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Punt to Lose: #20 Kansas State Wildcats 55, Kansas Jayhawks 14

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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over despite failure.

Phillip Brooks had a career day without even catching a pass.
Phillip Brooks had a career day without even catching a pass.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Two punt returns for touchdowns, a pick-six, and a vicious defense were literally all #20 Kansas State needed to rout Kansas in a 55-14 blowout at Bill Snyder Family Stadium this afternoon. The win is the 12th straight in the series for the Cats, now the longest streak for either team in the history of the rivalry.

With a blowout like this, you’d think not much of interest happened, but this game was very weird in the first half, so bear with us as we perform our usual drive-by-drive recap.

K-State excused Kansas on three plays to open the game, and it was almost fewer as Ross Elder appeared to pick off Jalon Daniels on the second play of the game. On offense, K-State started slowly aside from a 36-yard connection between Will Howard and Deuce Vaughn. Other than that, they only moved backwards — although through no fault of Howard’s. Two false start penalties, a run for zero by Harry Trotter, a dropped touchdown pass by Malik Knowles (who, in fairness, was the victim of a great defensive play by Karon Prunty reaching in), and then Trotter completely failed to even look for a throw on his assigned wheel route forced the Cats to punt.

Pinned at their own nine, Kansas went three-and-out again, and Phillip Brooks returned the ball to the Kansas 30... but Ross Elder was flagged for running into the kicker to give the Jayhawks another shot. Brooks, undeterred, merely ran it back 55 yards for a touchdown and the first score of the game.

The following drive was, frankly, an exercise in absurdity. After KU got a first down on a questionable pass interference call against Justin Gardner, AJ Parker tried to jump the route on the next play but missed. That resulted in a 15-yard completion to Kwamie Lassiter; after a Drew Wiley sack, Daniels was able to escape and convert on third down. Three plays later Daniel Hishaw fumbled, with the ball squirting over the line to gain and recovered by Adagio Lopeti for a first down — or at least that was the ruling on the field. That call was overturned, and a fake handoff created just enough chaos for Daniels to get a first down on his own. K-State finally forced a fourth down, and Jacob Borcilla ended the drive the only way it could have ended: with a doink off the right upright on a 40-yard attempt.

Penalties destroyed K-State on the following drive, moving the Cats backward 20 yards in total. Kansas finally got called for their first penalty for holding on the punt... after the official initially said it was on the Wildcats. Even with that reprieve, K-State ended the first quarter with seven penalties for 55 yards, which was only eight yards fewer than their total offense for the quarter.

Wyatt Hubert started the second quarter with a sack, which helped result in a third three-and-out for the K-State defense. Brooks almost broke another punt return touchdown, settling for a 40-yard return. On second down, Howard fumbled but recovered it himself; he had a sure first down otherwise, and in the end the Cats had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Blake Lynch to take a 10-0 lead.

Drew Wiley batting down a pass and a great stop by Eko Boye-Dow led to Kansas going for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 39. Jahron McPherson tackled Hinshaw for a loss of one to give the Cats a turnover on downs and great field position. Vaughn immediately picked up 17 on the ground, but a loss of one and a near-sack of Howard put K-State in third-and-long. No problem; Howard hit Briley Moore for 11 to move the chains. Howard was again pressured and had to dump the ball to Nick Lenners, who went down at the 3; Lynch again converted from 21.

A K-State defensive back jumped a route again, but this time it worked. Gardner came out of nowhere to intercept a Daniels delivery and took it to the house, and suddenly K-State had a 20-point lead.

It looked like K-State was going to force yet another change of possession without a first down when Daniels fumbled the snap on third down, but he picked it up and found Mason Fairchild for 27 yards and suddenly started reeling off completions. Five of them later, a touchdown pass to Andrew Parchment was overturned on review, but Daniels ran it in from eight on the next play to get on the board.

K-State went three-and-out, but special teams came up big again. Lassiter muffed the punt and Tyler Burns pounced on the loose ball. A 25 yard run by Vaughn ended with Ricky Thomas being called for targeting, but that was overturned. Knowles dropped another touchdown pass; Sammy Wheeler then caught one from 18 and K-State finally had an offensive touchdown. On the kickoff, the Cats popped another great special teams play when Aamaris Brown leveled Hinshaw at the 16, effectively costing Kansas 19 yards. With 52 seconds left, Kansas again failed to gain a first down, the sixth such drive of the day, and punted with eight seconds left. There was a false start, and AJ Parker was injured on the play; Brooks housed the punt on the next snap — 52 yards this time — for a 34-7 halftime lead.

Coming out of the half, K-State simply rolled downfield. Knowles caught a pass, Chabastin Taylor caught two (including a dime at the 1-yard line), and Vaughn capped it on a pitch for his first score of the day. Kansas did little, and Howard answered by finding DJ Render for 21 and letting Vaughn run for 24. A shot to the end zone to Moore drew a pass interference penalty, and two Trotter runs up the middle later it was 48-7.

