MANHATTAN, Kan. -- There would be no Optimus Klein to save Kansas State if the defense faltered this time.
With Heisman front-runner Collin Klein in the lineup, Kansas State racked up 38 points in just more than 35 minutes in its 44-30 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
With Klein on the sideline and his helmet nowhere in sight after suffering an apparent head injury, the K-State offense managed just six points over the game's final 25 minutes.
Oklahoma State threatened to turn a 21-point game into a seven-point game in the final minutes, as Cowboys backup QB Clint Chelf (starter Wes Lunt was dealing with an apparent head injury of his own) looked to the back of the end zone.
But K-State cornerback Allen Chapman wouldn't let it happen. The 50,781 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium breathed a sigh of relief after Chapman picked off Chelf to seal the Wildcats' ninth win in nine games in 2012.
"Collin's a great asset for our team. We just knew we had to continue to control the game on our side of the ball to maintain the victory," linebacker Arthur Brown said.
Kansas State did just that. The defense had coach Bill Snyder a little grumpy after giving up more than 400 yards passing, a 41-yard kick return that could have gone for a score and another 80-yard return on a pooch kick that did.
His frank assessment of the game?
"Not very good," he said.
The Wildcats were outgained in total yards 504-481, but that defense -- and Chapman, especially -- were the reason Saturday's win was a win. Klein's absence is a lot easier to stomach when you win the turnover battle 5-0, as K-State did on Saturday, highlighted by Chapman's three interceptions.
The final one sealed the win and he returned his first 29 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to give K-State a 31-17 lead at the break.
"He made some tremendous plays. I was proud of the way he played," Snyder said. "The turnovers were major in the ballgame. It was quite obvious, and they came at appropriate times."
That's the way it's been all season for Kansas State, which has forced 24 turnovers and turned the ball over just four times.
What might have been a dramatic win turned into a rather comfortable win despite Snyder's postgame harumphing at his team's sometimes costly mistakes.
"That's just part of the nature of our football team and our program. We're firm believers that mistakes make a major difference in the outcome of our success, and anyone else's for that matter," Snyder said.
If you're counting, "Eliminate Mistakes" is No. 9 on Snyder's 16 Goals for Success, the blueprint upon which his program is founded. "Don't beat yourself," the mantra proclaims.
Kansas State didn't. Oklahoma State did.
"We work diligently to protect the football as well as we can, and fortunately, we were able to do that this evening," Snyder said.
Daniel Sams finished with 45 yards passing on 4-of-5 attempts and 20 yards on seven carries, compared to 245 yards on 16-of-22 passing and 64 yards and a score on 17 carries for Klein. Still, to Sams' credit, he didn't make any mistakes and steered the ship with Klein on the sideline.
"Collin was still a leader, he was on the sideline getting us going, especially when things weren't going our way. That's the thing I like about him. On and off the field, he's always a leader," said receiver Tyler Lockett, a Tulsa, Okla., native who returned a kick 100 yards for a score and caught a 50-yard bomb from Klein as part of his five-catch, 75-yard night. "Collin is somebody you can look up to and got D-Sams into the position he needed to be in, and D-Sams did his job."
Klein has carried the ball almost 500 times since the beginning of last season, but Snyder shook off a question about his need to protect the man who might become Manhattan's first Heisman winner.
"Well, he got hurt on a pass, so if you can't run it and you can't throw it, well, you don't have much left," Snyder said.
Still, defensive miscues and Klein injury aside, a chilly November night in The Little Apple ended with Kansas State at 9-0 and continuing its march to what it hopes is its first undefeated season and second conference title since 1934.
Next week, it's TCU.
"It feels good, but it's not good enough. We've got three games left," Lockett said. "We haven't proved anything."