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Recap: K-State dominates Nicholls, 49-14, in Chris Klieman’s debut

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Ground game carves up Colonels in opening rout.

NCAA Football: Nicholls State at Kansas State
Harry Trotter led the parade of Wildcats across the goal line on opening day.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Klieman era could not have started better. K-State (1-0) lost the coin toss, but won absolutely everything else in the first half of its 49-14 season-opening demolition of the Nicholls Colonels (0-1).

Nicholls deferred, giving K-State the ball first. Skylar Thompson led K-State on a 12-play, 72-yard drive, capped off by a 12-yard run to the right pylon by Louisville transfer running back Harry Trotter. A facemask penalty extended the drive, but the Wildcats would not need much help scoring the rest of the way.

On the Colonels’ second offensive play from scrimmage, K-State defensive back A.J. Parker jumped a sideline route for an interception. He returned it 20 yards to set up the offense at the 28 yard line. Five plays later, Thompson popped a 17-yard run for his first rushing touchdown of the year and a 14-point lead.

Nicholls went three-and-out, punted, and watched K-State grind out a 10-play, 71-yard drive for another rushing score, this one from 14 yards out by North Carolina transfer Jordon Brown.

The Colonels’ fourth drive also ended in a punt. The Wildcats marched 73 yards in 10 plays for a fourth rushing touchdown, this one by Ball State transfer James Gilbert. That’s four ground TDs by three running backs (all transfers) and one by quarterback Skylar Thompson, if you’re keeping track.

It appeared K-State would have its first aerial touchdown of the year just before halftime, when Thompson laid a perfect ball over the defender in the front corner of the south end zone that Dalton Schoen appeared to catch through contact. But an interminable review resulted in reversal of the call. Blake Lynch missed a 37-yard field goal attempt, and the score remained 28-0. Nicholls ran two passive ground plays just to get to the locker room.

How dominant was Chris Klieman’s inaugural K-State team on his inaugural first half on the sidelines? Try this on for size:

Rushing yards: K-State 210, Nicholls 22

Passing yards: K-State 108, Nicholls 43

Total Yards: K-State 308, Nicholls 65.

K-State converted 5 of 6 third downs, while the visitors went 0-for-3. The Wildcats led time-of-possession 21:42 to 8:18.

Other than the TD catch reversal, the missed field goal, and the Bill Snyder honorary timeout on 1st-and-10 less than two minutes into the game, everything went right for Klieman’s ‘Cats.

The second half started ignominiously, as the Colonels marched 75 yards in only 5 plays for their first score. After gaining 49 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing possession, K-State failed to convert a 4th and 1, and turned the ball over on downs. The defense came back to life, though, forcing a punt that Nicholls State downed at the K-State 3.

Needing to reestablish momentum, Skylar Thompson led the Wildcats on their most impressive drive of the night, going 97 yards in ten plays, capped by a 38-yard scoring strike to Schoen, who executed a perfect double move and caught the ball in stride to render any officials’ review unnecessary.

From there, K-State’s first and second-teamers dominated again. Jonathan Alexander stripped the ball and returned it 25 yards for the first defensive score of the year. With Nick Ast playing quarterback and the starting offensive line stripping off tape and guzzling sports drinks on the sideline, Tyler Burns joined the running backs’ parade to paydirt, scoring on a one-yard plunge.

Nicholls executed a 75-yard drive against the backups’ backups to make the score 49-14. All that did was subject their weary defense to the punishment of 6-4, 249-pound quarterback John Holcombe, II, who rushed for 39 yards on three carries before time ran out.

The final was 49-14. For all but seven minutes or so, it felt easier than that. On a day in which several teams with lofty expectations allowed inferior opponents to hang around, K-State never left any doubt in a dominant opening performance.

Three Things we Learned

  1. All that worry about the lack of an experienced running back? Forget it. Sure, the level of competition should be taken into account. But the Wildcats piled up 361 rushing yards, averaging 6.2 yards per tote. Even better news? They did it with a deep committee of five running backs and three quarterbacks. James Gilbert saw more action than the others, carrying 18 times for 115 yards and a score. But Tyler Burns (10-64-1), Harry Trotter (10-52-1) and Jordon Brown (11-49-1) were all impressive. Though each brings a slight change-up to the equation, all ran decisively, and all were effective.
  2. First games are notorious for jitters and poor execution. Other than the few foibles mentioned above, K-State showed no signs of being ill-prepared or lost in the moment. The ‘Cats committed no turnovers and forced two. They had only two penalties on the night. They never punted. Lest it appear they only gashed the Colonels by overpowering them physically on the ground (and they did overpower them; the line was an impressive group of road graders tonight), check this out: Thompson was 16-22 (72%) through the air and had a QBR of 168.7. That with two passes being just out of the reach of Malik Knowles and the aforementioned reversal (which some might call dubious) of the Schoen touchdown. In all, K-State amassed 573 yards, while allowing only 276. Jitters? Hardly.
  3. All-in-all, this was an excellent first step. K-State openers have too often been closer than they should be. It was nice to see K-State jump on its first opponent from the opening kick and keep jumping on them until the final seconds ticked off the clock. Klieman and his staff got seemingly everyone involved, and it’s hard not to get excited after this performance. The team looked aggressive, it looked athletic, and it looked prepared. That’s a good trifecta, no matter who the opponent.