Kansas decided to try the ground game after that, and it worked for a bit. Velton Gardner got loose for 27 to get into Wildcat territory, but then Daniels went to the air again and a great play by Kiondre Thomas forced 4th-and-7. The Jayhawks lined up to run a play, but Daniels pooched it instead, pinning K-State at their own six.

On the next drive, Keyon Mozee cleared his throat, ripping off a 27-yard run of his own. Howard used his legs, Tyler Burns and Mason Barta had catches, and Moore and Taylor had a couple each as the Cats picked their way downfield. Moore’s second catch was a 13-yard touchdown which pushed K-State to 55.

After another three-and-out, Brooks ripped off his fourth punt return of over 40 yards on the day, breaking David Allen’s K-State record for punt return yardage in a game. Nick Ast took over at quarterback, but went three-and-out himself twice, sandwiched around KU’s eighth three-and-out of the day.

After that, the game effectively went into garbage time as K-State pulled the starters while Kansas didn’t. There was one bad thing late; with under five minutes to go, Mozee lost a fumble and gave the Jayhawks the ball at the K-State 16. After a pass interference penalty on Tee Denson, Daniels ran it in from four yards out to score a meaningless touchdown.

Howard finished the day 17-24 for 243 yards with two touchdowns, no picks, and was not sacked; he also carried the ball 6 times for 23 yards. Ast would probably as soon forget his outing, unfortunately; he was 1-4 for 9 yards and ate a sack, although he was throwing to the third-string receivers. For Kansas, Daniels was 22-39 for 207, sacked four times and pick-sixed once; he added 27 yards on 17 carries and scored both Jayhawk touchdowns.

Vaughn, once again, led the Cats in both rushing and receiving with 71 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown as well as four catches for 81 yards. That’s another 150+ game for the freshman. Mozee had 27 yards on 3 carries, and Trotter had 23 on 6. Receiving, Taylor had four catches for 68 yards while Moore was 3-33 with a score. Seven other Wildcats had one catch each, including Wheeler’s touchdown and Keenan Garber’s late garbage time reception. For Kansas, Gardner led the way with 72 yards, but it took him 16 carries to get there. Lassiter was KU’s leading receiver, catching 7 balls for 58 yards, but did lose a fumble on a punt return.

Total offense was in K-State’s favor 381-320, and a not-insignificant portion of that 320 came in garbage time. On the ground, it was 129-113 K-State, and 252-207 through the air.

Our player of the game is, of course, Brooks. On offense, the honor goes to Will Howard, and defensively we’re going to give it to Ross Elder despite Gardner’s pick-six. Elder led the team in tackles, almost had a pick himself, and we’re even going to cheekily give him credit for running into the punter, which ultimately resulted in that first touchdown by Brooks.

What did we learn?

1. Will Howard is our quarterback.

In just ten quarters of play, Howard has matured immensely. He’s now comfortable in the pocket, his throws were on the money all day long, and despite his receivers letting him down in a big way in the first quarter he still posted good numbers.

It’s sad, and hurts us inside, that this means Skylar Thompson is probably done in purple. He was not Peyton Manning by any means, but overall he was a very good quarterback for K-State. There was a thought that he might come back next year to build a resume for his future career, but that seems like not such a good idea now.

But most importantly, you know Thompson is behind Howard 100%, because he is EMAW through and through.

2. Phillip Brooks.

That’s the tweet.

3. Les Miles is kind of an idiot.

Miles allowed his punter to kick directly to Brooks seven times. One of them was wiped out by a penalty. The last two he had a chance to field, Brooks called for a fair catch. The other four were enough evidence to just kick the ball out of bounds.

Miles didn’t. Because Miles is dumb.

4. Despite everything, K-State is... deep?

Throughout the afternoon, players we still hadn’t really seen before today made small impacts, notably sacks late in the game by Tyrone Taleni and Felix Anudike. But that’s a minor consideration. The major one is that K-State’s second-string (in most units) performs almost as well as the starters. Coming into the year, we were concerned that depth would be this team’s downfall, and COVID didn’t help that any. Instead, what we’ve discovered is that Chris Klieman is one hell of a recruiter, because guys you didn’t even know in August are key cogs in the machine now.

5. That one unit is the offensive line, and it may be a problem.

For all the glowing reviews above, this was Kansas. In the first quarter, the offensive line played a major role in Howard’s difficulties — difficulties which were, again, not his fault in the end anyway. The line needs to solidify, quickly, or this 4-1 season will end in a mediocre result.

Now, the Cats prepare for a trip to Morgantown against a West Virginia team which has been their absolute nemesis for an entire recruiting cycle. What we see next Saturday will largely determine our expectations for the final month of the season. A good showing, and we can consider an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game in play. A flat performance, and we may be looking at third or fourth place.