Last Saturday, Kansas State did what good teams do to teams like Troy; they leaned on them until they broke. It wasn’t pretty at times, but it felt inevitable. The defending Sun Belt Champs fought hard, but it was clear by the middle of the 3rd quarter that they were out of gas, and the ‘Cats weren’t letting up on the pressure. In the end, this game felt closer than the final score indicates. Troy didn’t quit, and had a few moments where they looked like they might challenge, but in the end, couldn’t withstand the four-quarter beating administered by Chris Klieman’s crew.
First and foremost, that was a clinic by the defense. When I profiled Troy’s offense, I focused on Kimani Vidal, and for good reason - he was only a few yards away from 250 in the Trojan’s opener. In the end, he managed a respectable line of 17 carries for 83 yards. The thing is, more than half those yards came on a 46 yard scamper. The other 16 carries netted little to nothing. Subsequently, his team was 6-17 on 3rd downs, and never mounted a sustained attack. I said in the preview that if ‘Cats defense held Vidal under 100 yards, they win - and that’s exactly what happened.
Granted, there were a few hiccups on the way to blowout victory. For as good as Will Howard’s been this season, he’s been a little loose with the ball. I’m not sure what he saw when he launched the ball deep over the middle to a double covered RJ Garcia, but it was a bad read. That errant throw turned what looked like a blowout into a game. The Trojans went on a 10 point run, and it looked like they had the momentum going into half until the K-State offense put together a back-breaking touchdown right as the half expired. Despite the interception, the coaching staff trusted Howard to make good decisions in the 2-minute drill instead of running out the clock and settling for a 4 point lead at half. That faith was rewarded by a beautifully blocked Phillip Brooks, 39 yard touchdown reception.
The offense took a body shot from Troy, shook it off, and responded with a knock out, all in the same quarter. We might be talking about a totally different game without the half ending touchdown.
The defense kept Troy in a headlock in the 3rd quarter until the offense finally kicked in and put them away. The first four possessions for the Trojans coming out of the half netted them 12 plays and -1 net yards. Folks, that’s something you expect out of a vintage Alabama or Clemson defense. Meanwhile the Wildcat offense finished the game by scoring touchdowns on 3 of the last 4 drives of the game. It’s tough to make a team like Troy quit on the field, but about midway through the 4th, they would have thrown in the towel if that was an option; they were physically and mentally exhausted.
The good thing about taking on a game opponent like Troy in the non-conference is they’re good enough to expose you. Their defense, in particular, gave the vaunted K-State offensive line fits. Carver Willis continued to struggle, and just like in the opener, was replaced by left guard Cooper Beebe at the right tackle spot. Connor Riley has pulled Willis for Beebe in the first two games of the season. It will be interesting to see if Riley skips the part where Willis gets smoked off the line and gives up a big hit on Howard, and starts Beebe at right tackle and Taylor Poiter at left guard until Christian Duffie returns from injury.
I also like that the Trojans held up against the K-State rushing attack. You could see the line trying to assert their dominance, but it wasn’t until the 4th quarter that they finally wore down Troy enough to break their will. That’s going to be the winning formula for K-State in some games this season. Patience will be key, and for the most part, that was a patient victory. I don’t see many teams standing up to this rushing attack for four quarters.
I need a second to talk about Jaden Jackson. I didn’t expect much out of the Ole Miss transfer this year. To me, he seemed like a fast guy first and a football guy second. I’m happy to say I was wrong. With Keagan Johnson limited in the first two weeks, Jackson received the consistent playing time he never received in Oxford, and showed everyone what he’s capable of on a football field. Through the first two games of the season he has 6 receptions, 2 touchdowns and 115 yards. That’s better than any of his other 4 seasons individually, and he has doubled his career touchdown total. If he can maintain this, he could be the steal of the portal.
On defense, it’s great to see Khalid Duke back and playing well. I’m also glad to outside linebacker experiment is over. I’ve said it before, on paper Duke looks like an outside linebacker, but on the field, he’s a defensive end. He reminds me a little of former Clemson All-American Vic Beasley (also out of Georgia). Vic looked like he was too tall and skinny to play defensive end, right up until you snapped the ball, and he’s two steps in the backfield before the tackle is out of his stance. This team can’t reach its potential without Khalid Duke playing at an elite level. He brings something totally different to the pass rush with his ability to win one-on-one on the outside, and win quick.
Overall, Saturday’s game provided Chris Klieman with excellent film. I think Troy’s going to be a solid team this year, but I think Kansas State has a chance to be special. Two or three seasons ago, this game probably goes down to the wire, now it’s a 4th quarter blowout because of the roster-wide talent upgrade. This is a deep Kansas State team, and that depth, paired with the style of play on both sides of the ball should make for a great second half team.
Now...on to Missouri.