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FINAL: Kansas State Wildcats 31, Texas Tech Red Raiders 21

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The good guys win the Battle of the Backups

Do you recognize K-State’s newest star defender?
Do you recognize K-State’s newest star defender?
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Will Howard and Deuce Vaughn drove a dagger into Texas Tech with a 70-yard touchdown connection with just 2:07 to play, icing Kansas State‘s 31-21 win over the Red Raiders this afternoon at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The play was merely intended to get a first down, as K-State was trying to run out the clock with a 24-21 lead. But Howard found Vaughn open in the flat beyond the sticks on third-and-five, and all Deuce had in front of him was grass. Engines engaged, blast-off.

The win, the fifth straight and ninth in the last ten for the Cats in this series, ensures K-State (2-1, 2-0 Big 12) remains atop the standings alongside Oklahoma State (and maybe Iowa State if the Clones upset Oklahoma tonight) and likely will see the Cats slide into the bottom end of the top 25 tomorrow. Tech (1-2, 0-2) is now in the cellar with Kansas, which is never a good place to be.

K-State’s run game reappeared on the opening drive, but a Malik Knowles drop of a perfect touchdown pass from Thompson was followed by a failed fake field-goal attempt at the Tech 35. After forcing a three-and-out, Seth Porter blocked a punt — the third in three games for the Cats — and K-State took over at the Tech 20. A couple of plays later, Thompson threw a strike at Briley Moore for six.

Tech’s next drive was aided by an unfortunate personal foul on Khalid Duke, who was blocked down and went for a sack anyway, unable to see that the pass had already been released. That resulted in Alan Bowman having to head to the locker room. Tech marched down behind backup Henry Colombi, but a pair of tackles for loss by Wyatt Hubert and Kimari Gainous in the red zone forced Trey Wolff to try a 33-yarder. It bounced off the right upright, and the threat was ended.

Things got real dull for a bit, until Phillip Brooks made a mistake and fair-caught a Tech punt at his own two-yard line. Things got dicey, as Harry Trotter was almost nailed in the end zone, then Thompson was almost trapped there himself before escaping and running for a first down to give the Cats some breathing space. But then Thompson was drilled late by Riko Jeffers, who blasted him in the chest with his helmet and got the rest of the day off for his trouble. Thompson joined Bowman in the locker room, and Will Howard took over — or, more accurately, Vaughn took over. Vaughn ran for 8, 20, and 18 yards on three carries, the last only ending at 18 because the end zone got in the way after he somehow tiptoed his way down the sideline and avoided a billion tackles.

Tech had to settle for three on the ensuing drive, and once again failed to get even that as the kick went wide right. The defense was aided by an insane individual effort; SaRodorick Thompson rushed through the line, and Robert Hentz just grabbed him. With his hands. And he stopped dead. After the missed kick, K-State couldn’t get a first down and had to punt, giving Tech the ball at their own 28 with six seconds left in the half, and Thompson padded his rushing total pointlessly before the gun.

After the half, Tech embarked on an 18-play drive which took seven minutes before Colombi connected with KeSean Carter for the Red Raiders’ first score. It took Tech seven plays to get in from the 19, so the defense was still on point. K-State responded with a 28-yard field goal after a papercut drive punctuated by another long run by Vaughn, 22 yards to get into the red zone. Unfortunately, Wykeen Gill left the field with an arm cast after being injured throwing the block which allowed Vaughn to get upfield.

Tech struck back quickly, as K-State’s defense allowed a damaging big play for the first time in over an hour of gametime when Xavier White slipped through the line for a 45-yard touchdown run. Tech’s defense held, and things started getting nervous. Sure enough, less than three minutes later the Red Raiders took the lead on a 13-yard catch by Myles Price, set up by another 19-yard run up the middle by White.

It took three plays for K-State to retake the lead. After a short run by Vaughn, Howard made his first Big Play as a Wildcat when he hit Moore for a 66-yard prance down the sideline. Harry Trotter took it in from the four on the next play. Tech marched again, but got stopped on a goal-line interception by Jahron McPherson. The Cats couldn’t capitalize, however, going three-and-out.

Colombi fumbled on the first play of the drive, but recovered it himself without being ruled down and threw an ill-advised pass downfield; it fell incomplete. Three plays later, Colombi crossed midfield on fourth and three... but it was called back on a holding penalty, and Tech was forced to punt and pray.

