Gold and Blue Nation

Kansas State is the top team in the Big 12 — and they’ve done it without the dazzle

Gold and Blue Nation

Kansas State football is sitting pretty at the top of the Big 12 Conference standings with a perfect 4-0 league record — and they’ve done it without a whole lot of flash.

The 16th-ranked Wildcats will travel to Morgantown after picking Kansas apart, 55-14 — but that might not be their most impressive victory to date. They started Big 12 play off with a 38-35 victory over Oklahoma after a 17-point swing in the fourth quarter gave the Wildcats the victory.

Chris Klieman’s squad does, however, have one disappointing loss that is likely keeping them out of the national top ten. Their season opener was a 35-31 loss at home to Arkansas State, which saw the Wildcats unable to stop an offensive explosion from their Sun Belt opponents.

The first place Wildcats are one of the least dazzling teams on the stats sheet. Their offense averages just 367.6 yards per game, while their defense allows 427.8 — both marks slotting in at no. 8 in the conference.

“If you look at them in a lot of offensive categories, their numbers don’t really blow you away,” said WVU coach Neal Brown ahead of his team’s clash with the Wildcats. “But then, you look at scoring offense, and it’s impressive. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”

K-State averages 35.2 points per game, the third-highest clip in the conference, and are beating teams by more than a touchdown every game.

Much of that has to do with their clean play on that side of the ball. Kansas State ranks second in the Big 12 in both offensive efficiency and turnover margin, having lost possession just twice so far this season while nabbing 10 in just four games — seven picks and three fumble recoveries.

These are some of the biggest things to watch out for this weekend:

The Double Deuce

If there’s anyone on the Wildcat roster that West Virginia needs to keep an eye on, it’s running back Deuce Vaughn. Standing 5-6 at 168 pounds, the freshman from Round Rock, Texas packs a punch with a smaller frame.

Vaughn leads K-State in both receiving and rushing, and has scored five total touchdowns this season to become their top threat with the ball in his hands — regardless of how he gets it.

“They’ve done a great job with him,” Brown said. “He is elusive, he’s an issue. We’re gonna have to ID him wherever he is on the field.”

He’s had 100+ yard games both through the air and on the ground, but most of his scoring has come through his four rushing touchdowns.

Howard’s in at QB — not Skylar

A decision that will likely make WVU fans verbally trip up all game, freshman Will Howard has been starting at quarterback for Kansas State after Skylar Thompson sustained an injury in the Wildcats’ win over Texas Tech. This will mark the third backup quarterback that West Virginia has faced since the beginning of conference play.

Howard brings a dual-threat aspect to the Wildcat offense. Right now, he’s the team’s third-leading rusher with 116 yards and a touchdown in three starts, including an 86-yard game against TCU.

That’s not to say he can’t throw, though.

“Will Howard has a real calm demeanor about him,” Brown said. “He’s a big kid, strong runner. He makes two or three difficult passes each game for explosive plays.”

While not the most prolific passer (he set his season-high passing total at 243 yards last week), he’s definitely capable. He has completed passes of at least 30 yards in all of his games, with a season-long 70-yard touchdown acting as the dagger in KSU’s win over Texas Tech.

A threat on special teams

Kansas State was not just lethal on offense against their in-state rivals, but on special teams as well. Phillip Brooks set a school record last week with 189 punt return yards against Kansas while adding a pair of touchdowns.

Brooks is only scary when teams get their punts off. K-State has blocked three punts so far this season, which leads the Big 12.

“The guys they put in that position to go block a punt, they take the fastest line between them and the punter,” Brown said.

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