Big 12 showdown pits Wildcats against Mountaineers

Morgantown, WV ( - Still alive in the Big 12 Conference title race, the 12th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats travel east to challenge the West Virginia Mountaineers on Thursday night.

Kansas State was idle last weekend, giving the team some additional time to lick its wounds following a 41-20 loss at TCU on Nov. 8. That setback snapped a five-game win streak for the Wildcats, who at 5-1 in conference are tied with Baylor and just a half game back of TCU in the standings. They will face the Bears in Waco in the final game of the regular season.

West Virginia had been in the Big 12 championship conversation after it went 4-1 to start conference play, which included a win over Baylor, but back-to- back losses to TCU (31-30) and Texas (33-16) have put an end to that. The Mountaineers were also idle last weekend, and they will close out the regular season at Iowa State on Nov. 29.

Kansas State leads the all-time series with West Virginia, 3-1, which includes a pair of victories in three previous trips to Morgantown. Last year in Manhattan, the Wildcats prevailed in a 35-12 final.

Despite a record-setting performance from Tyler Lockett, Kansas State fell at TCU a couple of weeks back. Lockett caught 11 balls for 196 yards and a TD, and in doing so passed his father Kevin to become the school's all-time leading receiver. Getting him the ball was Jake Waters, who hit on 20-of-37 passes for 291 yards, two TDs and one INT. As for the rushing attack, it was stymied to the tune of 34 net yards on 19 attempts.

TCU outgained K-State, 553-410, which included a 334-yard effort on the ground, and the Horned Frogs had two players rush for more than 120 yards. Jonathan Truman logged a game-high 12 tackles, while Dylan Schellenberg was close behind with 10. K-State failed to register a sack or even a single takeaway.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder gave credit to TCU, specifically QB Trevone Boykin.

"I don't think anyone missed the point here. They played extremely well. We had difficulty in many aspects of the game. It's my responsibility more than others. They're awfully good. They ran the ball well. Trevone Boykin ran the ball well. They just were a better football team."

For the season, the Wildcats are scoring 36.2 ppg, doing so behind 157.3 ypg on the ground and 265.2 ypg through the air. Waters has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, 13 TDs and only four INTs, with Lockett and Curry Sexton pacing the receivers with a combined 113 grabs, 1,601 yards and 10 TDs. Waters (406 yards, seven TDs) has been one of two three primary rusher for the 'Cats, with Charles Jones (430 yards, 11 TDs) and DeMarcus Robinson (353 yards, four TDs) also doing their part.

K-State is right at the top of the Big 12 in terms of scoring defense (21.1 ppg), and Snyder's club has been especially strong against the run (126.8 ypg, tied for league-low with nine rushing TDs allowed). Truman continues to pace the unit in total tackles with 85, which is 31 more than his closest teammate. The 'Cats have logged only 14 sacks, which ranks them next-to-last in the league. They do however, rank third in red-zone defense (.769).

The one-point loss to TCU on Nov. 1 was as demoralizing as one can imagine for a West Virginia squad that was feeling awfully good about itself going into that contest. Therefore, it was almost understandable that the Mountaineers would come out flat in their next outing at Texas, as they trailed 24-3 at halftime. They then went scoreless in the third quarter before producing a pair of TDs in the final frame, but it was too little too late.

WVU outgained UT, 448-351, but was just 3-of-17 on third-down conversion attempts. Dreamius Smith ran for 100 yards and a score, while Clint Trickett was his usual efficient self, completing 36-of-49 passes for 248 yards with no TDs and one INT. Kevin White certainly did what he could, but even his 16 catches for 132 yards weren't enough.

Texas churned out 227 yards on the ground, averaging nearly six yards per carry. Nick Kwiatkowski paced the West Virginia defense with 10 stops, while Daryl Worley finished with eight, and he also had an INT.

"The first half was a good, old-fashioned butt kicking," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after the Texas game. "That's what it was on all three sides of the ball. We got outcoached and outplayed."

He was a little happier with the effort in the second half, but put the brunt of the blame on himself for the lackluster showing.

"We have to give our guys a little bit of credit for at least going out there in the second half and competing. I don't think we competed very hard in the first half, but at least we did in the second half. Whether it was a little bit of a hangover, so to speak, from last week I don't know, but we weren't ready to play. I take responsibility for that."

As a team, the Mountaineers rank near the middle of the Big 12 in most statistical categories, including scoring offense (34.1 ppg) and scoring defense (26.4 ppg). Individually, Trickett is hitting his mark 68.3 percent of the time, averaging 317.3 ypg with 18 TDs against eight INTs, and White is far-and-away the most productive pass catcher in the conference, having secured 91 receptions for 1,207 yards and eight TDs. The team boasts three players with more than 400 rushing yards in Wendell Smallwood (585 yards, two TDs), Rushel Shell (560 yards, six TDs) and Smith (411 yards, five TDs).

Kwiatkowski has 79 tackles, nine of which have been behind the line of scrimmage, while Karl Joseph is hot on his heels with 70. Worley has three picks, and Shaq Riddick has six of the team's 15 sacks, which ranks the club eighth in the conference. They rank the same in sacks allowed (24).