It’s time to start taking Kansas State seriously as a Big 12 championship contender.
For much of this football season, it has seemed like there were only two teams competing for a conference title, as Oklahoma and Texas have resided in the top 10 while no one else in the league has been ranked in the top 25.
But don’t forget about K-State. The defending Big 12 champs have made it clear that they are still one of the best teams in this league. Just in case you haven’t been paying attention over the past few weeks, the Wildcats reminded everyone what they are capable of when they demolished Houston 41-0 on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The game was a beatdown.
K-State (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) dominated in every way possible and posted its third straight victory by double digits against Houston (3-5, 1-4 Big 12).
Granted, the Wildcats haven’t exactly beaten great teams during their winning streak, but there is no ignoring the margin by which they are whipping mediocre opponents.
Now they get a chance to further validate their success. K-State will travel to Texas for one of the biggest Big 12 games of the season next week. The Wildcats will be in excellent position to reach the conference championship game with a victory.
Until then, here are some takeaways from Saturday’s action against Houston ...
Will Howard deserves most of the snaps at QB
Avery Johnson is clearly the K-State quarterback of the future, but it’s time for the Wildcats to go back to using Will Howard like he is the quarterback of the present.
Howard turned in his second straight impressive outing on Saturday, leaving little reason for head coach Chris Klieman or offensive coordinator Collin Klein to think about rotating Johnson into the game.
The K-State offense looked exceptionally sharp with Howard at the helm against Houston. Howard completed his first 12 passes of the game and led the Wildcats on four methodical touchdown drives in the first half that not only put points on the scoreboard but made it impossible for the Cougars to find a rhythm while their offense was stuck on the sideline.
Howard finished with 164 yards and two touchdowns as passer to go along with 24 yards as a rusher.
K-State tried to get Johnson involved for one drive in the first half, but he fumbled a hand-off exchange with his running back, and Houston jumped on the loose ball for a turnover. He didn’t play again until the game was out of reach.
Using Johnson from time to time is still a good idea, as his speed makes him dangerous as a runner against certain defenses. He is a great complementary quarterback. But Howard is playing too well to split snaps evenly at the moment.
Cooper Beebe had some highlights on the offensive line
It’s often difficult for an offensive lineman to stand out as a blocker, but that was not the case for K-State star Cooper Beebe in this game.
The senior left guard had the TV announcers fawning over his physical play when he delivered a jaw-dropping block in the red zone that allowed DJ Giddens to scamper into the end zone untouched in the second quarter.
On the play, Beebe got out in the open field and shoved a Houston defender into oblivion as he tried to get his hands on Giddens.
Blocks like that will ultimately give Beebe a shot at winning prestigious lineman awards at the end of the season.
K-State is the new Tight End University
OK, maybe not. We are probably getting ourselves with that kind of statement.
But the Wildcats sure are utilizing their tight ends more than they ever have before, especially as options in the passing game. To that end, three different K-State tight ends have caught touchdown passes this season.
Ben Sinnott remains the top pass-catcher on the roster, but he is far from the only big man that Howard is targeting downfield. Will Swanson caught a touchdown pass last week and Garrett Oakley hauled in a 12-yard catch for a score against Houston.
Tight ends were often forgotten players in the offense before Klieman took over as coach. But now that he has had time to recruit the type of tight ends who fit his system we are seeing them get used more and more. They are giving defenses much more to worry about this season.
K-State’s defense rattled Houston QB Donovan Smith
One player who made the Cougars seem like a fascinating matchup for the Wildcats was Donovan Smith.
The Houston quarterback had been playing like one of the best passers in the Big 12 this season, as he had thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and also shown an ability to move the chains with his legs.
He was also the first healthy starting quarterback that the Wildcats had faced since Oklahoma State’s Alan Bowman. Maybe he would be capable of challenging the K-State defense more than the backups they have gone against in recent weeks.
Turns out, he was no better than your typical Big 12 reserve against K-State. The Wildcats made him look mediocre with a mixture of tight coverage and organic pressure that often didn’t require blitzing.
Smith finished the day with 88 yards and an interception. He only completed 13 of 28 passes.
Both he and the Cougars were no match for the K-State defense.
Only one penalty for the Wildcats
It’s usually a good sign for a team when it can play 60 minutes of football without committing many penalties.
Well, that is exactly what the Wildcats did on Saturday. Not only did they whip the Cougars, they did so without picking up a single flag until the fourth quarter was underway.
K-State often takes pride in “not beating yourself” in games. It didn’t make any big mistakes against Houston. One penalty. One turnover.
Meanwhile, Houston was penalized six times for 60 yards.
This was a well-coached game for Klieman.