howard wide receiver screen and took it 18 yards for a pick-six midway through the third quarter.

Howard, the true freshman thrust into the starting lineup when senior Skylar Thompson was injured against Texas Tech on Oct. 3, had the most difficult day of his young career, completing 19 of 37 passes for 184 yards and three interceptions. The Wildcats also lost senior tight end Briley Moore, their leading receiver, on the scoring drive at the end of the first half.

"It was a factor, the fact that I think Briley's an all-Big 12 player, but we didn't get enough stops on defense, that it probably wasn't going to matter," Klieman said. "We would have liked to have had Briley back for the second half.

"That affected a little part of our offense, but totality was what our problem was. In all phases, we just needed to be better."

Klieman said that Moore's back locked up after he went down hard pushing for a first down at the end of a catch and run.

Things do not get easier for K-State next week, when No. 6-ranked Oklahoma State visits Manhattan. The Cowboys suffered their first loss of the season Saturday, falling 41-34 to Texas in overtime.

"Disappointed, but like I told the guys after the game, we're all going to take ownership in this — coaches included, myself included," Klieman said. "But we've got to be able to wash it away quickly, because we have to get ready for a really good Oklahoma State team."

West Virginia linebacker Dylan Tonkery, top left, celebrates with teammates after returning an interception for a touchdown against Kansas State during the third quarter Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va.