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October 31, 2012
Efficiency powering Klein toward elite group
He didn't make it Tuesday to talk about the upcoming test against Oklahoma State. Collin Klein couldn't make it happen due to a scheduling conflict. That's OK. The questions are becoming the same. Only the opponents change. But the inquiries about Klein's throwing ability are no more. In the past two whirlwind weeks, the Kansas State senior quarterback emphatically silenced skeptics while helping to light-up scoreboards in record fashion.
"They call him 'Optimus Klein' and he's out there playing like a robot right now," K-State senior wide receiver Chris Harper said. "He's out there throwing the ball, and running, and doing whatever it is he wants to do. You might see him kick it one time."
No, Klein definitely won't kick it. In fact, these days for the third-ranked Wildcats, who this week slid into a highest-ever No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings, kicking is becoming a rarity. Unless it's on extra-point attempts and kickoffs.
"Especially these last couple games, kicking off 10 times, I kickoff more times than I do during an entire week of practice," said senior Anthony Cantele, who has 66 kickoffs, and in making 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and connecting on all 46 extra-point attempts, remains the only kicker in the Big 12 to miss only one total kick this season.
"It's definitely exhausting, but it's fun," Cantele said. "They're looking like the best (offense) in the nation."
The numbers would be astounding against any pair of opponents. Just so happens that K-State, 8-0 and off to its best start since 1999, made a pair of Top-25 teams appear mightily pedestrian while posting its most combined points ever for back-to-back contests against ranked opponents.
Seven touchdowns and two field goals during 10 possessions in a 55-14 win at No. 17 West Virginia. Seven touchdowns and two field goals in 11 possessions in a 55-24 win over No. 15 Texas Tech.
Caught in the maw of the machine, of course, is the 6-foot-5, 226-pounder, grinding and waiting and darting and celebrating, reading and checking and throwing and scoring. In the midst of his second full season as the starting quarterback, it just so happens that Klein, 19-4 as a starter, is also in the middle of authoring one of the greatest quarterback stories in K-State history.
He completed 19 of 21 passes for a career-high 323 yards and three touchdowns, and gained 46 yards on 12 carries with four touchdowns on the ground to silence Morgantown. He went 19-of-26 for 233 yards and two touchdowns, and added 83 yards on 12 carries with touchdown runs of 16 and 22 yards against the Red Raiders.
That's 11 touchdowns in eight quarters against two ranked opponents. That's more than Chad May, Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley and Ell Roberson ever amassed during a two-game stretch during their respective decorated careers as the Wildcats signal-caller.
"It's the same things I've always said," K-State head coach Bill Snyder repeated during his Tuesday weekly news conference. "Whatever it is that he has or hasn't done in the last eight quarters, whatever I say right now, I would've said 10 or 12 quarters ago, or whatever the case might be. I don't think there's anything that I can tell you that the last two ballgames have been more dynamic than anything else other than the fact there are little increments of improvement in all of those areas, and he continues to do that."
Little increments of improvement.
Eleven touchdowns in eight quarters. Touchdown passes of 10, 21, 20, 21 and 7 yards. Scoring runs of 1, 8, 1, 1, 16 and 22 yards.
"If a wide receiver has 11 touchdowns that's a pretty good season," sophomore center B.J. Finney said. "To have 11 touchdowns in two games, that's doing pretty well."
That's 11 touchdowns in 47 passing attempts and 24 carries, or one touchdown, on average, every 6.5 times Klein doesn't handoff the football.
Put into such perspective, Snyder paused.
"I guess that's pretty good," he said.
Klein's counterparts weren't so hot. Geno Smith this week ranks third nationally in averaging 345.3 passing yards per game. Seth Doege ranks seventh with 317.5. They combined for two plays of 20-plus yards. Smith's longest gain went for 13 yards. Do the math.
Klein, who ranks 70th in averaging 203.8 passing yards, was a part of 12 plays that gained at least 20 yards, including 11 passes with three scoring strikes of 21, 21 and 20 yards.
Klein also remains the only quarterback not to throw an interception during the Big 12 season.
"Collin goes out Saturdays and knows what to expect from defenses," sophomore wide receiver Curry Sexton said. "He knows what's going to happen before anybody else does."
At a time when K-State ranks fifth in scoring offense (44.9 points), 17th in rushing yards (228.8), fifth in turnover margin (plus-1.88), 24th in time of possession (31 minutes, 49 seconds) and second in fewest penalties (3.63) -- hallmarks of what most brand the gritty, hard-nosed toughness that can drive opponents batty -- Klein is also serving up an explosive zip that's difficult for opposing defenses to digest.
K-State's five games of 50-plus points ranks second nationally only behind Louisiana Tech's six 50-point performances. The Wildcats are one 50-point outing away from trying the 1998 squad for the most 50-point games in school history.
"(Bishop) could run and I think Collin is more efficient throwing the ball than Bishop was and that gives us an extra dimension," Harper said. "He had a strong arm, but Collin's completion percentage is higher and that gives us a little boost there.
"We can definitely score points."
