Manhattan, Kan., is often referred to as "The Little Apple." Rarely is it called "The Twilight Zone." Nevertheless, the home of the Kansas State Wildcats may have earned such nicknames for one evening. Just a week after losing to the Texas Tech Red Raiders by 52 points, the Wildcats seized control early against the Texas A&M Aggies and didn't stop for the first 36 minutes of the game, running to a 62-14 victory.
"I think it was a meaningful win, quite obviously, after last week's loss," Coach Bill Snyder said. "We did play better. I thought our youngsters played as well in the first half as they have all year."
The week-to-week comparison of the Wildcats' games could not have contained more contrast if match up against the Aggies had involved actual wildcats, farmers, and zebras on the field. Against the Red Raiders, the Wildcats scored just one offensive touchdown; against the Aggies, running back Daniel Thomas quadrupled that total by himself.
"We know that we're a better team than we were last week," Thomas said. "We didn't want to let the fans down or anybody else."
Against Texas Tech, the Wildcats scored just 14 points, all of which came in the second half; against Texas A&M, the Wildcats allowed just 14 points, all of which came in the second half."
"I can tell you we got our butt kicked every which way tonight," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "There is no question about that."
Against Tech, the Wildcats allowed a quarterback making his first career start to pass for 490 yards; against A&M, the Wildcats forced a quarterback who entered the game having not thrown an interception all season to throw three interceptions, and sacked him six times.
"You go into every with the expectation that you will play as well as you are capable of," Snyder said. "Do I predict those things? Of course not. I'd be doing something in Las Vegas if I could do that."
Against Texas Tech, the Wildcats allowed 38 first-half points; against Texas A&M, they scored 38 first-half points of their own.
"We wanted to see what kind of character we had to respond after last week," quarterback Grant Gregory said. "After getting totally annihilated; everything bad happened; what kind of team are you? Are you going to lay down or are you going to come back and answer it?"
The Wildcat offense, a unit that gained just 284 yards last week and saw Gregory pulled as a result of ineffective play, was a force the Aggies could not handle. The Wildcats rushed for 232, passed for 192, and controlled the football for over 37 minutes of game time. Gregory was pulled again, but this time to give backup Carson Coffman reps in a lopsided game.
"I don't think we could have done much better," Thomas said. "You saw it. We did everything from offense to defense to special teams."
While the Wildcat offense put points on the board, the Wildcat defense was busy taking yards away from the Aggies. The same team that allowed 739 yards against the Red Raiders limited the Aggies to just 301 yards, including, 13 on the ground. Texas A&M did not put points on the board until midway through the third quarter.
"After last week's game, we had a lot to prove," cornerback Josh Moore said. "(Texas Tech) put up a lot of points against us, passing and rushing. I feel this week that we went out to practice and it showed up in the game. We went out their with a chip on our shoulder."
Moore finished with four tackles, three pass breakups, and an interception. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Jeffrey Fitzgerald tallied five tackles and led the Wildcats with 2.5 sacks.
"I feel that we had to come out this week and prove something," Moore said.
While the 48-point win looks great on a score sheet and the stats in the Wildcats' box score were exponentially better than just a week ago, Snyder was not willing to say the team could not have played better.
"You can always play better," Snyder said. "Every play isn't perfect. If it was, you'd score every snap."
Looking to ascend from the depths of the previous Saturday's drubbing, the Wildcats struck quickly. Kansas State forced and recovered a Texas A&M fumble on the Aggies' second play from scrimmage. Just four plays later, Thomas slipped through the middle of the Texas A&M defense for a seven-yard touchdown. Thanks to Thomas' score, the Wildcats had an offensive touchdown, and a 7-0 lead, just two minutes into the game. The Wildcat offense went scoreless for 52 minutes before finding the end zone in Lubbock a week earlier.
"It was very important for us (to score early)," Thomas said. "Last week was a difficult game for us. We didn't want to come out this week and get embarrassed."
A Josh Cherry field goal gave the Wildcats a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter and K-State pushed their lead to 17 before the end of the quarter thanks to another touchdown run by Thomas.
Thomas finished with a game-high 91 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
The Wildcats continued to build their lead in the second quarter. After a false start penalty pushed them back five yards, a 46-yard pass play from Gregory to tight end Jeron Mastrud sparked a 72-yard scoring drive. Thomas' third trip to the end zone of the half gave K-State a 24-0 lead.
After a week in which it seemed nothing could go right, it seemed that the Wildcats could do no wrong in Saturday's game. Even a bobbled snap could not prevent an attempted fourth-down conversion, as Gregory scooped the ball up and still gained two yards when just one was needed. Just three plays later, Thomas scored his fourth touchdown of the game.
If anyone expected the Wildcats to slow down in the second half, Brandon Banks quickly put an end to such ideas. Banks fielded the half's opening kickoff at the three-yard-line and didn't quit running until he was 97 yards down the field. The now 45-point lead lasted for 56 game-seconds before Valentine carried for a nine-yard touchdown after Moore's interception.
Valentine scored again minutes later, giving the Wildcats a 59-0 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
With the Wildcats having experienced the lowest of valleys and the highest of peaks over the past two Saturdays, Kansas State's next action will come Saturday against the Colorado Buffaloes. Kickoff is set for 11:30 a.m.
"We handled adversity well," Gregory said. "Now we have to see if we can handle prosperity."