MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State is the only team still unbeaten in the round-robin meat-grinder of the Big 12, and the biggest reason why has been the impassioned play of quarterback Jake Waters.
Need proof of just how good he's been? Simply ask somebody from Oklahoma.
After watching the senior quarterback shred their defense on the ground and through the air, the Sooners gushed about his performance last Saturday. Waters ran for 51 yards and a score, threw for 225 yards and two more touchdowns, and helped the No. 11 Wildcats to a 31-30 victory.
"There's just so many things he can do, from the run to throwing the ball while he's on the run. He's just a really tough quarterback to scheme against," Sooners cornerback Zack Sanchez said.
Now, the Wildcats (5-1) are 3-0 in the Big 12 heading into Saturday's game against Texas.
The fact that Waters is rapidly rewriting record books is a testament to his productivity.
After arriving last season from Iowa Western Community College, Waters found himself splitting time with elusive quarterback Daniel Sams. He didn't really take over the full-time job until midway through the season, ultimately leading the Wildcats to eight wins and a bowl game.
His big breakthrough may have come in that bowl game, too. Waters completed 21 of 27 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 31-14 rout of Michigan. He also rushed for 42 yards in a sign of things to come.
Sams transferred in the offseason and Waters became entrenched as the starting quarterback, and he's played marvelously ever since. He's thrown for at least 200 yards in every game this season, has nine touchdown passes and only three picks, and has also run for more than 100 yards twice.
His dual-threat ability was on display a couple weeks ago against Texas Tech, when he threw for a career-best 290 yards and four touchdowns while running for 105 yards and another score.
Fast-forward to Saturday's game against the No. 17 Sooners.
Oklahoma took a 7-0 lead. Waters hit fullback Glenn Gronkowski with a tying touchdown pass. The Sooners later tied the game 14-all. Waters helped Kansas State regain the lead with a pass to Tyler Lockett, his favorite target. The Sooners tied the game 24-all later in the third quarter, and Waters took the Wildcats 75 yards in just five plays, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 5-yard run.
At one point late in the game, Waters took such a hard hit that coach Bill Snyder was left wondering whether his quarterback would be able to continue. He shouldn't have wondered.
"When I asked Jake, 'Can you do this?' he said, 'I can do it, coach,'" Snyder recalled. "I asked if there was anything we need to be restrictive of and he said, 'I can do it all. If you want me to run it, tell me. If you want me to throw it, I'll throw it.'"
That toughness is reminiscent of Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, a similar dual-threat QB who played for the Wildcats a couple years ago — and happens to be an assistant coach now.
In fact, the play of Waters even impressed Oklahoma counterpart Trevor Knight.
"He's a great quarterback and he has the run-pass option as well," the sophomore quarterback said. "He conducts the offense very well, and he just did a great job."
The run-pass option is what makes Waters so dangerous.
Many quarterbacks these days have the ability to run the read-option, or bootlegs and other designed runs. But the Wildcats have designed plays in which Waters will start running and literally throw while he's moving forward, toward the line of scrimmage.
It was precisely that play on which Waters connected with Gronkowski for a 62-yard touchdown pass on Saturday. Nobody was within 10 yards of the fullback when Waters let go of the ball.
"They are ridiculously well-coached and efficient," said Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who spent six years working as an assistant to Snyder in the 1990s. "There are only so many things you can do — and Jake Waters is an incredible player."