MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State forced UTEP into three-and-outs on its first five possessions, leaving Wildcats coach Bill Snyder pleased when the Miners finally picked up a long-awaited first down.
"It gave me something to complain about at halftime," Snyder said with a wry smile.
There wasn't much else to complain about.
Charles Jones ran for three touchdowns, Tyler Lockett returned a punt for another score and Snyder's 25th-ranked Wildcats romped to a 58-28 victory Saturday.
DeMarcus Robinson and Jake Waters also had touchdown runs, and Waters threw for 209 yards and another score as the Wildcats (3-1) finished non-conference play by taking out their frustrations from a close loss to fifth-ranked Auburn on the hapless Miners.
UTEP (2-2) managed one first down and 23 yards of offense in the first half, when Kansas State raced to a 31-0 lead. Running back Aaron Jones, the nation's second-leading rusher, was held to 47 yards — all but nine of them after halftime.
"Kansas State's run defense was one of the best defenses I've seen in a long time," UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. "They were very effective at stopping the run."
Jameil Showers threw four TD passes for the Miners, all with the game well out of reach.
Kansas State blew a chance to beat Auburn nine days ago in part by missing three field goals, but took control early Saturday mainly on the strength of its special teams.
The Wildcats blocked a punt on the game's first series to set up a field goal, then had another block wiped out by a referee's inadvertent whistle. Later in the half, Lockett returned a punt 58 yards for a score, and had a 51-yard return set up another TD just before halftime.
"I'm starting to get comfortable back there," said Lockett, who has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns but hasn't returned punts nearly as much.
Things were such a nightmare for the UTEP special teams that the only folks in the stadium having a rougher afternoon may have been referee Alan Eck's officiating crew.
Not only did they blow an erroneous whistle on the blocked punt, they also couldn't seem to figure out whether to award UTEP a do-over on it. Eck spent more than 10 minutes on the radio with the replay officials trying to get everything sorted out, and then was booed by the 16th straight sellout at Bill Snyder Family Stadium when he allowed UTEP to punt again.
"Apparently there's a rule that I'm totally unaware of, and trust me, that's the first thing I'm going to do when I walk out of here, I'm going to find that rule," Snyder said. "They did the best they could, it just took them an hour-and-a-half to do it."
It didn't matter a whole lot in the end.
Lockett torched the Miners for 84 yards receiving, moving past his uncle Aaron Lockett and former Wildcats star Michael Smith for third on the school's career list. Lockett has 2,469 yards, trailing only Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson and his father, Kevin Lockett.
His ability to stretch the defense loosened things up for the Kansas State rushing attack, which was bottled up by Auburn. Charles Jones had 76 yards before leaving with what appeared to be a minor injury in the third quarter, and Kansas State piled up 188 yards on the ground.
"Great game plan," Jones said with a smile.
Given how quickly the Wildcats' offense scored, their defense could barely catch its breath.
That made its performance all the more impressive: UTEP didn't pick up a first down until there was about 5 minutes left before halftime.
"It's the best defense I've faced since I've been in college," said Aaron Jones, a sophomore.
By the time the third quarter ended and Kansas State led 52-7, Snyder had his starters on the bench, resting up for a return to Big 12 play.
The Wildcats already beat Iowa State on the road earlier in the season. They welcome Texas Tech next week before a potentially pivotal showdown at No. 4 Oklahoma on Oct. 18.
"We did some wonderful things and then we fell apart (when) we had twos go on the field that weren't ready to play, and consequently some bad things happened," Snyder said. "I thought we played well when we had to play well in the ballgame."