Klein ranks No. 2 in passing efficiency at 175.47 and trails only Alabama's A.J. McCarron at 182.40. At his current rate, Klein would own the highest passer rating of any senior quarterback in Big 12 history (Graham Harrell had a 160.0 rating in 2008) and is on pace to shatter Bishop's single-season school record of 159.6 in 1998.
Additionally, Klein's current 63.4 completion percentage remains on pace to eclipse Josh Freeman's all-time mark of 59.4 among the top 10 career leaders in passing attempts in K-State history.
"He doesn't do anything wrong," West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He doesn't make mistakes. He is the same guy we saw on film. He is exactly the same guy we thought he would be. He's hard to tackle, he gets in good plays and doesn't turn the ball over. You can say what you want about his throwing motion, but it goes exactly where he wants it to go."
That becomes the challenge for Oklahoma State, 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12, which reached this point in its journey after facing three of the bottom-four scoring offenses in the league with a 20-14 win at Kansas followed by a 31-10 win over Iowa State and a 36-14 win over TCU last weekend.
The Cowboys' defense has allowed a total of 28 points in the last three games while allowing scores on just five of the last 42 offensive possessions, and has surrendered only seven points during the third quarter in the last five contests.
Oklahoma State ranks just behind K-State at No. 3 in the league in allowing 19.8 points and 380.8 total yards against Big 12 opponents, but Saturday's 7 p.m. kickoff on ABC in a packed Bill Snyder Family Stadium will serve as its greatest test yet.
"Klein gets a lot of attention, deservedly so," said Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, who is 2-0 against Snyder. "I haven't looked at the polls, but I'm guessing he's the frontrunner for the Heisman, and I think he deserves that."
Understandably, the week of preparation hasn't been particularly easy going for defensive coordinator Bill Young, whose unit has made vast improvement with its current No. 42 ranking in total defense after it finished at No. 107 a year ago.
"I don't know how you simulate (Klein) in practice," Young said. "We don't have anyone that looks like him, throws like him, or runs like him. We'll do our best there. The big thing about him is, I don't know if you can really stop him. You just try to contain him as best as you can. You try to minimize the offensive plays and yardage he gets."
And yardage, along with everything else, of course, becomes an aspect of Klein's game to watch down the stretch, as the humble, consummate team player and the only three-time offensive team co-captain in K-State's 117-year history remains on the doorstep of joining an elite crew.
With 634 rushing yards, Klein needs 366 to join Brad Smith, Vince Young, Pat White and Denard Robinson as the only BCS quarterbacks to rush and pass for 1,000 yards at least twice in a career.
Klein needs to average 174.0 passing yards and 73.0 rushing yards in the final four regular season games and the bowl game to join Young (2005), Cam Newton (2010) and Robinson (2010) as the only BCS quarterbacks to gain 2,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
With 287 passing yards, Klein will join Roberson, Eric Crouch (1998-01), Young (2003-05), Smith (2002-05) and Robert Griffin III (2008-11) as the only Big 12 quarterbacks to reach 4,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in a career.
Already with 43 rushing touchdowns -- the most rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons by a quarterback in FBS history -- Klein needs 11 to pass Crouch for the most career rushing touchdowns by a Big 12 quarterback, and to move into third-place behind Cedric Benson and Ricky Williams, who each had 64.
Then there's this: Klein needs eight passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns to join Tim Tebow (2007 Heisman winner) and Newton (2010 winner) as the only quarterbacks to score 20 touchdowns both by passing and rushing in a season.
"In the past two games, you've seen him evolve," Sexton said. "Collin was a great player last year, he's been a great player this year, but these last two games he's just taken his game to a whole another level, more so than you probably could've imagined. The level he was playing at prior to West Virginia was so high, but he's continued to grow just because he's worked so hard at it.
"Chris (Harper) after the West Virginia game said he'd never seen Collin spin the ball like that, and it's been like that day in and day out for the last couple weeks. He's just been putting it right on the numbers every single time. That's Collin's confidence in himself, in this team, and in the system.
"He works so hard to get better. He works so hard daily. It's not coach speak. He really does go at it daily."
K-State's 52-45 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma State last Nov. 5 in Stillwater is the last time the Wildcats have lost a regular season game. After the Wildcats finished five yards short of potentially defeating its highest-ranked opponent ever in a true road game, Finney helped roommate Klein to his feet, and told him, "Let's pick ourselves up and hold ourselves high. We came in and rocked this place tonight."
Nine months later, Klein got married, moved out, Finney served as a groomsman, but the quarterback and center remain the closest of friends.
Asked how exactly his Heisman front-runner best friend has managed to keep it all together while evolving into one of the most popular faces in college football, Finney, during a quiet moment, alone in a corner last Saturday night, contemplated the ride.
"Honestly, I don't know," he said. "It looks like he's got it all together. He's still the same Collin, but being married and having everything on his plate, and getting ready to graduate, and just having all the success, it looks like he's holding it together pretty good."
Finney will call Klein a lot of things. But while Optimus Klein has become the craze, he won't compare Klein to an unconscious machine -- even if he's currently playing like one.
"Collin is extremely hard working and knows when he has to do something," Finney said. "He puts in a lot of work. He's very, very dedicated to this team, and it shows.
"I wouldn't call him a robot."
All he's done is transform himself into college football's most lethal weapon.