AMES, Iowa – Iowa State's 27-21 loss to Kansas State looks like a strong effort against the nation's sixth-ranked team, at least to some.
To the Cyclones, it looks like a missed opportunity for a second straight upset.
A key turnover and some poorly executed plays, combined with K-State quarterback Collin Klein's ability to make plays at the right time, left the Cyclones with their fifth straight loss to the Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) on Saturday.
"The thing that is most impressive about Kansas State is not their six wins, it's their zero losses," ISU running back Jeff Woody said. "If you are going to beat Kansas State, you can't beat yourself, because that is what they want you to do."
Klein ran for 105 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 187 yards to lead the Wildcats, who have a showdown at West Virginia and its brilliant quarterback, Geno Smith, coming up next Saturday.
Iowa State, coming off a 37-23 upset of then-No. 15 TCU, managed only 231 yards of offense -- fewer than Klein had by himself -- but the Cyclones (4-2, 1-2) still had two chances to put together a game-winning drive in the final five minutes.
After starting on its own 40 with 4:17 to play, Iowa State faced third-and-4 from the 46. Running back Shontrelle Johnson broke free on a pass pattern and had yards of green in front of him, but Jared Barnett overthrew him. An incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball to the Wildcats, but Iowa State held and forced a punt.
Taking over on his own 3 with 2:17 remaining, Barnett misfired on two passes, scrambled for 5 yards, then threw another incompletion.
"It came down (to) which team executed better," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said, "and they executed better down the line."
Iowa State had a huge opportunity earlier when Kansas State's Tramaine Thompson fumbled a punt and the Cyclones' Matt Morton recovered at the Wildcats' 19. But Ty Zimmerman intercepted Barnett's pass at the goal line on the next play to quash any momentum the Cyclones might have gained.
"It was a very big opportunity," Rhoads said. "But it was not the only (opportunity) and certainly not the blame-all for the loss."
After throwing three touchdown passes against TCU, Barnett was just 16 of 36 for 166 yards and two scores. He misfired on six of his last six passes.
Part of Iowa State's problem on offense was Kansas State's offense. The Wildcats controlled the ball for nearly 41 minutes and converted eight of 17 third downs.
The victory was a vintage performance by Klein, who was 16 of 24 passing and showed why he's among the nation's best quarterbacks on the run.
One play in particular told the story of the day. Facing third-and-long deep in Iowa State territory, Klein hung in a collapsing pocket long enough for the right side of the field to open up. He bounced out of trouble and, with defenders going the other way, darted 12 yards to the end zone put Kansas State up 24-14 with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Iowa State wouldn't go away.
The Cyclones, helped immensely by a pass interference call on the Wildcats at the goal line, answered with Woody's 2-yard TD run to pull to 24-21 with 12:34 to go.
But Iowa State's defense already had been on the field for 30 minutes by then, and the Wildcats wisely chose to wear the Cyclones out on the ground. Though Kansas State had to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Anthony Cantele, they burned over eight minutes driving down the field.
What had been torrential downpours eased by the late morning kickoff. Still, the game was played on a soggy field with heavy, swirling wind and two of the Big 12's best defenses squaring off.
None of that seemed to matter early on, since the Cyclones and Wildcats each found ways to put up points.
Iowa State jumped ahead 7-3 on Johnson's 2-yard TD grab to open the second quarter.
Klein answered, bullying his way through a pile of defenders for a critical fourth-down conversion at the Iowa State 3-yard line. Klein punched it in from 2 yards out to make it 10-7, Kansas State, with 8:18 left in the first half.
Barnett shook off his interception with a 30-yard TD pass to a wide-open Ernst Brun in the flat. But Klein's skills as a runner helped buy him enough room to toss a 45-yard completion to Tyler Lockett, and his 6-yard TD run put the Wildcats ahead 17-14 at halftime.
Iowa State played without its leading rusher, James White, who missed the game with a knee injury. The Cyclones struggled without him, rushing for just 65 yards on 24 carries.
So how to do they pick up that part of their game.
"Just go back to work." Woody said. "Focus on what needs to be done. Focus on executing what we have, because it's not what anybody is going to do to us. It's how we don't execute what we're doing, which is what ends up stopping our drives, causing a turnover."