MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It's gone, all gone. Hopes for a Big 12 Conference championship. A magical, memorable season. Almost certainly even the Heisman Trophy. What started to slip away on the windy plains of West Texas a week earlier vanished completely into the damp, chilly mountain air here Saturday night.
The real West Virginia team stood up at Milan Puskar Stadium. It wasn't the one that rang up 70 points on Baylor and stunned Texas in Austin. It was the one that was embarrassed by Texas Tech, 49-14, Oct. 13 in Lubbock. As bad as that defeat was, this 55-14 loss to No. 4 Kansas State was much worse and more hurtful. Boos from the home crowd, which started in the first quarter, still must be ringing in the Mountaineers' ears. That's probably a good thing. It will dull the sound of the crash from West Virginia falling out of the Top 25 in the Associated Press poll today. It was ranked No. 5 before the Texas Tech game.
"No excuses. It starts with me," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
"We lost to a really good football team. They probably played as good as they can play. They do everything right. From a discipline standpoint. From an effort standpoint. They play smart. They don't beat themselves. They're always in the right position."
In other words, Kansas State is exactly what West Virginia wants to become.
"We've got to get this program to where it needs to be," Holgorsen said, agreeing fully.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Kansas State's Collin Klein took center stage ranked one-two in the eyes of many Heisman voters. Klein turned it into a one-man race by throwing for three touchdowns and running for four. Smith couldn't get West Virginia into Kansas State territory until midway through the third quarter and into the end zone until he threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin with 7:31 left in the game. Talk about a cosmetic score. It cut Kansas State's lead to 52-14. The Mountaineers' other touchdown came on a 100-yard kickoff return by Austin after Kansas State had built a 24-0 lead.
Of course, Klein had the big advantage of playing against a West Virginia defense that has taken its rightful place as perhaps the worst in school history. Smith saved it after it gave up 63 points to Baylor and 45 to Texas. But there was no saving it Saturday night, just as there was no saving it when Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege torched it for six touchdown passes.
The West Virginia defense is so bad that it almost seemed like a win for the Mountaineers when they held Kansas State to a field goal on its first possession. The good feeling didn't last long, though. Kansas State scored touchdowns on its next seven possessions to take a 52-7 lead with 2:25 left in the third quarter. At that point, Klein was 19 of 21 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He also had run for the four scores. Kansas State had a 473-102 edge in total yards.
Meanwhile, the parking lots at the stadium looked like Times Square at rush hour. West Virginia fans couldn't bail on the Mountaineers fast enough even though more than a quarter of football remained. It was hard to blame them. Their team put on an awful show.
"I thought we were ready to play," Holgorsen said. "Nobody likes what's going on. We'll get back to work and try to put a better product out there the next time."
Klein had a lot to do with West Virginia's nightmare. He was magnificent. His touchdown passes of 10 yards to Tyler Lockett, 21 yards to Chris Harper and 20 yards to Lockett couldn't have been better thrown. He also ran for touchdowns of 1, 8, 1 and 1 yards, giving him a mind-numbing 42 touchdown runs since the start of the 2011 season. Heisman voters from coast to coast had to notice. This was a memorable performance by a player on a legitimate national championship contender.
"He doesn't do anything wrong. He doesn't make mistakes," Holgorsen said of Klein. "He was exactly what we thought he would be. You can say what you want about his [unusual] throwing motion, but the ball goes exactly where it's supposed to go."
Nothing went right for Smith, who seemed to have a firm grip on the Heisman after throwing for eight touchdowns against Baylor and four more against Texas. His start to the second half, with West Virginia down, 31-7, was typical of his night. On the Mountaineers' first play, he threw an interception to linebacker Arthur Brown on a deflected pass, his first interception on his 274th pass this season. After Kansas State needed just two plays to score to make it 38-7 -- was there any doubt? -- Smith led the Mountaineers back on the field, threw a 2-yard pass to Austin, then was sacked on consecutive plays.
Where was the Baylor defense when Smith needed it?
Kansas State has no such weaknesses. Its defense hasn't given up more than 21 points in any of the team's seven wins this season. Klein always is the focal point, but the defense was big again as Kansas State won its third consecutive road game against a ranked opponent. What it did to Smith and the West Virginia offense was unthinkable just two weeks ago.
All of it made for a happy flight back to Manhattan, Kan., for the Kansas State team. It took everything home. Hopes for not just a Big 12 championship, but a national title. A magical, memorable season. Almost certainly the Heisman Trophy.
And the Mountaineers? They went home with nothing. The worst part? They couldn't even leave early with their fans.