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Kansas State 21, TCU 14: Oh, the defense

The offense was sluggish, but Joe Klanderman’s charges saved the day.

Because of COURSE this is how a K-State/TCU game ends
Because of COURSE this is how a K-State/TCU game ends
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A wild final drive by TCU ended with a hail mary batted down in the end zone as Kansas State came away with a 21-14 win in yet another crazy final-play game between two friendly rivals at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.

The win improved the Cats to 3-1 (3-0 Big 12), while TCU falls to 1-2 (1-2). It also evened the all-time series between the two schools at seven wins apiece, and gives K-State a 5-4 advantage since TCU joined the Big 12.

The big story for K-State was the smothering defense, which forced TCU to punt seven times, five of which followed a complete failure to gain a first down. It was not a perfect effort, but TCU was held to 342 yards on 75 plays, solidly under the 5-yard per play mark. The Cats needed that effort, because they only managed 289 yards themselves.

After forcing a punt on TCU’s opening possession, K-State took over on their own two. Facing third-and-seven at the five, Will Howard kept the ball on a draw and saw nothing but greet; he was finally hauled down 80 yards later. The Cats had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Blake Lynch.

A pass interference penalty on Kiondre Thomas extended TCU’s next drive, and Darwin Barlow ended up taking it in from seven yards out to give TCU the lead.

K-State snapped the ball 12 times on their answer drive, which included a targeting penalty on TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington for drilling Deuce Vaughn in the head, a clutch 4th-and-1 pickup by Howard, and only 39 yards of forward progress before Lynch again lined up a 53-yard attempt. He missed, but Gary Patterson had called timeout; on the second attempt he pounded it right between the uprights.

After forcing a three-and-out, another penalty gave K-State another first down on third down. Howard hit Sammy Wheeler for a 30-yard gain, but it was ruled incomplete when the ball came loose when Wheeler hit the ground... despite Wheeler taking two steps after catching the ball. Another apparent completion for a first down to DJ Render was also called incomplete, and then Lynch was called upon for a third time. He missed from 46.

Again, the defense forced TCU out on three downs, including a beautiful pass breakup by Justin Gardner, who should have caught the ball. TCU returned the favor for the first time on the afternoon, and reeled off a couple of quick first downs. But after an almost-sack by Khalid Duke on which he slipped and lost his grip on Max Duggan, he recovered and still stopped the Frog quarterback for no gain; two plays later, Gardner again made a beautiful play to break up a deep ball and TCU was forced to punt again.

Deuce finally struck two plays later. Howard was hurried, and threw a very ill-advised pass which was almost picked. But it slipped past the defender and into the arms of a quick-thinking Vaughn, who picked up 45 yards on the play. Three plays later, Howard found Briley Moore for 24 and then ran it in himself from four yards out on the next snap. A pitch to Chabastin Taylor on the end-around converted the two-point try, giving K-State a 14-7 lead.

Duggan picked apart the secondary on the following drive, but a clutch sack by Bronson Massie forced 3rd-and-11, and good coverage forced Duggan to run; Elijah Sullivan dropped him for only a three-yard gain, and knocked him silly (but cleanly) in the process. That incited a 49-yard try by Griffin Kell with seven seconds to go in the half, which was blocked by Wyatt Hubert — the fourth blocked kick in four games by K-State’s special teams.

Howard opened the second half with a cringe-worthy interception. Looking for Taylor, who was double-covered, Howard threw the ball yards away from Taylor and into the hands of Josh Foster; it was K-State’s first turnover of the season. The defense locked down, and TCU had to punt without moving the chains. Phillip Brooks fumbled the punt, but covered it up. The Cats also went three-and-out, however, but Ty Zentner popped a 65-yard punt to put TCU at their own 8.

Matthew Downing replaced Duggan as TCU took over. TCU lost two yards on the drive, and again had to punt; the Cats had to do the same after moving the chains once. Then lightning finally struck. AJ Parker evened the interception total, and scored on a 38-yard pick six to push the lead to 14.

TCU did not punt on the next drive. Duggan returned mid-drive, but forced into 4th-and-4 he overthrew Te’Vailance Hunt and K-State took over on downs to start the final stanza. The Cats burned 2:33 before punting; TCU again went three-and-out after a huge sack by Daniel Green. Then K-State went three-and-out after Howard was sacked twice.

Finally, TCU started getting some traction. Duggan ran for 11. JD Spelman ran for 19, but hurt himself. Derius Davis took Ross Elder out of his shoes on a 24-yard run, and TCU was in the red zone. A Drew Wiley sack was clutch; forcing 3rd-and-11, Duggan picked up 8 on a pass to Blair Conwright, then scored on his own on fourth down. That made it 21-14, but only 3:39 remained on the clock.

