"We didn’t get the job done. That’s on me," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "I’ve got to do something different. I want to be in the conversation for the Big 12 championship … and we’re coming up a bit short."
WVU turned the ball over four times against the Wildcats and also failed to convert on a fourth-down conversion early on in the fourth quarter in a two-possession game. The Mountaineers have 26 turnovers on the season, the third-most in the country.
While Kansas State only scored six points off those WVU turnovers, those mistakes by the Mountaineers cost them opportunities to score in key positions. WVU was en route to score points on at least two of those drives that ended in turnovers.
"The story of the game – if you turn the ball over four times against Kansas State, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to beat Kansas State that way," Holgorsen said.
WVU still had an opportunity to win the game. An onside kick with 52 seconds left was unsuccessful, however, and KSU was able to run out the clock.
"We played and fought to the end," said senior receiver Mario Alford.
Kansas State was unable to run the ball on Thursday and actually finished the game with one yard on the ground, but it did its damage through the air. Quarterback Jake Waters finished with 400 yards and one touchdown.
The star of the game was KSU receiver Tyler Lockett, who finished with 10 catches for 196 yards and frustrated the WVU secondary time and time again. He had a crucial punt return touchdown late in the first half to break open a mistake-filled first half.
"We knew they had a great wideout, and we couldn't guard him," said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who lost his top two cornerbacks to injuries during the game. "We were out of men ... He's the best player we've played all year ... and it's not even close."
WVU quarterback Clint Trickett did have as strong of a night in his final home game as a Mountaineer. He struggled again before having to leave the game with a concussion in the third quarter. He threw two interceptions and was just 12-of-25 for 112 yards before the injury.
Sophomore Skyler Howard would come into the game as Trickett’s replacement, and in his first significant playing time of his career was far better than expected. He finished 15-of-23 for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
"I go through the same practices as Clint goes through and throw to the same guys. I was just putting the ball in play," Howard said. "The only thing going through my head right now is about the seniors. I love those guys. I grind with those guys ... I feel bad that I didn't pull it out."
Senior receiver Kevin White had seven catches for 63 yards and one touchdown.
In total, WVU was only able to manage 433 total yards of offense. The run game, while successful at times, didn’t manage a 100-yard rusher. Rushel Shell and Dreamius Smith combined for 95 yards on the ground.
Kansas State took the lead on its first possession. Waters scrambled out of the pocket inside his 10-yard line and found running back Demarcus Robinson in the corner of the end zone for the seven-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
After traveling down the length of the field and moving inside the Kansas State 5-yard line on WVU’s possession, running back Wendell Smallwood fumbled a handoff that was recovered by the Wildcats to end the scoring opportunity. The West Virginia defense was able to come up with a three-and-out to prevent any points off the turnover.
Kansas State would take a 10-0 lead on a 36-yard field goal but could’ve had more if not for a 13-yard loss on a fumble that the Wildcats recovered.
The Mountaineers scored their first points with 8:10 left in the first half off a 47-yard field goal from kicker Josh Lambert. That capped a nice drive, where Trickett was able to find his receivers fairly easily underneath the two-deep safety coverage by KSU.
WVU made a game-changing play on the kickoff, as Lockett fumbled on the kickoff return, which was recovered by Dayron Wilson. The fumble was forced by Justin Arndt. That set the Mountaineers up at the 22-yard line of the Wildcats.
It looked like WVU would score its first touchdown of the game, but a one-of-a-kind tip drill was overturned. Trickett’s pass intended for Jordan Thompson tipped off of his hands and hit KSU safety Dante Barnett, who fell with the ball but didn’t let it touch the ground, which tipped back up into the air and into White’s hands who took it into the end zone. After the review, however, the referees ruled that the ball hit the ground. Lambert would miss a 40-yard field goal attempt.
Another Kansas State mistake – this time a personal foul penalty – ended another promising scoring drive late in the first half. The Wildcats would get the ball back after another pitiful offensive possession by the West Virginia offense, and Lockett would redeem himself from his earlier fumble on a 43-yard punt return touchdown. That gave the Wildcats a 17-3 lead.
The Mountaineers weren’t finished making first-half mistakes, though, as Trickett threw an interception with less than 20 seconds to go in the first half to set Kansas State up at the WVU 24-yard line. The Wildcats’ short field goal attempt would be blocked on the final play of the first half, though, giving the Mountaineers a small bit of hope heading into the second half.
Another promising West Virginia drive, this one the first of the second half, ended in a second consecutive interception by Trickett. He was off on his pass down the middle of the field and threw it into the diving arms of Barnett at the KSU 12-yard line. The Wildcats would take on a 44-yard field goal to make it 20-3.
After Trickett’s second interception, he headed to the locker room for evaluation after an injury, and that gave Howard an opportunity to play as Trickett would not return.
Howard came up huge in his first drive, leading the Mountaineers to their first touchdown of the game. He hit White for a seven-yard touchdown reception to make it 20-10 midway through the third quarter.
After a three-and-out by the defense to set West Virginia up with a chance to make it a one-possession game, punt returner Vernon Davis Jr. let the ball hit him, and Kansas State was able to recover inside the red zone. Yet another missed opportunity for the Mountaineers. Kansas State would be held to a field goal to make it 23-10.
Howard would throw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-seven at the KSU 26-yard line that would give the Wildcats the ball back and an opportunity to seal the victory despite a late WVU push. However, the Wildcats missed their second field goal of the game.
Howard led a touchdown drive after that, scoring a 53-yard pass to Alford to make it 23-17.
Kansas State added a field goal on its next drive, and WVU matched that. The unsuccessful onside kick would give the Wildcats the victory.