Backup quarterback Will Howard passed for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns to power 19th-ranked Kansas State to a 48-31 victory over West Virginia Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
An announced crowd of 37,055 watched the Wildcats jump out to an early 14-0 lead 4 minutes into a game they never trailed.
“I thought the guys fought and competed really, really hard,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said. “I’m proud of the effort, (I have) no issues with that.”
Sophomore backup quarterback Garrett Greene, getting his 1st start of the season, threw 3 touchdown passes and ran for another, but his 2 interceptions contributed to 14 of Kansas State’s 48 points.
Greene finished the afternoon completing 15-of-27 passes for 204 yards while contributing 17 yards to a Mountaineer ground game that produced 153 yards against the Wildcats. Freshman Jaylen Anderson ran for 69 yards on 7 attempts and sophomore Justin Johnson Jr. added 63 yards on 11 attempts.
WVU also did a pretty good job bottling up Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn, who gained 67 yards on 22 attempts, but the Mountaineer defense gave up 5 chunk plays in the passing game that accounted for 172 of the Wildcats’ 294 yards through the air.
Kansas State (8-3, 6-2) scored on 5 of its 6 1st-half possessions, and its other possession also resulted in points for the Mountaineers when Malachi Ruffin intercepted Howard’s pass along the far sideline and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
Five of those 6 chunk plays happened before intermission leading to Kansas State’s 41 1st half points – the most West Virginia has surrendered in a 1st half since allowing Baylor to tally 56 in a 73-42 loss to the Bears on Oct. 5, 2013, in Waco, Texas.
K-State’s 1st-half touchdowns consisted of a Vaughn 15-yard run, a DJ Giddens 49-yard run, a Howard 1-yard run and a Ben Sinnott 15-yard reception from Howard.
Howard’s score came after West Virginia unsuccessfully tried a quarterback sneak on fourth and inches from its own 34, giving the Wildcats a short field.
Strong safety Cincere Mason also put K-State on the scoreboard when he picked off Greene’s 2nd pass attempt of the game and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. That gave K-State a quick 14-0 lead with just 4 minutes of game time expired.
Greene did find success throwing the ball to Sam James. The senior beat man coverage to score a 26-yard touchdown with 8:26 left in the 1st quarter and then added a 71-yard touchdown reception 7 minutes later to the hospital end of the field.
James got into the end zone a 3rd time with 6:55 left in the 2nd quarter when Greene found him free in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
Two missed conversion kicks caused the Mountaineers to chase points the rest of the game. Greene’s conversion run following James’ 3rd touchdown catch was unsuccessful, making K-State’s lead 35-25.
The Wildcats smartly used their timeouts to tack on 6 more points late in the half – both coming on long Ty Zentner field goals. The 1st one, a 46-yarder, occurred with 1:46 left in the half when West Virginia used 2 timeouts to preserve enough time for its offense to try and slice into the Wildcats’ 13-point lead.
However, a quick 3-and-out possession deep in its own territory required the Mountaineers to punt the ball back to the Wildcats, who regained possession at their 35 with 1:20 and 1 timeout left. A Howard 31-yard seam pass to Sinnott into eight-man coverage put Zentner into position to kick a 53-yard field goal.
Jordan Jefferson sacked Howard for a loss of 7 yards forcing Kansas State to run the field goal team onto the field with the clock running, but Brown opted to call his final timeout with 8 seconds left.
“It was a really weird game in the 1st half – some things you just don’t see,” Brown said. “We hung around and obviously had a chance to make it closer. I was really disappointed in our drive right before the half.”
West Virginia’s opening possession of the 3rd quarter consumed 8:35 of the clock and consisted of 16 plays, but 5 Mountaineer penalties eventually bogged things down at the K-State 14, and when Greene was sacked for a 12-yard loss, Casey Legg’s 44-yard field goal try was unsuccessful – his 1st miss in 14 attempts this season.
“We take like 9 minutes off the clock and don’t get any points. We had a few penalties there, and we overcame a penalty to get down inside (the 20-yard line) and don’t do it,” Brown said.
K-State’s lead swelled to 23 points early in the 4th quarter, following Greene’s 2nd interception, when Malik Knowles caught a Howard pass along the far sideline, shook off Ruffin’s tackle attempt and raced 43 yards for a touchdown.
Zentner’s conversion kick made it 48-25 with 12:24 left.
Less than 3 minutes later, West Virginia got 6 of it back when Greene called his own number from the 13, but yet another point-after conversion try was unsuccessful when Greene was hauled down at the 8 looking to pass the ball into the end zone.
James finished the afternoon with 3 catches for 102 yards, while Jasir Cox and Lee Kpobga led the defense with 13 tackles each.
“Defensively, we played really poorly in the 1st half,” Brown said. “Then, in the 2nd half, I thought we came out and really fought, especially there at the end of the game.
“If you’d told me we were going to win the rushing battle, we were going to score 25 points in the 1st half and Deuce Vaughn was going to be held to 67 yards rushing, I’d sit down and feel really good about our chance to win the game,” Brown added.
The Mountaineers were flagged eight times for 41 yards and failed to convert four of their five point-after attempts.
WVU was 2-of-10 on 3rd down compared to 9-of-14 for the Wildcats.
West Virginia (4-7, 2-6) will conclude its season next Saturday afternoon at Oklahoma State.