Avery Johnson got his shot and cashed in, becoming the first Big 12 quarterback with five rushing touchdowns in one game since some guy named Collin Klein, as Kansas State shrugged off some early hiccups to post their eighth straight win over Texas Tech with a 38-21 victory tonight at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.
K-State (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) opened the scoring with a 47-yard Chris Tennant field goal after the offense cooked their way into Tech territory. The defense was solid on their first chance, forcing Texas Tech (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) to punt after Marques Sigle nearly intercepted a third-down pass. But K-State was pinned deep when a holding penalty changed having the ball at the 35 to having it on the 10.
A big 18-yard run by DJ Giddens gave them room to work, but the Cats ended up having to punt three plays later. A 3-and-out and a short punt gave K-State the ball back again at their own 41. Avery Johnson entered the fray and immediately picked up 15, then threw to Ben Sinnott for another first down. Treshaun Ward immediately scampered for another 18, and an end-around to Keagan Johnson gained 13 and left the Cats at the two; Avery dashed around the edge for a touchdown. Five plays, and only the touchdown run went for fewer than 11 yards.
The defense stuffed Tahj Brooks on 3rd-and-2 at midfield, but Tech converted on a shovel pass in traffic on 4th. A 31-yard pass took Tech down to the two, at which point K-State’s vaunted goal line defense forced the Red Raiders to take four plays to finally get into the end zone and close the gap to 10-7.
Avery remained in the game, but telegraphed two straight handoffs to Giddens, and the Cats went 3-and-out. Tech suffered the same fate after Khalid Duke flat outran Behren Morton and sacked him on third down. Howard returned, and although the Cats moved the sticks a couple of times they were forced to punt after Howard failed to throw the ball away under pressure on 3rd-and-4 near midfield and took an eight-yard loss. Cats punted, Tech punted.
Howard hit Sinnott for 42 on the second play of the drive to charge into Red Raider real estate. Avery Johnson came in again, and a 16-yard run by Ward on 3rd-and-2 got K-State to the 10. Two five-yard runs by Johnson — the second of which featured Sinnott laying out two different tacklers — made the score 17-7.
K-State was in good shape on defense, but Jake Clifton was called for targeting. The defense folded after that, giving up a 30-yard completion to Cam’Ron Valdez and a 30-yard run by Tahj Brooks before Brooks scored from the two with 33 seconds left in the half.
Morton was injured on that Tech scoring drive, necessitating the first career appearance by Tech’s third-string quarterback, freshman Jake Strong. The Cats forced Tech into a 4th-and-3, and strong overthrew his receiver by about ten yards, giving K-State the ball at the Red Raider 45.
Howard opened the half for the Wildcats. Facing 4th-and-1, the Cats lined up to go for it, but Giddens was called for a false start on a head bob, and Jake Blumer had to punt. It was a good punt; Seth Porter downed it at the one yard line.
A fake pitch by Strong resulted in a 54-yard keeper, taking the Red Raiders to the eight yard line. On third down, while being absolutely obliterated by VJ Payne, Strong somehow found Jerand Bradley, who was almost entirely out of bounds when he caught the ball... except for his foot. That gave Tech a 21-17 lead, although neutral fans almost universally saw offensive pass interference on the play.
Avery Johnson took over again, and a face mask penalty and a 12-yard Ward run on 4th-and-1 kept the drive going. The freshman finished the drive with a 30-yard run for his third rushing touchdown of the night, and K-State retook the lead 24-21.
On the very next play, Payne picked off the ball one-handed and ran it back to the Tech 11. Johnson scored again on the next play for a 31-21 lead.
Tech drove on the next drive, but Kobe Savage picked off a Strong pass. K-State went 3-and-out, but Blumer dropped his punt at the six to pin the Red Raiders deep again. A couple of plays later, Strong arm-punted to a wide-open Savage at midfield, but on review it was ruled the ball had hit the ground. After a few big plays by Tech, Strong went for the end zone and Savage picked him off again — and this one counted.
