MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Somebody asked the best college quarterback in America if he’s the best college quarterback in America. He responded with the look that an 8-year-old boy gets when you ask him about girls.
Best college quarterback in America? Ewwww.
“That’s not something I can control,” Collin Klein said.
Which is a funny answer, in a way, because Collin Klein controlled absolutely everything in his power on Saturday night. The Kansas State quarterback completed 19 of 21 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 51 yards and four more TDs, made the West Virginia defense look like a Pop Warner team and led a 55-14 rout that, weird as this might sound, was not even that close.
“We were able to score when we got the ball,” Klein said. “We were able to make some big stops.”
Klein also controls the press conference. He is a masters-level student of the “Bull Durham” Book of Clichés.
You might have thought the best college quarterback in America was in the other locker room. As recently as two weeks ago, pretty much everybody thought Geno Smith had taken the Heisman and run off with it. But Texas Tech held him to 275 yards and a touchdown pass in a 49-14 loss in Lubbock. And Kansas State froze him even harder: 143 yards passing, one touchdown and his first two interceptions of the year. (He broke an NCAA record by going 273 passes without a pick to start the season.) The first interception came on the
Mountaineers’ first play of the second half; Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown grabbed it at the West Virginia 24. K-State scored two plays later. It was 38-7, and for a lot of fans, time to go home early.
(Most had stuck around for the halftime fireworks show, which might have been scheduled, or might have been West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen’s head exploding.)
So enough about the guy who is not the best college quarterback in America. Let’s go back to the one who is.
Klein is an impressionist -- not the Monet kind, the Darrell Hammond kind. He does the Peyton Manning jitterbug down the line when he’s changing the play. He does the Tim Tebow bull sweep running around the end. He has the Scooby sense of Cam Newton around the goal line. (The distance in yards of his touchdown runs on Saturday: 1, 8, 1, 1.)
In this game, though, he showed an arm that we hadn’t seen before. Klein has a funky release -- he sort of shot-puts it down the field sometimes -- but on Saturday, he let go. His first TD pass, a gorgeous 10-yarder to Tyler Lockett in the back right corner of the end zone, was a Sunday kind of throw.
It should be said, in the interest of accuracy, that West Virginia is attempting the bold feat of playing the season without a defense. The Mountaineers have given up 63, 45, 49 and 55 points in their last four games. They put players on the field, and I’m sure their mamas love them, who don’t seem to be able to do fairly fundamental things like tackle or cover.
One two-play sequence sums it up. Play 1: Klein overthrew Lockett, who was wide open on a deep route down the right sideline. Play 2: Kansas State ran what looked like the exact same play, and this time Klein hit Lockett for a 44-yard completion.
When was the last time you saw the same bomb on back-to-back plays?
Klein explained later that it wasn’t exactly the same play; the second time, Lockett was coming out of the slot instead of wide, and he was working on the safety instead of the cornerback. He was too polite to add that it wouldn’t have mattered.
So factor that in when you consider Klein for the Heisman (He’s averaging only 200 passing yards per game but has completed 70 percent of his throws and has a 10/2 TD-to-interception ratio). Factor in Matt Barkley at USC, and Braxton Miller at Ohio State, and all the speedsters at Oregon (we’re trying to get their names, but they won’t stand still). But also factor in this: The 7-0 Wildcats beat Oklahoma on the road. They beat Iowa State on the road. Now they’ve beaten West Virginia on the road. Throw in a rout of Miami at home, and you have a body of work that some folks think is the best in the nation.
“He was good. He played like Collin,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said, and if you’ve listened to Snyder over the years, you know that’s the equivalent of a swoon.
(Snyder also said: “I’m pleased with the way our youngsters approached the ball game.” Youngsters.)
At the end, the only full part of Milan Puskar Stadium was section 101, where the Kansas State fans were delirious. The team shook hands with the West Virginia players, gathered briefly on the field, then jogged over toward section 101. The fans reached down for high-fives and the players reached up, coming by in a line, and in the middle was a guy a little taller than most, with a purple mouthpiece stuck in his face mask and just the slightest smile on his face.
And the fans reached down to touch the best college quarterback in America.