North Texas almost beat No. 15 Kansas State at its own game Saturday night.
Using a ball-control offense devised by former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney - no stranger to matching wits with Kansas State's Bill Snyder - the Mean Green managed to keep Collin Klein, John Hubert and the rest of the Wildcats' potent offense standing on the sideline most of the night.
It wasn't until Klein and Hubert scored on late touchdown runs that Kansas State finally squeezed out a 35-21 victory Saturday night.
''It goes right back to your offensive line,'' McCarney said. ''If you can sustain blocks and sustain some drives, you've got a chance to do that against a really outstanding Kansas State team, but in the end we just did not make enough plays.
''You get into a game with Kansas State, and you don't want many three-and-outs,'' McCarney said. ''We had a couple, three of those in the second half, gave that offense another chance to put a drive together and go score points.''
The Mean Green nevertheless held their Big 12 opponent to 143 yards rushing - Kansas State entered the game sixth nationally at better than 300 yards per game - while holding the ball an astonishing 37 minutes, 4 seconds, which prevented the Wildcats from getting into a rhythm.
''They made more plays,'' McCarney said. ''They made more big plays in the second half. That was the difference in the game.''
Klein finished with 230 yards passing and accounted for three touchdowns, while Tyler Lockett returned a kickoff 96 yards for another score. Tramaine Thompson caught five passes for 102 yards and two scores, and Hubert added his touchdown on the ground for Kansas State (3-0), which was trying to tune up for next Saturday's showdown with fifth-ranked Oklahoma.
Derek Thompson was 25 of 28 for 208 yards and a late TD pass for the Mean Green (1-2), who converted the 2-point conversion to get within two touchdowns with 2:31 remaining in the game. An onside kick was recovered by the Wildcats, allowing them to run out the clock.
''We ran the ball well when we needed to. We kept our defense off the field. We tried to give them a chance to catch a break,'' Thompson said. ''We just didn't execute when we needed to.''
North Texas executed just fine on its opening drive, which Brelan Chancellor capped with a 6-yard scoring run midway through the first quarter.
Kansas State answered on the ensuing kickoff, which Lockett fielded at his own 4-yard line. He started up field, angled to his left and then found a seam down the sideline for his third career kick return touchdown, pulling the Wildcats into a 7-all tie.
The Mean Green's special teams unit wasn't nearly as helpful.
The game was still tied at 7 when North Texas had a promising drive end with a blocked field goal attempt. The Wildcats capitalized on the miscue, moseying downfield in five plays before Klein went over the top to Thompson, whose 38-yard touchdown catch gave Kansas State the lead.
The Mean Green had a chance to pull even on the first drive of the second half, using nearly half of the third quarter in moving 88 yards. Antoinne Jimmerson's short TD run capped the 14-play drive, but the extra point was wide right and Kansas State clung to a one-point lead.
''Overall, it was pathetic, some of our special teams,'' McCarney said. ''They were a liability all night. Special teams should help you win games. It's part of a plan to win for us. Great special teams win it. They really hurt our football team tonight, no question about it.''
Klein hit Thompson a few minutes later, this time from 21 yards, and Hubert and Klein tacked on TD runs in the fourth quarter that finally allowed the purple-clad Kansas State fans to relax - and start looking ahead to next weekend's showdown with the Sooners in Norman, Okla.
''Across the board, I didn't think we played like we were capable of playing,'' Snyder said. ''We were hanging on by the skin of our teeth most of the game.''