By The Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Collin Klein hoped to use the East-West Shrine Game as his first opportunity to prove he has the ability to play quarterback on the NFL level.
The Heisman Trophy finalist and Kansas State star left the field with only more questions surrounding his game, though, and just a handful of months to provide potential suitors with the answers they’re seeking.
Klein struggled in his first all-star game NFL audition, completing just 5 of 13 passes for 43 yards and an interception as his West team fell to the East 28-13 on Saturday.
Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne had a fumble recovery to set up a touchdown and an interception in the second half to lead a West team that came away with four total turnovers on the day.
Klein acknowledged he didn’t have the kind of day he wanted, but said his confidence isn’t shaken moving forward.
“I felt pretty good. We were a little rough, made a lot of mistakes and penalties that kept getting us in bad down-and-distances,” Klein said. “But I think I got better and I learned a lot this week. We’re moving on.”
Klein brushed off questions throughout the week about his unorthodox throwing motion and was adamant that he had no intention of switching positions at the next level despite his ability to run the ball.
He looked uncomfortable in the pocket throwing to unfamiliar receivers Saturday, but said it was good training for the future.
“It’s good practice because that’s what it’s going to be in a couple of months when you go to your team and kind of get it figured out,” Klein said.
While Klein struggled in the spotlight on Saturday, the defensive guys on both sides of the ball made the most of it.
The West never trailed in the showcase for NFL hopefuls and was sparked by a defense that had four turnovers, including a 30-yard interception return for a score by Klein’s former teammate, cornerback Nigel Malone.
The West also got a strong offensive effort from Texas A&M running back Christine Michael, who rushed for 42 yards and touchdown.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott had the only passing touchdown of the game, finding Mississippi State receiver Chad Bumphis for a 57-yard score. Scott finished 3 of 4 for 81 yards.
Another West quarterback, Alex Carder (Western Michigan) also had a good passing day for the West, throwing for 95 yards. He did throw a late interception.
Bumphis was named the offensive MVP.
“I didn’t exactly finish how I wanted to in the Fiesta Bowl, but this meant to a lot to come out here and play my last real college game and come out with a ‘W’,” Malone said.
The West controlled the game from out outset, compiling 18 first downs to the East’s 11. The West team also held the ball on offense more than 12 minutes longer.
The East defense came away with four turnovers, but its offense was only able to turn one of them — a muffed punt late in the third quarter — into a touchdown.
Klein looked most comfortable when he was forced to scramble, and led his team in rushing with 35 yards. But neither he, nor any of the other East quarterbacks were able to find anybody in space for big plays.
The West turned a pair of East first-half turnovers into touchdowns as it built a 21-13 halftime lead.
East running back Ray Graham (Pittsburgh) fumbled on the first play of the game and it was recovered by Hawthorne inside the East 20.
West receiver Anthony Amos (Middle Tennessee State) scored on an end around six plays later to put West up 7-0.
That lead was 7-3 when Scott’s 57-yard touchdown pass down the sideline to Bumphis pushed it to 14-3.
The West’s defense got its second turnover of the half just six seconds later when Malone picked off Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron and returned it 30 yards for a score.
After watching Klein thrive during their time together at Kansas State, Malone said that he has no doubt that he can bounce back from Saturday’s performance.
“It’s all up to the team to come out and take a chance on him,” Malone said. “I think when you really get him in a nice scheme and coach him up, I think he’s going to be really successful. People who are humble and have good character and put God first are always successful in life.”