Kansas State prefers to kill its victims slowly — run, punt, eat up clock — by the fourth quarter, you’ve either bled to death or combusted out of sheer frustration. West Virginia strikes quickly, surgically, a swarm of piranhas in cleats.
In one corner, an offense plucked straight out of a video game, instant gratification, basketball on grass, short-attention-span theater. In the other, a monster truck built on power and patience, Woody-Hayes ball for the iPod generation, old-school verities preached from a new-school pulpit.
In one corner, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen, The Mad Scientist, 41-years-old. In the other, Wildcats coach Bill Snyder, The Jedi Master, 73 years young.
In one corner, the No. 4 team in the Bowl Championship Series standings, road-tested, leather tough, and unbeaten in six tries. In the other, we’ve got No. 13, wounded and cheesed off after a bruising Texas junket, now backed up by 60,000 their closest friends.
We having fun yet?
“That’s the game,”said K-State receiver Chris Harper of his Wildcats’ prime-time dance with West Virginia Saturday night in Morgantown (6:30 p.m. ET FOX). “Yeah, I definitely think you’d want to see it. If you’re a football fan, this is the game you want to watch. I think it has everything you want in football.”
You want stakes? The winner gets pole position for the Big 12 conference title race the rest of the way.
You want stars? It’s basically a Heisman Trophy elimination game for either West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith or K-State signal-caller Collin Klein.
You want style? Short of Alabama drawing Oregon, it’s damn near the most fascinating study in contrasts you’ll find among the BCS elite.
The Wildcats (6-0) rank among the top 20 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in terms of rushing offense (11th), scoring offense (15th), rushing defense (15th), scoring defense (19th), turnover margin (seventh), passing efficiency (16th) and fewest sacks allowed (eighth). The Mountaineers (5-1) sit among the top 20 in passing offense (third), total offense (sixth), scoring offense (seventh), turnover margin (14th) and passing efficiency (second).
“This is the Big 12,” K-State linebacker Tre Walker offered. “We’ve got a lot of teams, great teams, (and) everybody does something a little different. I think that’s the great thing about our conference.
“The ability as a defense to adjust to those things, just mentally and physically, (is the key). One week, you’ll come out and play a team that runs ‘Power’ 100 times per game, (or one that) comes out like West Virginia. But if we can adjust and handle that adversity, we’ll be just fine.”
In conference play, the high-powered Mountaineers have notched 18 plays that netted 20 yards or more — or six per game. The Wildcats have given up just six, total, over three contests.
“Remind me to send somebody out there to kidnap the quarterback, and three or four of those wide receivers as well,” Snyder chuckled after his team escaped with a 27-21 win at Iowa State. “They’re all pretty dog-gone good.”
If you’re K-State, the best defense against Smith — whose preposterous touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 25-to-none, despite a 49-14 thumping at the hands of Texas Tech — is keeping him on the sidelines, wearing a ballcap, bored out of his skull. The hope is to keep him looking up at the scoreboard while Klein converts methodical first down after methodical first down.
Of K-State’s 11 drives against a salty Cyclones defense last weekend, four took 4 minutes or more off the clock. At Oklahoma, where the Wildcats won for the first time since 1997, it was five drives out of 10.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s offense, or if it’s defense or it’s special teams, their whole program is built around being tough,” Holgorsen allowed. “Our job defensively is to get out there and stop the run, try to create turnovers and get off the field.”
After surrendering 676 yards to the Red Raiders and 700 to Baylor on September 29, the Mountaineers’ defense wants to try and force brain-cramps out of offense that doesn’t make many. Once Klein gets on the field, the guy has a tendency to stick around a while: The 6-foot-5 Colorado native has personally accounted for 70.5 percent (31 of 44) of K-State’s first-down conversions on the road, either running or passing. It’s the major reason why, despite relatively modest numbers compared to Smith (1,074 passing yards, 510 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns), the kid’s remained in the Heisman picture. No disrespect to Wildcat tailback John Hubert, a Tasmanian devil with the rock in his hand, but Klein doesn’t just run the K-State offense — he is the offense.
“You have a tough, hard-nosed defense, then you’ve got the quarterbacks — both types of quarterbacks,” Harper continued. “You want the dual-threat? Or do you want the guy that sits back and passes? I think it’s definitely going to have every aspect of football that you would want to see.”
There aren’t many tilts that Harper would pay to watch, let alone play. But Saturday? Saturday, my friend, is one of them.