It didn’t work.

Before departing, Thompson was a pedestrian 5-10 for 33 yards and a touchdown, with an additional 21 yards on the ground. Howard, largely based on one play, posted an absurd 206.9 passer rating on 7-12 for 173 yards and a score. Colombi had a good day for Tech in his first outing, going 30-42 for 244 yards and two scores, with the one pick. Bowman was 4-7 for 23 yards. In total, K-State was 12-22 for 206 and two scores through the air, while Tech was 34-49 for 267 and a pair.

Pretty even, overall. although K-State was vastly more efficient about it: 9.36 yards per attempt compared to Tech’s 5.45.

Vaughn had a field day, almost breaking the 200-yard mark in total. He ran for 113 yards on 16 carries (7.1 per), and had 81 yards receiving on three catches. Once again, he led the team in both categories. Trotter added 43 yards on 12 carries, a very respectable 3.6 yards per touch. The leading non-diminutive receiver on the day was Moore, with 78 yards on two catches; Chabastin Taylor, Brooks, and Trotter each had a pair of catches and Knowles had one grab.

Of note defensively, Elijah Sullivan was in beast mode, recording 12 tackles including a tackle for loss. His aggression had a downside, though, as he was called for targeting at one point (although it was reversed on review). Two other Cats also had targeting calls either reversed or not called by the booth after review; McPherson and TJ Smith.

The big star for Tech was White, who had 113 yards on 12 carries, even more impressive than Vaughn on paper. Erik Ezukanma led the Red Raiders in receiving with five catches for 77 yards.

Our offensive player of the game, obviously, is once again The Deuce. On defense, we’re giving the nod to Ekow Boye-Dow, who we haven’t even mentioned here yet but whose coverage (2 breakups) and tackling (5 stops, one for loss) were absolutely critical and clutch during the game’s key final scenes. Ironically, Boye-Dow gets this despite making his worst play of the season today, but even that play was just failing to break up a pass during a play in which he immediately tackled the receiver. That, more than anything, probably underscores the point.

So, a solid win for the Wildcats, despite some key injuries which cast both a pallor over the proceedings and doubt in the outcome. What did we learn?

1) Jaylen Pickle is a beast.

Last week, Pickle batted a pass which led to a Wildcat interception. Today, he got his hand on two. Neither resulted in a turnover, but that sort of havoc creator on the defensive line is just what K-State needs as a complement to Duke and Wyatt Hubert (who also batted down a pass) on the edge.

2) Even more guys you don’t even know introduced themselves.

Hentz was gobbling up runners about to get into space in the middle all afternoon. It’s been a weakness of recent Wildcat defenses, so it was really great to see someone plugging that hole today. TJ Smith showed up in the second half hitting people like he was Mario Smith. Some guy named Malik Knowles caught a pass.

Okay, that was mean, but something is definitely off with Malik. He is absolutely a better receiver than he’s been showing thus far this season, and whatever is wrong needs to be made right.

Still, K-State continues pulling players off the shelf who contribute. It’s a beautiful thing.

3) Deuce Vaughn is going to find himself at the Downtown Athletic Club before he’s done.

He may not actually win a Heisman, but Vaughn’s skill set is just insane, his athleticism is unreal, and his speed is redline. He’s a human highlight reel, which is qualification number one. Now he just needs to start collecting the numbers to back it up, and that will happen as the pieces around him also mature.

4) Joe Klanderman is the best DC we’ve had in awhile, but he missed a page today.

David Yost flat out-adjusted Klanderman at halftime. Xavier White, who came into the game with eight yards rushing on three carries, racked up over a hundred yards just running straight up the middle over and over again. The defensive line simply could not plug the hole, created by Tech adjusting their blocking scheme. One has to fear that had Tech not resorted to throwing the ball desperately late, it would have bitten the Cats in the end.

5) The offensive line has found its footing.

Look, Harry Trotter had multiple runs of four or more yards. Vaughn had his best day so far. Thompson and Howard both had plenty of time to throw the ball. The line is starting to come together, and that will of course be a huge factor going forward, especially if Thompson is out for an extended period of time.

Up next:

K-State heads to Fort Worth to take on that other purple team whose claim to ownership over Texas has now surpassed its own. TCU notched their seventh win in nine tries since joining the Big 12 against the Longhorns this afternoon, a 33-31 squeaker.