MANHATTAN — Chris Klieman makes no secret of the Kansas State offense's reliance on its running game.
Never was that more evident than in the Wildcats' stunning upset of Oklahoma and a dominating victory over Kansas that thrust them back into the national rankings.
Then two weeks ago at Texas and again on Saturday against West Virginia, that same rushing attack ground to a halt, leaving the Wildcats once more scratching their heads for answers.
After racking up 213 yards against Oklahoma and gashing KU for 342, they managed just 51 in the 27-24 loss to Texas and 122 as they fell, 24-20, to West Virginia at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
It took back-to-back career passing days from Skylar Thompson to give K-State a chance to win either game. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 299 yards and a touchdown against West Virginia, but that's not the identity the Wildcats want to project.
"It's really tough. That's who we are, man," said senior running back James Gilbert, who returned to the lineup against West Virginia after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. "When we struggle to run the ball, it's hard to do the rest of our offense and execute it at a high level.
"It starts with the run game and we've got to execute it a little better and we're going to get after it next week."
West Virginia's defense got after the Wildcats with a series of run blitzes, hoping to force them to go to the air. While Thompson was effective for the most part — the Wildcats had 421 yards total offense — he also was intercepted twice, including a pick by the Mountaineers' Hakeem Bailey near the goal line with 28 seconds left.
West Virginia's scheme bothered K-State "a bunch," according to Klieman.
"Bottom line, we have to find better answers in the run game to give our guys a better chance to be successful," he said while expressing confidence in the Wildcats' ability to do so. "We've got a bunch of seniors and a bunch of really good coaches and we have to find some ways to be more consistent running the football.
"I firmly believe we will do that and that's the challenge this week. We've got a bunch of guys that have a lot of pride in their work and in their craft, so I'll be excited to get back to work on Monday."
The Wildcats travel to Lubbock, Texas, this Saturday for a 6 p.m. game against Texas Tech before returning home to face Iowa State on Nov. 30 in their regular-season finale.
Injuries continue to plague the Wildcats' running back corps, with both Gilbert and fellow graduate transfer Jordon Brown limited in recent weeks and third-stringer Harry Trotter apparently nicked up in the West Virginia game
"So what, now what? If they're banged up, they're banged up," Klieman said. "Somebody's got to step up and make the play.
"We weren't able to sustain a running game and have a good enough running game to get us in second-and-shorts and stuff."
Gilbert led the Wildcats with 13 carries for 60 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run to start the second half that gave the Wildcats a 20-14 lead. Brown added 23 yards on seven attempts, but Thompson was limited to 19 yards on 14 tries, including 32 yards in losses.
Thompson had been an integral part of the red zone ground game against Texas with four rushing touchdowns and KU with three.
"It's no secret that all the teams are going to stop the run game," Gilbert said. "As a ball carrier and as an offensive lineman, we like that. We like the challenge, we like to accept it and prove people wrong and this and that.
"But we didn't get the job done obviously today and we've got to get better."