Sure, LSU was shorthanded. The Tigers still had more recruiting stars on the field, though, and yet Kansas State was all over LSU (6-7, 3-5 SEC) even before anyone could claim that depth had become the issue. The Wildcats (8-5, 4-5 Big 12) opened up a 21-0 lead on the way to a 42-20 blowout in the 2022 Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Because of the issues with LSU’s roster, it’s hard to take a great deal away from this win. The most important takeaway, perhaps, is the way the offense was run. Not how effective it was — that’s a cloudy picture. But the playcalling was imaginative and generous, five guys carrying the ball and ten players catching passes from Skylar Thompson. As an audition to keep the job full-time, Collin Klein didn’t do himself any disservice.
The Wildcats ground over 18 minutes off the clock on their first three drives, the third of which ended with seven minutes left in the second quarter. LSU went three-and-out and then threw a third-down interception to Russ Yeast; those two brief Tiger possessions were layered with three Wildcat touchdowns. Thompson threw a five-yard pass to Malik Knowles which Knowles amazingly turned into a 25-yard circus run touchdown, a one-yard run by Deuce Vaughn, and another touchdown for Knowles on a five-yard pass.
LSU managed to use up most of the rest of the half getting on the board, closing with a 23-yard pass from converted wide receiver Jontre Kirklin to current wide receiver Jaray Jenkins. The Cats, behind a great return from Knowles which would have gone for six if he’d cut right instead of left near midfield, got close enough for a 54-yard attempt by relief kicker Ty Zentner, but there wasn’t enough leg.
In the third, LSU went three-and-out and K-State answered, Vaughn scoring on an 18-yard run to put K-State up 28-7. The Cats stood LSU up on a fourth-and-one a few plays later, but penalties forced K-State to punt for the first time all game.
Three plays later, Kirklin tried to go deep but Ross Elder read the ball perfectly and caught it as if he were the intended receiver, then returned it 32 yards to put K-State near midfield. A 26-yard pass to Daniel Imatorbhebhe and a 27-yard run by Vaughn put K-State at the two, and Thompson dumped it to Vaughn to go up 35-7. Another three-and-out for LSU pretty much ended the fight, but the game still had 13:26 to go.
A 45-yard run by Vaughn and a 12-yard completion to Brooks set up Vaughn’s third touchdown run of the night, although Brooks being ruled down at the one cost Thompson what would have been his 43rd career touchdown pass. That would have left him one shy of Josh Freeman’s school record.
With 3:35 to go and four Wildcats converging on him, Kirklin heaved a ball into the end zone which Malik Nabers came down with. The Wildcat starters came out on offense for two plays and a first down before Chris Kleiman called timeout to let Skylar Thompson come off the field to thunderous applause, and Will Howard finished the night. The Cats were unable to run out the clock, and on the final play LSU ran a double-reverse and Kirklin launched a ball to Chris Hilton for an 81-yard touchdown; by rule there was no point-after attempt.
K-State’s defense held LSU to 308 yards, 227 of which came before the final play. 164 of those yards did come on the ground, which is concerning. The Cats racked up 442 yards, 183 on the ground.
Thompson had a brilliant night, throwing for 259 yards on 21-28 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Vaughn ran for three touchdowns and caught one, setting a K-State record for total touchdowns in a bowl game; he carried 21 times for 146 yards. Brooks had five catches for 69 yards, Knowles had 42 yards and two touchdowns on three catches, Warner had his best game with three catches for 42, and five other guys caught nine passes for over a hundred yards between them.
What did we learn?
Nothing. It’s impossible to really make any forward-looking observations after watching a starting quarterback’s final game, played against a team which barely had enough players to even take the field. That doesn’t take away from the win, because it was comprehensive. But dissecting the game to glean ideas for later? That’s fruitless.
The only real item of interest, as noted, is that maybe Collin Klein really should keep the job as offensive coordinator.
Players of the Game
On offense, we’re giving it to the same two guys who won the award almost all season. Both players deserved it in a vacuum; Skylar Thompson and Deuce Vaughn each put up stellar performances. For Thompson, it’s the culmination of a career that was full of both heartbreak and exultation; his ability to walk off the field to a standing ovation from the crowd in Houston was a tear-jerking moment for Twitter. Thompson earned the official bowl MVP award, and he deserved that; Vaughn deserves to share it here.
On defense, Ross Elder played a fantastic game. Elder was never going to be a big star in Manhattan, but he did everything he was asked for years and finally got the opportunity to be a starter in the backfield. Tonight, he put it all together, making 11 tackles, picking off one pass and busting a big return, and almost snagged another errant throw.
And that does it for the 2021 Kansas State Wildcat football team. A season of ups and downs, disappointment and thrills, anger and joy. There are plenty of questions surrounding this roster for 2022, but for now we’re just going to enjoy this moment.
They don’t come around every year, you know.