MANHATTAN, Kan. —Stuffing No. 7 Texas Tech on fourth-and-inches on its own 29 and moving right in for the game-tying touchdown gave Kansas State hope.
It didn’t last long.
Behind an offensive line that provided plenty of time to pick and choose from a bevy of receivers, Graham Harrell engineered scoring drives on Tech’s next seven possessions, leading the Red Raiders to a 58-28 victory Saturday over the outmanned Wildcats.
Along the way, the senior quarterback threw six touchdown tosses and became his school’s all-time leader in yards passing.
“It’s a huge honor with all the great quarterbacks that have come through here,” Harrell said. “It comes with a lot of help.”
Lyle Leong snared three touchdown passes from Harrell, who was 38-for-51 for 454 yards. The Red Raiders (5-0, 1-0 Big 12), leading the nation in passing and total offense, rolled up 626 yards. With their highest ranking in 32 years, they did not even attempt a punt until Stefan Loucks replaced Harrell late in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve had great receivers here and the offensive line has been great to me,” said Harrell, whose career total of 12,709 yards erased the record of 12,429 yards Kliff Kingsbury had from 1999-02. “I’ve played in 30-some games here and only been sacked around 30 times.”
The Wildcats (3-2, 0-1) never even threatened to add to that paltry sack total. Play after play, Harrell was barely even hurried as he spread his passes to 10 different receivers and embarrassed the Kansas State defense.
“The whole defense is frustrated,” cornerback Josh Moore said. “We gave up a lot of yards.”
Michael Crabtree had 107 yards in receptions and caught two of Harrell’s scoring passes, giving him 30 for his career and tying the school record.
“I feel that he’s a good athlete, but they just didn’t have Michael Crabtree,” Moore said. “A lot of other players stepped up and made plays, not just Crabtree.”
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach still is not ready to proclaim Harrell the best quarterback he’s had.
“But I would say he is the best in the nation this year,” Leach quickly added. “If you lead the nation in passing, I would think you deserve some attention. It’s not like he just does it once in a while.”
Harrell connected with six different receivers in a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Many among the crowd of slightly more than 43,000 had left midway through the fourth quarter, an ominous sign as Ron Prince comes under increasing criticism in his third year as Kansas State coach.
“First of all, those folks who were there today, who came out and stayed, I appreciate that and I thank them. This is a very challenging time for all of us and all that I can tell them is we will fight and compete and we will get this thing turned around,” Prince said.
The Red Raiders, leading the nation in total offense (572.8 yards per game), and passing (426.2), had 417 and 316 while putting up a 38-14 halftime lead over a Kansas State defense which the week before had yielded 300 yards rushing to Louisiana-Lafayette.
The six TD passes tied the career-best for Harrell. He had five in the first half. He got the school record for career passing yards with a 15-yard completion to Adam James and a moment later made it 24-14 with a thread-the-needle 15-yard strike to Leong, who made the catch in double coverage and twisted into the corner of the end zone.
Facing fourth-and-inches from their own 29 late in the first quarter, the Red Raiders sent Shannon Woods on a sweep. Four plays later, Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman scored on a 1-yard run, knotting the game 14-all. But nothing else happened that was good for Kansas State.
“We were thoroughly beaten today by a very good football team on both offense and defense, particularly on both lines,” Prince said.
Harrell even scored once himself, on a 1-yard keeper on fourth down.
On successive possessions in the second quarter, Harrell led quick-hitting drives of 53, 70 and 54 yards. Freeman, in the meantime, went cold, misfiring on 9 of 10 passes, several of which Tech defenders got their hands on.
The Kansas State junior, who a week earlier had become his own school’s career passing leader, was 13-for-28 for 170 yards, including a 33-yard TD pass to Ernie Pierce. Pierce also scored on an 18-yard return of a blocked punt late in the game.