Kansas State head coach Ron Prince hoped a matchup with No. 8 Louisville Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium would tell him just where his team stands four games into the 2006 season. Prince got his answer, but it wasn't the one he was hoping for. The Cardinals had little trouble moving to 4-0 on the season, knocking off Prince's previously undefeated Wildcats 24-6 despite turning the ball over on three straight possessions in the second half.
The Wildcat defense played well against quite possibly the nation's best offensive attack, but long touchdown drives at the start of both halves were too much for a struggling K-State offense to overcome.
The Cardinals wasted no time in showing just why they're regarded as one of college football's elite teams by driving 97 yards on 12 plays on the game's opening drive. Louisville kickoff returner Harry Douglas made a mistake by brining K-State's kickoff out of the end zone tentatively – he was tackled at the 3-yard line – but it was Douglass who eventually scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Cantwell with 8:26 still left in the first quarter to make it 7-0.
A big K-State mistake led to the Cardinals' second score, a 25-yard field goal from Arthur Carmody that made it 10-0 with just more than four minutes left in the first half. The Wildcats attempted a reverse pass with Cedric Wilson throwing to Jordy Nelson, but the ball was underthrown badly and picked off by Jon Russell, who returned it 53-yards to K-State's 15-yard line, setting up the short field goal by Carmody.
The Wildcats were able to stifle the Cardinals' offense throughout the rest of the first half, but Louisville reached the end zone on its first drive of the third quarter after forcing K-State to go three-and-out. The key play of the drive was a 22-yard run by fullback Brock Bolen on a 3rd-and-1, which was followed up by a 19-yard completion from Cantwell to tailback Kolby Smith. Those two plays set up a 1-yard touchdown run by George Stripling to make it 17-0 in favor of Louisville with more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Louisville lost fumbles on each of its next two possessions, but K-State's offense couldn't take advantage, as the Wildcats didn't gain a single yard after either turnover. The Cardinals then drove inside K-State's 20-yard line and appeared ready to put the game away, but Marcus Watts picked off Cantwell and returned the interception 58 yards all the way to Louisville's 19-yard line.
True freshman Josh Freeman came in to replace a struggling Meier, but K-State again went three-and-out, losing a total of four yards on the drive, including a sack of Freeman on third down. Jeff Snodgrass's field goal attempt was then blocked, keeping the score at 17-0.
The blocked kick set up Louisville at the 46-yard line, and it took the Cardinals just three plays and less than a minute to cover the 54 yards needed to take a 24-0 lead on a 17-yard touchdown run by Bolen.
K-State did finally get on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter on a 69-yard touchdown run by Thomas Clayton to make it 24-6, but the Wildcats' two-point conversion attempt on a run by Freeman was stopped short. The Wildcats could never get any closer, falling by that margin to drop to 3-1.
The Cardinals outgained K-State 401 to 247 yards in total offense and did most of its damage on the ground, where they amassed 228 rushing yards. K-State got a solid effort out of Clayton, who ran 15 times for 119 yards, but uneven play from Meier and Freeman. K-State's quarterbacks completed just 17-of-43 throws for 139 yards and an interception.
The Wildcats will try to bounce back in their Big 12 Conference opener when they travel to Baylor next Saturday.