The No. 7 Kansas State Wildcats have made a bad habit of playing down to the level of their competition so far this season. Dominant second halves, though, are quickly becoming a much brighter trend.
After a mistake-plagued first half left K-State with just a 21-14 halftime lead over instate rival Kansas, the Wildcats overwhelmed the Jayhawks in the final two quarters to retain the Governor's Cup in the 110th edition of the Sunflower Showdown.
"We played better in the second half," head coach Bill Snyder said. "We reacted faster and had more pressure in the second half. We got some sacks and 8 or 9 tackles for loss, which forced some errant throws.
"Obviously, that indicates we did a little better with our pass rush."
The Wildcat defense got off to a very slow start, allowing 263 first half yards and scoring drives of 12 and 15 plays, respectively. A 19-yard pass from KU quarterback Dayne Crist to Tony Pierson gave the Jayhawks an early 7-0 lead, and a 1-yard plunge from James Sims put KU ahead 14-7 early in the second quarter.
"We made some adjustments with running to the ball and making sure we tackled better," safety Ty Zimmerman said. "We definitely didn't come out of the gate how we wanted to."
After a slow start of its own, the Wildcat offense started to manufacture some big plays to counter the long, backbreaking KU drives.
John Hubert scored from 20 yards out with 4:37 left in the first quarter to open the scoring for K-State, and Tyler Lockett added a 34-yard touchdown reception from Klein after the Jayhawks took their 14-7 lead.
"We had some things we needed to correct early on," Klein said. "We had some errors. We knew they would come out fighting. Give credit to their preparation."
The strike to Lockett was an example of many shifts in momentum in the first half.
"The momentum was crazy, but what Coach Snyder always talks about is responding to adversity," Lockett said. "You have to be able to adjust when things don't go the way they're supposed to go."
K-State went to halftime with a 21-14 lead after a 1-yard Klein TD run with 9:35 remaining in the half. The second quarter ended with the Wildcats on KU's 1-yard line as Klein failed to get out of bounds on a running play before time expired.
"In the first half we had 8 minutes of possession time," Klein said. "I don't know our play count but it wasn't high at all. Each game has its own identity."
Snyder, predictably, was not pleased with the first 30 minutes of the contest.
"I'm equally as angry about how we played early in the ballgame," he said. "Kansas did a nice job of moving the ball and keeping us off the field. We did a miserable job to start the ball game on offense. I wasn't too excited about that."
Then, similar to two other K-State victories this season, everything changed.
A touchdown pass from Klein to tight end Travis Tannehill put KSU ahead 28-14. KU added a safety when Hubert was tackled in the end zone, but the momentum wouldn't last long.
Hubert scored two touchdowns in the next three minutes, sandwiched around one of Crist's three interceptions on the day. As the K-State defense began to stop the dynamic KU attack, K-State's offense executed nearly flawlessly, and the rout was on.
"I was proud of how we responded from some of those miscues in the first half," Klein said. "We just settled down. Every game is just different. I was proud of the whole team for playing better in the second half."
Klein finished the day 7 of 14 passing for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns while rushing for 116 yards and two more scores, including a 28-yard scamper late in the third that put the Wildcats ahead 49-16.
Hubert had one of his most efficient days as a Wildcat, rushing for 103 yards on 10 carries and a career-high 4 scores. He moved to 14th on the K-State all-time rushing list with 1,525.
Crist completed 16 of his 27 passes for 189 yards.
Perhaps even more impressive was what the K-State defense managed to do after halftime, forcing four turnovers that gave Klein's offense more than enough short fields. KU had a streak a seven straight possessions, most of them in the third quarter, that ended in either a punt or turnover.
"Coach (Charlie) Weis is a great offensive coach," linebacker Tre Walker said. "The biggest message at halftime was Goal No. 10, 'Never give up.' We didn't put our heads down. The mood was bright. We just new we needed to settle some techniques."
The victory marked K-State's third straight blowout over Kansas and confirmed the Governor's Cup will remain in Vanier Football Complex for another year.
"The second half of the game brought some understanding into our mentality and focus," Snyder said. "It comes down to how you respond. We responded well in the second half, now we have to see how we respond collectively to all the issues that we have in preparation of next week."
The undefeated Wildcats now set their sights on Iowa State, who they play next Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. with FX carrying a national broadcast.