The Red Raiders were stopped on fourth down at the Wildcat 29 with 2:34 to go, sealing the win as they had no more timeouts and K-State picked up two first downs to run out the clock anyway.
Johnson was fantastic, carrying the ball 12 times for 91 yards; he was also effective in the air, albeit with limited attempts, going 8-9 for 77 yards for a 193.7 QBR. Howard, who passed Michael Bishop to move into tenth place on K-State’s career passing yardage list, was 6-9 for 86 yards.
As for the running backs, tonight was Treshaun Ward’s night; he picked up 118 yards on 16 carries, while Giddens racked up 53 on 12. Sinnott led the receivers in both categories with six catches and 72 yards; Brooks had four for 47, and four other receivers caught one pass each, including freshman Jayce Brown who had a big 21-yard catch on the final scoring drive.
K-State had 436 yards, 273 of them on the ground; they did give up 480 to the Red Raiders, but did hold Tahj Brooks under 100 yards, which was an accomplishment. Tech did manage 182 yards on the ground, though.
Penalties were even at 5-for-45 for both teams, while K-State led in time of possession at 32:45-27:15 and won the turnover battle 3-0.
WHAT WE LEARNED
1) Avery Johnson is REALLY GOOD.
There’s going to be a quarterback controversy now, most likely, but honestly it’s only because Will Howard is a great guy and everyone loves him and he did win a Big 12 Championship, after all. But the offense has been moribund under Howard ever since he was hurt against Missouri. Under Avery tonight, it clicked.
However, it clicked partly because Tech wasn’t prepared for it. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re either going to see Howard holding the keys again, or we’re going to see how well Johnson plays when a team is able to plan for him. It’s easy to rush to judgement here and demand Avery claim the job, but we’ve all seen this happen before only for the hot hand to be not so hot after teams had film.
There is no doubt whatsoever, however, that Johnson has the skills and wheels to do things. We’ll see what happens.
2) Seth Porter is a beast.
We don’t often pay much attention to special teams coverage guys, because frankly that’s a moment in the game when we’re all sort of distracted dissecting the prior drive, right?
Porter demanded attention tonight. He positioned himself perfectly to keep a punt from bouncing into the end zone, downing at the one. He caught the return man inside the 15 two other times, preventing him from getting any yards to speak of at all. Good work.
3) We’re still questioning the playcalling — sort of.
With Howard in, the play calls were still head-scratchers. With Johnson in, they were... not. There’s just a ton of things you can read into this, but it’s probably not surprising that a quarterback who can run like Avery Johnson is going to fit more into what Collin Klein is comfortable with calling.
4) The receivers... arrgh.
Tonight, the receiving corps did something they hadn’t done for Howard all season: bailed him out. RJ Garcia’s reception wasn’t even intended for him; the DB jumped the route, and Garcia jumped the DB to make the catch. There were a couple of other catches of balls which, over the first five weeks of this season, might not have been caught.
The only thing even remotely resembling a drop was an overthrown ball to Ward, who is not exactly a tall man. K-State attempted 18 passes, and only four were incomplete.
But... K-State only attempted 18 passes (against 46 carries). That’s not sustainable once film’s out there, and we’re left to keep asking: why aren’t these guys open more?
5) There is no five.
We didn’t really learn anything new beyond 1-4. Whether this team succeeds going forward is going to be a game-planning issue more than anything.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Well, obviously it’s Avery Johnson on offense, and if you pick off two passes in one game (three, really), it’s hard not to name you our defensive player of the game, Mr. Kobe Savage. And a special Special Teams nod to Seth Porter, who deserves a damned game ball.
It’s the game you were all waiting for two months ago, anyway: the rematch of the 2022 Big 12 Championship game, which we finally get to play in Manhattan after being in Fort Worth and Arlington last year. TCU comes to town for a 6:00 kick, network TBD.