Friday November 21st, 2014

No. 12 Kansas State remained in the hunt for a share of the Big 12 title with a chilly 26-20 win over West Virginia on Thursday in Morgantown.

Here are three thoughts from the Wildcats’ victory:

1. West Virginia’s turnovers killed its momentum

The Mountaineers couldn’t get out of their own way for most of the night on Thursday. They committed four turnovers against one of the Big 12’s best defenses, and even though they rallied late, coach Dana Holgorsen’s squad had dug too deep a hole.

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The mistakes started early in the first quarter, when West Virginia was already down 7-0 at home. Wendell Smallwood fumbled on first-and-goal at 2-yard line and Kansas State’s Dylan Schellenberg recovered, a fumble that halted the Mountaineers’ chance at tying things up. Quarterback Clint Trickett then threw interceptions on two straight drives, one just before half and another on his team’s first series after intermission.

The Mountaineers seemed to find a rhythm once Skyler Howard (15 of 23 passing, 198 yards, two touchdowns) entered the game for Trickett later in the third quarter. Howard took his offense 79 yards to cut the deficit to 20-10, but West Virginia coughed up the ensuing kickoff on the return, which Kansas State converted into a field goal. The Mountaineers couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats’ attack due to their own mistakes, which ultimately doomed Holgorsen’s team.

2. Tyler Lockett is a beast

Kansas State’s electric wide receiver made an impact on a number of occasions on Thursday. Tyler Lockett hauled in 196 yards on 10 catches and changed the game on special teams, as well.

Lockett took a West Virginia punt 43 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter to give Kansas State a 17-3 lead with 1:12 left in the half. After the Mountaineers made a run to cut it to 23-17 in the final period, the Wildcats faced a third-and-nine with less than five minutes remaining. Quarterback Jake Waters found Lockett for a 28-yard gain and a big third-down conversion to keep the drive alive. That allowed Matthew McCrane to knock in a 32-yard field goal and boost Kansas State’s lead.

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It’s possible the Wildcats will venture to Waco to face Baylor as a top-10 team on Dec. 6, and Lockett is a big reason why. West Virginia’s defense had no answer for the speedy receiver on Thursday.

3. The Big 12 probably needed K-State to win

As TCU and Baylor sit just outside the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, the last thing those squads needed was a diluted conference schedule. Kansas State, which ranks No. 12 in the playoff’s rankings, stands as the third-best team in the Big 12. It’s one of TCU’s best wins of the year. Meanwhile, Baylor still must play the Wildcats on Dec. 6. Both teams need Kansas State looking strong, and a loss to West Virginia wouldn’t have helped that case.

But the truth is, the Wildcats’ win helps TCU more than Baylor. That’s because the Bears lost to West Virginia, 41-27, earlier in the year. The Mountaineers have now lost three straight and don’t look like a quality team anymore. For now, the Horned Frogs might be in the better position as a playoff contender, even with the head-to-head loss to Baylor.

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