With the eyes of the nation glued to a Fox national broadcast, everyone could see just how far the Mountaineers have fallen on defense, as K-State scored on its first eight drives and pulled away for a 55-14 rout at Milan Puskar Stadium.
In terms of margin of defeat, it was the program's worst loss since a 2001 game against then-No. 1 Miami. That 45-3 setback was on the road. This was WVU's worst home loss since a 58-14 decision in 1986, which also came against a No. 1 Miami team.
In a game that pitted two of the nation’s premier quarterbacks against one another, it was the Wildcats’ Collin Klein who made a compelling case to be the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
Klein finished 19-of-21 passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He added another 41 rushing yards and four rushing scores. He had 226 passing yards -- only four shy of his previous season-high -- by halftime to push the visitors to a 31-7 lead at the break.
Offensive Player of the Game
The No. 4 Wildcats scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions after kicking a field goal on their first drive. It was 52-7 before the end of the third quarter, and by then, a long line of fans that had previously been part of the crowd of 60,101 could be seen exiting the stadium along Don Nehlen Drive and in front of Ruby Memorial Hospital.
“I was pleased with the way our youngsters approached the ball game and how they traveled and kept their focus,” said K-State coach Bill Snyder. “We played well.”
WVU’s defense only kept Kansas State from scoring one time in 10 drives -- and that came with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, when the outcome had long been decided. The few fans left in the seats offered a Bronx cheer for the defenders when they forced that lone punt.
Co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, the subject of much consternation from fans, vowed to “fix” the team’s struggling defense in an animated postgame interview session with reporters.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said he did not believe anything was fundamentally wrong with the team’s new 3-4 scheme and expressed faith in the coaching staff.
Defensive Player of the Game
“What do you want me to change?” Holgorsen asked. “We played somewhere in the neighborhood of probably 30 players on defense. They are what we’ve got. We’re going to focus hard on them, especially with all the young guys we have. I looked out there on several different occasions and saw eight or nine freshmen out there. Those guys will get better, and we’ll keep coaching them hard.”
But it wasn’t just the slumping Mountaineer defense that struggled against the Wildcats.
West Virginia’s offense didn’t score a point in the first half -- the team’s seven points came from a 100-yard Tavon Austin kickoff return touchdown. The offense managed only 74 total yards in the first half. Quarterback Geno Smith threw his first and second interceptions of the season.
“There are a number of things that went wrong, but I’m not going to sit here and point fingers at anyone else,” Smith said. “I’m the leader of this team, and I’m the leader of the offense. As an offense, we didn’t do enough.”
All told, the offense scored only 14 points. It tied last week’s 49-14 loss at Texas Tech for the fewest points scored in the Holgorsen era at WVU. Smith threw for only 143 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked four times. The Mountaineers only managed 88 rushing yards.
“We couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Holgorsen said. “I think we ran probably 14 plays in the first half and only had the ball three times. So it’s hard to get in a rhythm when you do that. There’s no excuse, though, for when we have the ball three times and don’t move the ball.”
After back-to-back blowout losses that figure to knock West Virginia from the nation’s top five to out of the rankings altogether, the Mountaineers get to take next week off to lick their wounds and recover.
They will also attempt to ascertain how to improve before finishing the season with home games against tough teams from TCU and Oklahoma, as well as road tests at Oklahoma State and Iowa State -- all before a home finale against Kansas.
“There are no excuses, and it starts with me,” Holgorsen said. “We’ll fix what the problems are, and we’ll keep plugging along and try to get better.”