MANHATTAN, Ks. -- Following an off-season spent focusing on starting faster, No. 21 Kansas State struggled early against FCS foe Missouri State before rolling to a 51-9 victory. The game was tied at 9-9 midway through the third quarter before the Wildcats exploded.
"It was all defined in the first 30 minutes, which were horrible," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.
The Wildcats gained fame last season by winning eight games by seven points or less, but much of that was because they had a hard time getting started. The most glaring of those was the season-opener against FCS foe Eastern Kentucky, when Collin Klein hit Chris Harper with a 33-yard touchdown with 1:39 remaining in the game for a 10-7 victory.
Saturday's victory wasn't the crisp effort that Snyder hoped for, at least early on, but K-State pulled away with 42 unanswered points, including 35 points in the fourth quarter.
"I thought the second half the play got a little bit better," Snyder said. "We still did not have a sack in the game and did not get the quarterback on the ground.
"We did not play so well against the pass, but they had less than 100 yards (95) so we played well against the run."
It took a little more than two and a half quarters for K-State to score something other than a field goal. After Missouri State took the second-half kickoff deep into Kansas State territory and settled for another field goal, the Wildcats finally reached the end zone with 7:06 left in the quarter.
"I think we learned and we got better faster," Klein said. "We were able to get some things corrected and finish drives with touchdowns, not field goals. It was just a few missed assignments here or there (early on). But we did it, so we'll move on."
Reserve defensive end Laton Dowling fielded a pooch kick and returned it to the Missouri State 48. The seven-play drive culminated with a Klein to Tramaine Thompson 18-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. Thompson made a nifty grab before tapping his left foot just inbounds.
"We finally found out there wasn't an invisible wall on the goal line. We could actually get in there," Klein said. "It was good, because we were finally able to get things kicked off."
Late in the third quarter, Tyler Lockett returned a punt 43 yards to the Missouri State 32, setting up a 4-yard touchdown run by fullback Braden Wilson.
The Cats' next score came on a 95-yard run by John Hubert. Hubert burst through the line and got behind the secondary. After Nigel Malone intercepted a pass and returned it to the 8-yard line, Klein hit Harper for a 1-yard touchdown.
The final touchdowns were a 46-yard run by back-up quarterback Daniel Sams and an 89-yard punt return by Thompson.
"I think if you're going to move the ball against K-State, you are going to have to throw it," Missouri State head coach Terry Allen said. "The red zone bogged down for us as far as touchdowns. We were not able to execute. But I was proud of Austin Witmer because he made all three of his field goals."
K-State and Missouri State held a field goal contest in the first half, with the Wildcats winning three to two. It was good for a 9-6 halftime lead, but it was far from impressive for the 21st ranked Wildcats.
K-State received the opening kickoff and went 69 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 23-yard field goal by Anthony Cantele. It wasn't a touchdown, but it was better than waiting until the fourth quarter to score like they did in their 2011 opener. The Wildcats seemed intent to prove they could throw the ball on the drive, as Klein went 5-for-5, mostly on short swing passes.
Missouri State answered with a 67-yard drive, but lost a chance to tie the score when Julian Burton fumbled a completed pass just short of the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Thomas Ferguson of K-State for a touchback. The Bears finally tied the score with 0:15 left in the first quarter on a 24-yard field goal by Witmer. K-State's defense stiffened after the Bears reached the Wildcats' 8 with a second and 2.
Kansas State had another 11-play drive midway through the second quarter, but bogged down at the Missouri State 2-yard line and settled for another Cantele field goal.
Once again, Missouri State responded, tying the score with 35-yard Witmer field goal. The Bears got deep into K-State territory on a 56-yard pass from Kierra Harris to Dorian Buford. But three fruitless plays left the Bears with another field goal attempt.
Kansas State tallied the final points of the half on a 25-yard field goal by Cantele.
NOTES: Andre McDonald, Kansas State's 6-8, 283-pound tight end, was held out of the game for disciplinary reasons. He was arrested last week for housing vicious dogs. ... Kansas State is now 150-5 under Bill Snyder when leading at the half. ... Missouri State is now 1-27 all-time against FBS teams. The Bears' lone victory in this category came against UNLV in 1990.