The Kansas State Wildcats entered Saturday's match up with the Missouri Tigers undefeated, ranked and with 48,000 fans on their side, yet, oddsmakers favored those from Columbia. Did that bother the Wildcats? Not exactly.
"We've been underdogs since the beginning of the season," reigning Big 12 defensive player of the week Arthur Brown said. "It's not about anyone else but us as a team. We have to focus on our team and what we have control over." What the Wildcats had control over on Saturday was a steady ball-control offense and a defense that, once again, put clamps on a high-powered opponent. K-State climbed to an early lead, then held on late to beat Missouri 24-17.
Not one to be surprised by his squad's success, coach Bill Snyder said the results (5-0 record, No. 20 national ranking) simply come from improving every day. "We are still laying the foundation and trying to move forward, but (the success) does not surprise me. Young people do the right things and they do what they are supposed to do. We have some excellent coaches and if everyone is doing what they are supposed to, then we will keep getting better."
The win marked the first for any current Wildcat over Missouri (2-3, 0-2), and current K-Staters said the streak was one that provided further motivation.
"We had a big chip on our shoulder," running back John Hubert said. "We wanted to proved to Missouri that it's not easy in the Big 12, whether they go to the SEC or not."
The Wildcat defense limited the Tigers, who entered the game averaging 517 total offensive yards per game, to just 326 yards.
"This was a team that had 530-some odd yards against Oklahoma two weeks ago and they had plenty of rest time," Snyder said. "They are a talented offense and for our defense to hold them under 100 yards in the first half, that is pretty special."
Offensively, Hubert provided his best Darren Sproles impersonation, grinding for 126 yards and providing a highlight-worthy carry that saw the 5-foot-7, 185-pounder pirouette away from an oncoming defender and advance 21 yards down the field.
"When I looked back on the jumbotron," Hubert said, "I was like, â€˜Oh dang,' that was pretty nice."
Quarterback Collin Klein passed for 112 yards, rushed for 45 and three touchdowns, and also helped clinch a Wildcat victory with a first down pass to tight end Andre McDonald late in the game. The Wildcats faced a third-and-three situation while trying to run out the clock on their final drive. Klein rolled from the pocket and hit a running McDonald who brought the pass in with one hand.
"That was the Pat Roberts play," Snyder joked after the game, referring to the K-State alumnus and United States senator from Kansas. "Pat likes to throw to the tight end, so he called that one and he reminded me of that a little bit ago."
The Wildcats (5-0, 2-0) seized control early, with safety Ty Zimmerman picking off a James Franklin pass on the game's first play from scrimmage.
"I think that interception is basically what gave the team motivation," Hubert said. "That was crunk. We always want to start off fast, like coach says, and we came out fast and fired up."
With the ball on the Missouri 21-yard-line, K-State utilized the running game to push the ball into the end zone. Klein capped the six-play drive with a two-yard carry to put the Wildcats ahead 7-0. K-State would never trail, though Missouri cut things close thanks to two quick-strike scores in the fourth quarter.
"We had a few 20-plus plays go against us," Snyder said," but we played well when we did not."
The Wildcat defense kept Franklin uncomfortable early. After picking off his pass on the first play of the game, the Wildcats sacked Franklin and forced a three-and-out on the Tigers' second drive and followed with another three-and-out on the third.
"We've got some fighters," linebacker Tre Walker said of the defense. "We've got some boys that don't give up."
K-State kept Missouri from totaling a single offensive yard in the first quarter. The second quarter, however, was a different story, thanks in part to the Big 12's leading rusher Henry Josey. Josey did not garner one carry in the first quarter, but took off as soon as he touched the ball in the second.
Josey's first carry went for 22 yards. He went for seven yards one play later, and for seven more after that. With Josey's spark, the Tigers moved the football effectively for the first time, advancing 58 yards in 12 plays. They cut the Wildcat lead to seven points when Grant Ressel connected on a field goal from 32 yards.
The Tigers found more offensive success in the second quarter, but could not capitalize in Wildcat territory. Missouri advanced to the Wildcat 25 at the end of the first half before Ressel came up wide on a 43-yard field goal. Ressel missed the mark again on the Tigers' first possession of the third quarter, this time from 36-yards away.
"We have been inconsistent where we have gone," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We threw that pick right away. â€¦ Later on in the second half, we had a turnover. We missed a field goal. It is just a lot of things happening in the game; if you want to be good, you have to be better."
Meanwhile, K-State pushed its lead to 21 points, 24-3, in the third quarter.
"We feel like we can play with everybody," wide receiver Chris Harper said. "We feel like we can go out there and beat anybody. If we keep working like we do, who's to tell us that we can't?"
Missouri, the subject of recent debate as the school considers its conference future, was serenaded with a chorus of "Big-12-foot-ball" chants from the K-State student section as the game wound to a close.