Will Howard and Avery Johnson traded possessions the entire night, and it worked fabulously as the Wildcat offense rolled up 587 yards of offense and the defense throttled the Frogs as K-State rolled to a 41-3 win over TCU on Harley Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The offense was a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut for three quarters, scoring on six of their first seven drives before settling into clock-killing mode late. The defense held TCU to 2-13 on third down, although TCU did convert twice on fourth.
K-State (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) took the field after the opening kickoff with both Howard and Johnson in the huddle, and the first play was an end-around to Johnson. Howard broke off runs of 30 and 11 yards as the Wildcats relentlessly surged downfield; every play was a positive play save for one incomplete pass, and DJ Giddens ended the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
TCU (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) had to punt after one first down, and Johnson came on to run the offense. He had runs of 9 and 23, and a 26-yard pass to Jayce Brown to take K-State to the three; a pitch to Treshaun Ward sealed the deal and gave the Cats a 14-0 lead. The pitch was ruled a forward pass, so it ended up being Johnson’s first career touchdown pass.
The defense had a 3-and-out, except Will Lee was called for pass interference on the third-down incompletion. TCU then raced downfield into the red zone, but the defense forced three incompletions and the Frogs had to accept a 32-yard Griffin Kell field goal to get on the board.
It was Howard’s turn again on the third drive. A short pass to Brown was followed by a short run on an end-around to Keagan Johnson; Howard then hit Giddens in the flat and he raced 61 yards for a touchdown to put the Cats up 21-3.
TCU had to punt; Johnson then led K-State into the red zone, but for the first time TCU managed to force a fourth down. Chris Tennant was good from 27.
Things ground to a halt for a bit then, as two TCU punts sandwiched a turnover on downs for K-State. Johnson led K-State right up to the red zone, and as time expired in the half Tennant added a 40-yard kick for a 27-3 lead.
TCU drove into the red zone to open the third quarter, but a fourth-down stop ended the threat. The Cats then embarked on a devastating 13-play 81-yard drive consuming just under eight minutes which culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Howard to Brown, his first career touchdown, and the lead extended to 34-3.
TCU again drove, but again gave K-State the ball back in the red zone — this time courtesy of a Desmond Purnell interception. But for the first time, an Avery Johnson drive was mostly a disaster, and K-State had to punt from midfield on 4th-and-16. But the Frogs went 3-and-out at their own 11, and the punt didn’t even reach K-State territory. Howard capitalized with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Will Swanson to cap his half of the night.
TCU moved the ball well on their final drive, however, and got down to the two yard line with seven seconds remaining. They did not get into the end zone, as the defense said “oh, hell no”.
K-State racked up 587 yards, even considering they spent much of the second half just trying to get the game over with. Howard was 10-16 for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns and an eye-popping 205.2 passer rating; Johnson was 5-10 for 90 with one score and a 158.6. On the ground, Howard added 62 yards (on only four carries!) and Johnson had 73 on 16. That’s 135 yards rushing from the quarterbacks; the running backs combined for 174, as Ward had 89 yards on 17 carries and Giddens had 85 on nine. Five other guys tacked on another 34 yards on five touches, and it all added up to 343 yards on 52 carries, a 6.6 YPC clip.
Giddens also had 61 yards on two catches, giving him 146 yards of offense; Ward had three catches for 17, giving him 106. Brown was the leading receiver on the night at 4-88. Brooks had three for 31, Swanson 2-22, and Oakley 1-11. The Cats averaged 16.1 per completion, 9.4 per attempt.
Josh Hoover was held to a miserable 23-43 performance and only 187 yards — a passer rating of only 85.4 — after his 400-yard outburst against BYU last week. Emani Bailey did reach 100 yards rushing for the Frogs, but that was basically on the back of breaking free for 32- and 35-yard runs. Otherwise, he’d have had 33 yards on ten carries.
Penalties weren’t much of a deal; TCU had four for 33 yards, K-State six for 44. K-State easily won time of possession, 38:50-21:10.
WHAT WE LEARNED
1) This two-quarterback thing looks fun.
A weird yet elegant solution to the problem of having two starting quarterbacks with different skill sets presented itself, and K-State executed it perfectly. More impressively, they juggled responsibility well enough that Johnson presented himself as a passing threat and Howard made use of his legs — a very important factor in executing this type of game plan, preventing defenses from just assuming Johnson will run and Howard will throw.
2) The defense was brilliant.
They gave up a few plays, but overall they shut TCU down completely when it mattered. TCU was held to 4.7 yards per play despite those few big plays, Josh Hoover was forced into a huge array of terrible throws, and TCU only made it to 300 yards on the night, exactly.
3) The receivers are still a problem.
Jayce Brown showed he deserves the playing time he hadn’t been getting before last week, and the tight ends finally started catching passes, but even with Johnson in the game they were having issues getting separation in man coverage, highlighting the “not really Will’s fault” stance we’ve been taking all season.
That said, the run game tonight did wonders to open the passing game, and Johnson — finally given an opportunity to at least try to air it out — showed a very, very pretty ball. If he’s QB1 in 2024, he’ll have a good time... assuming some receivers show up.
4) This team is a team.
All across the lineup, K-State has people sharing playing time, and there’s no jealousy or anger anywhere. Chris Klieman made note of this himself in his on-field post-game interview, and the sight of one player congratulating their replacement was frequent, and was frequently commented on by the TV crew. Specifically, it’s clearly obvious that Howard and Johnson have each other’s backs 100%, and that’s vitally important for this two-quarterback deal to work out.
5) K-State controlled both lines of scrimmage.
TCU only hurried the Wildcat quarterbacks twice, and only managed one sack and two TFLs; on run blocking, the Cats were nearly perfect the entire game. Meanwhile, K-State had two sacks and held TCU to 5.1 yards per carry even taking the two big runs by Bailey into account (2.3 YPC otherwise). That’s beef.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Offensively, we’ve got to hand it to the two-headed quarterback beast. Avery Johnson and Will Howard were nearly flawless, save for one bad Johnson drive; most of their incompletions were either throwaways or the fault of the receivers, and they both made things work with their legs.
Our defensive award this week goes to Desmond Purnell, who added half a sack to his interception and was all over the place tonight.
Morning football at the Bill next Saturday as something that has never happened before will happen: K-State will play Houston.