Will Howard put on a clinic, playing most of the game as the Kansas State offense and defense both steamrolled Houston in a demonstrative 41-0 victory on a cold — but thankfully dry — afternoon at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan. The shutout was the first suffered by Houston since 2000, and the win sealed bowl eligibility for the Wildcats.
Howard was brilliant, completing his first 12 passes and finishing 15-17. The receivers deserve credit as well, as for the first time all season the number in the “drops” column was a big fat zero. As for the defense, they extended their streak of touchdown-free quarters to nine; K-State (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) opponents have not set foot in the end zone since halfway through the third quarter of the Texas Tech game two weeks ago.
Howard started, and DJ Giddens provided him 55 yards on 32 rushing and a 23-yard reception before a 12-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Oakley capped a 12-play 75-yard drive.
Houston (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) actually ran the ball on their opening drive, managing 32 yards in the process, but had to punt from midfield. K-State just ground their way downfield, ending the first quarter on a pass to Jayce Brown a yard short of the sticks after which he ran about 30 yards and eventually carried tacklers across the line to gain. A few plays later, Howard dropped a dime on a wide-open Phillip Brooks for a 21-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Cats forced a 3-and-out, the third down play an incompletion deep to a receiver being covered by linebacker Austin Romaine. Avery Johnson came in for the third drive, but on the second play he fumbled the handoff to Giddens, giving Houston the ball at the Wildcat 26. Donovan Smith took a shot at the end zone, but got hammered by Jake Clifton and it went nowhere. A screen pass lost two yards, and Smith threw the ball away on third down. And then Jack Martin missed a 45-yarder, meaning Johnson’s fumble only resulted in a loss of one yard.
Howard came back in, and — helped by a perfect 40-yard bomb to Brooks — led K-State to another touchdown, this one on a 1-yard run by Ward. Another 3-and-out ensued, a short Houston punt was exacerbated by an unneccesary roughness penalty when Hasaan Hypolite decided to throw Brooks around as the untouched punt rolled around on the ground. As a result, K-State took over on the Houston 44.
Giddens got 29 with his legs, and Brooks had a 15-yard catch; Giddens closed the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run aided by Cooper Beebe throwing a block so hard the defender flew backward three yards onto his back. Houston’s offense actually worked after that, sort of, but with only 1:33 to go they had no time to score, and halftime ensued with K-State up 28-0.
After halftime, Houston got buried after a holding call on the kickoff and couldn’t get across their own 30 before having to punt. But Houston forced a 3-and-out for the first time all day, and Jack Blumer oofed a 34-yard punt which actually resulted in the Cougars taking over at their own 30.
The Cougars got their biggest play of the game to this point on a 21-yard completion, but the following four plays went for 2, 1, 0, and finally -9 on a Nate Matlack sack to give the Cats the ball at their own 37. But after an 11-yard run by Giddens and nine from Howard, a short sack and an incompletion forced 4th-and-5 in no-man’s-land at the Houston 38. The Cats had to go for it, and only picked up four.
Again, the defense committed murder. Sigle nearly destroyed Parker Jenkins on a screen pass which lost a yard, Khalid Duke stopped a Jenkins run for no gain, and then with the entire Wildcat defensive line chasing him around the backfield forever, Smith threw a very bad pass which Will Lee intercepted and returned to the 24. Two runs by Giddens, of 11 and 13, put K-State in the end zone again for a 35-0 lead.
Smith again opened the drive with a long completion, but Houston only got two yards after that and turned the ball over on downs at the K-State 48. Avery Johnson came in, but went 3-and-out. Houston made a change at quarterback then, bringing on Ui Ale; he started with a Johnson impression before Houston was again faced with a 4th-and-1. For the first time all game, they got the yardage — but Ale fumbled and Desmond Purnell came away with it.
Johnson stayed in, and this time he was effective. He completed two big passes to Oakley and Will Swanson, the latter a bullet thrown into a gap under pressure. He completed the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Seth Porter — the first career touchdown for the Wildcat special teams stud. Leyton Simmering came on for the PAT, but missed wide left, and the Cats led 41-0.
Houston then went 3-and-out. No, not 4-and-out; they threw in the towel and punted. The Cats responded by giving Jake Rubley his first snaps at quarterback for 2023, handing the ball off repeatedly to Anthony Frias and getting Erik Pizarro his first career catch. Having burned four minutes, the Cats punted, pinning the Cougars at their own 13. They got some yards, but made no concerted effort to score, and time expired without them reaching midfield.
Howard, as noted, was 15-17; he only had 164 yards, but two touchdowns and 24 yards on the ground. Johnson had negative rushing yards thanks to a sack, and never did really attempt to run the ball himself except once. However, he was 5-6 passing for 46 yards and a touchdown. Rubley was 1-1 for five yards.
Giddens had 96 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns; Ward added 32 on ten carries and a score. Houston, keying defensively on the run, prevented any rushing play from going longer than 14 yards; Jadon Jackson led K-State in yards per carry at 7.5 with a pair of jet sweeps going for 15 total.
Brooks had perhaps his best game of the season, catching five passes for 83 yards. Oakley was 3-36, and both scored. The Cats had 179 yards on the ground and 215 in the air, coming just short of 400 on the day at 396. The defense held Houston to 208, and shockingly only 95 of that was passing yardage (not a typo), and a lot of that was because Houston was being credited with passing yardage on jet sweeps involving a forward pitch.
After leading first-half time of possession at a better than 2:1 rate, the Wildcats actually let Houston play football in the second half; the final TOP numbers went 34:34-25:26 in K-State’s favor. K-State had one penalty the entire game, a false start; Houston was popped six times for 60 yards. K-State won the turnover battle 2-1.
WHAT WE LEARNED
1) Keenan Garber is good.
Having taken over as the starter, Garber has just been ridiculously solid in coverage, and on numerous occasions basically forced Smith to overthrow to even have a chance to get his receiver the ball. Today, he added a brutal helicopter tackle to stop a completion with zero YAC.
2) Marques Sigle has found his groove.
Sigle was all over the place today, didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t have any mental lapses, and was very much a part of the reason the Wildcat defense ate lunch today. Good show.
3) Garrett Oakley has arrived.
Oakley caught his first career pass last week. Today, he had three, picking up 29 yards after the catch. Earlier in the season, he seemed to have hands of stone, but over the last two weeks he’s gotten open and has caught everything. Good show redux.
4) Maybe Will Howard is fully healthy again for the first time since Missouri?
That’s a thought that idly occurred toward game’s end, and the thing that’s really important if this is indeed the case is that Avery Johnson made it possible by helping Howard get a lot of rest the last couple of weeks.
5) The conference is winnable.
After the Oklahoma State loss, there was much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and general despondency. Now, K-State is 3-1 in conference play. Yes, Texas still awaits. Yes, Oklahoma State’s going to have to lose a game. But a return trip to Arlington is still on the table, and Texas doesn’t look as scary now.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Will Howard gets the nod on offense, as he was nearly flawless. On defense, after much deliberation, we’re giving it to Will Lee. Lee had an interception, a pass breakup, and forced the Ale fumble... and hardly even played the first half.
Cue the ominous music: it’s time to go to Austin for a huge clash with the Longhorns next Saturday, time and network still TBA.