Deuce started finding holes, and K-State picked up two first downs. Gary Patterson didn’t call a single timeout until 1:19 remained. On 3rd-and-1, Will Howard slipped and fell with nothing but air between him and a first down, and K-State had to punt.

It was the best punt ever. Zentner dropped it inside the 10, and it was downed at the 4 with 1:05 to play.

Massie dropped Duggan for a two-yard gain. Duggan had to throw a short pass for another two. Incomplete on third, with Elder getting a little vengeance with a pass breakup. Fourth and six, 0:36 to go, Duggan picked up the first down with a nine-yard pass to Daimarqua Foster. Duggan gained a yard, and the Frogs had to call their final timeout with 20 seconds left.

Duggan hit Taye Barber for 11. Then he ran for 17, but only had 1 second left. Duggan threw it up, and Ekow Boye-Doe picked him off...

...but Wyatt Hubert was called for roughing the passer with targeting, although the targeting was overturned. TCU got an untimed down from the Wildcat 39, which led to the game-ending hail mary attempt.

It was not a fantastic day for Howard, who went 8-19 for 117 yards with an interception, but he led K-State in rushing with 86 yards on 13 carries. His favorite target was Render, who caught three balls for 24 yards; Vaughn led in receiving yards yet again with 45, and added 43 yards on 14 carries.

Duggan was 19-31 for 154 yards and no touchdowns, which means you can tip your cap to the Wildcat secondary for a great effort. He also picked up 43 yards on the ground on 15 carries. Barlow led the Frogs with 56 yards on 8 touches, and Conwright had six catches for 60 yards to lead TCU in both categories.

Defensively, K-State sacked Frog quarterbacks three times, one each for Massie, Wiley, and Green; the team posted six tackles for loss, two of which belonged to Wiley.

Our players of the game: on offense this week, there’s no eye-popping performance on which to focus, so we’re going to give the honor to Howard for holding up in a high-pressure situation in his first start and managing a good game. Defensively, we’re going to go with Justin Gardner, whose work in the secondary was absolutely critical in completely shutting down TCU’s passing game. Honorable mention to Parker, Wiley, Duke, and... well, everyone. The defense was just fantastic today.

So what did we learn?

1) Deuce is stoppable.

Part of this was due to Howard at quarterback. TCU was not particularly concerned with his ability to beat them through the air, and rightly so. As a result, they were able to focus their defense on stopping Vaughn, and they were largely successful. Vaughn’s biggest play was, being brutally honest, just dumb luck; Howard was on the verge of being sacked and just threw the ball in his general direction. It was almost intercepted, and Vaughn had to turn back upfield to gather the pass and turn it into 45 yards.

But until K-State’s final drive, TCU held him to 16 yards on 11 carries, and the 45-yard catch was his only reception on the day. It is to Deuce’s credit that with the opposing defense keyed on stopping him specifically, he still managed to pick up 88 yards on offense.

2) Will Howard: work in progress.

Make no mistake: we’re not criticizing Howard. He is a true freshman, he was making his first start, and he now has precisely six quarters of experience under center. He did a fine job today, and has nothing to be ashamed of, but it was not by any measure a good game individually for the young quarterback.

The question is going to be whether he progresses and improves. At least he’ll have three weeks and an actual football game to prepare for West Virginia on Halloween, because the Cats are off next week and host Kansas on the 24th.

3) Render was obviously Howard’s guy in practice.

Before Skylar Thompson went down, Howard wasn’t getting a lot of first-team reps. Today, Render came out of nowhere to lead the team in receptions. We’re just speculating, of course, but it seems pretty obvious: before Thompson went down, he built a practice relationship with Render, who was carried into the first-team rotation with his quarterback during practice this week.

Makes sense, yes?

4) The defense. Oh dear lord, the defense.

Yes, they gave up 342 yards, but 152 of that came on two drives. The rest of the game? 190 yards on 11 drives. Are you okay with 17 yards a drive? We are. Even including the scoring drives, TCU only managed 26 yards a drive, and in case we haven’t already mentioned it enough: five three-and-outs. An interception. A turnover on downs. Success rate under 40% per ksu_fan. TCU’s biggest play only went for 28 yards, which is probably the defense’s biggest win of the day.

No complaints.

5) In three weeks, K-State will almost certainly still be in first place.

No game next week, and Iowa State is off also. Oklahoma State visits Baylor, so they could go up by a half-game bring themselves back into the three-way tie, but the following week the Cyclones and Cowboys face off while K-State hosts the Jayhawks. If Baylor can deal with Oklahoma State, and then the Cowboys knock off Iowa State... the Cats could be all alone in first place as they take the field against West Virginia.

And the crazy thing is that this scenario isn’t even outlandish.

So, what did you think? Let us know!