The opening script couldn't have been better written for the Kansas State Wildcats. On Missouri's first play from scrimmage, quarterback James Franklin threw an interception to K-State safety Ty Zimmerman. Six plays later, K-State was in the end zone and the 20th-ranked Wildcats were on their way to a 24-17 victory and a 5-0 record.
"The interception was big," K-State coach Bill Snyder said, "but the most significant thing was that were we going to get away with seven points or three points, and to get seven, it made a really significant difference in that ballgame."
Missouri made a run in the fourth quarter, but K-State's offense ran out the clock and a five-year losing streak to the Tigers was over. K-State, probably the most unlikely unbeaten team in college football, had continued its early season run.
"It felt really good to get the win because nobody on the team has beat Missouri before," junior receiver Chris Harper said. "A lot of the guys and coaches just wanted to get out there and get the win. You could just feel the intensity. It has been five years since we were able to beat them, and it was good to end that streak today."
Despite bringing a 2-2 record into the game, Missouri was the most talented team the Wildcats had faced this season and it took a strong all-around team effort to claim victory. Needless to say, the Wildcats excelled at following their Five Keys to Victory.
KEY 1: MAKE MIZZOU ONE DIMENSIONAL
In its previous two victories, K-State had limited the effectiveness of solid running games from Miami and Baylor. This challenge would be even greater.
Missouri came into the game averaging more than 250 yards per game on the ground, and running back Henry Josey was averaging more than 12 yards per carry. The Tigers ended the game with just 112 yards on the ground, and Josey picked up 55 yards on 12 carries (4.6 yards per carry).
Taking away MU's ground game made defending the pass much easier, and an offense that came into the game averaging more than 500 yards of offense picked up just over 300.
"Like I said last week, if you could think of any word to describe the defense it would be toughness," sophomore linebacker Tre Walker said. "We are tough, and we fight until the end. No matter what the outcome is, no matter what the sudden change is and no matter what is going on in the game, we are going to fight. Any time you do that, you give yourself a chance."
So much of K-State's success is starting up front. The front four is defending the run and pressuring quarterbacks.
"Having a defensive line is a big improvement," cornerback David Garrett said. "Every time you do a good job covering you see the quarterback running around, scrambling trying to make a play. The effort that our defensive line has given us on this team is great."
POSTGAME GRADE: B+
KEY 2: PLAY TO YOUR PERSONALITY
This is far from a flashy football team, but it knows what it wants to accomplish on offense and defense. The Wildcats did that extraordinarily well against Missouri.
"Right now, there are some things that I would take back; but by in large, I thought that our guys did really well," Snyder said. "We played well defensively and had a few 20-plus plays go against us, but we played well when we did not."
The offense held the ball for nearly 39 minutes of the game, keeping MU's potent offense on the sideline and the defense fresh. It was exactly what was laid out in the K-State gameplan.
POSTGAME GRADE: A+
KEY 3: WIN THIRD DOWN
K-State has been brilliant on third down this season while Missouri has struggled. It was vital for those trends to continue, and for the most part they did. K-State converted 7 of 18 third downs and Missouri just 4 of 13. That helped the Wildcat offense stay on the field, and meant the K-State defense was closing out MU possessions.
"They're big, particularly as well as our defense is playing," quarterback Collin Klein said of the third down conversions. "They add value to those stats, but at the end of the day, it's a team victory."
Defensive tackle Vai Lutui, who had one of K-State's six sacks of Franklin, said being on the field just 21 minutes of the game kept the defense strong.
"The offense keeps us fresh so we're ready to go in when we have to. We're really beginning to bond and become a family," Lutui said.
POSTGAME GRADE: A
KEY 4: DON'T LET SPECIAL TEAMS BEAT YOU
K-State has flirted with special teams disaster through the first third of the season, but Snyder said he was seeing signs of progress. The special teams came through for K-State in the game, helping the Wildcats win the field position contest throughout the day.
"It is a team game. The special teams played a huge impact in today's game as well. It really is a family affair," Klein said. "... They put their stamp out there. They've been solid for us, but I can't say that they haven't come to play in the previous games because they work really hard. They put a big stamp on this game."
POSTGAME GRADE: A
KEY 5: MAKE SOME MORE FOURTH-QUARTER MAGIC
K-State's defense had closed out victories in the fourth quarter the last two weeks, and this time it was the offense's turn. Missouri pulled to within one touchdown with 5:02 remaining, but Klein and the offense drove to the MU 13 to use up the remainder of the clock and seal the victory.
"We would have liked to take that command much earlier and not have left the door open at all," Klein said. "At the same time, that is something that we have not been able to do in the past. We are leaving a lot out on the table, which is good and bad. It is good in the sense that we are able to learn with wins, and we have a lot of room to learn and to keep going forward."
Klein is right, the Wildcats could have wrapped up the victory much earlier, but went through a mid-game offensive lull.
"The bad part is that we are still making some mistakes which is unacceptable and needs to be corrected," Klein added.
POSTGAME GRADE: B
FITZ'S PREDICTION: K-State 27, Missouri 24
THE FINAL SCORE: K-State 24, Missouri 17
OVERALL POSTGAME GRADE: A