K-State beats West Virginia, 48-31: Three takeaways

The Kansas State Wildcats are one victory away from the Big 12 championship game.

The Wildcats used a big first half to take control, then shut West Virginia down in a low-scoring second half to beat the Mountaineers, 48-31, on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia.

With the victory, K-State moved to 8-3 overall, 6-2 in the Big 12. West Virginia fell to 4-7 and 2-6.

The Wildcats now are alone in second place in the league with a home game at 7 p.m. next Saturday against Kansas remaining. TCU has clinched first place.

Here are three takeaways from the Wildcats’ fourth Big 12 road victory.

Will Howard keeps offense rolling

With Adrian Martinez again out with an injury, Will Howard kept the hot hand at quarterback for Kansas State, leading the Wildcats to five first-half touchdowns. The lone blemish was an interception by West Virginia’s Malachi Ruffin for a Mountaineer touchdown in first quarter.

Howard had plenty of help as the Wildcats finished with 437 yards total offense.

Howard completed 19 of 27 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns — a 15-yarder to Ben Sinnott in the first quarter and a 43-yarder to Malik Knowles in the fourth. Knowles caught six passes for 111 yards and Sinnott three for 85.

K-State also had 143 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. DJ Giddens ran for 78 yards on 12 carries with a 49-yard score and Deuce Vaughn had 67 yards on 22 attempts with a 15-yard TD. Howard scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.

What can’t Ty Zentner do

Since Ty Zentner took over place-kicking duties for Chris Tennant, Kansas State had played it conservatively, not letting him try a field goal of longer than 31 yards. Zentner rewarded

That changed against West Virginia, when Zentner tried his luck from 46 yards in the second quarter and drilled it with 1:46 left in the half to put K-State up 38-25. After a short West Virginia punt, Zentner got another shot, this time from 53 yards with one second left before intermission and the Wildcats led 41-25 at the break.

Zentner remained solid in his other duties as well, primarily on kickoffs. He did not punt until the second half, and it went for 56 yards.

West Virginia kicker Casey Legg, by contrast, missed both of his extra points and a field goal.

K-State defense comes back to life

After giving up 241 yards and three touchdowns in the first half — another scored on an interception — Kansas State’s defense stiffened after intermission, shutting West Virginia out in the third quarter.

West Virginia drove 49 yards in 16 plays to start the second half but had nothing to show for it when Casey Legg’s 44-yard field goal fell short. The Wildcats then forced a punt, and on West Virginia’s third possession of the half, Julius Brents intercepted Garrett Greene at the Mountaineer 40.

The pick, K-State’s second of the game, set up a Wildcat scoring drive, culminating in a 43-yard Will Howard-to-Malik Knowles pass play.

In the first half, Cincere Mason gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Junior defensive end Brendan Mott also had a huge game with a career-high three sacks and eight tackles.

Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at agreen@gannett.com or on Twitter at @arnegreen.

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