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Wildcat Nostalgia Watch Party: 2002 K-State 27, USC 20

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This looked like the start of something special.

NCAA Football - USC vs. Kansas State - September 21, 2002
Carson Palmer got all the hype. But Ell Roberson came off the bench to steal the spotlight in K-State’s 2002 home win over USC.
Photo by Peter Aiken/WireImage

Kansas State started the 2002 season, as it traditionally does, with big wins over smaller programs. The Wildcats had beaten up on Division 1-AA Western Kentucky 48-3 in the opener, pelted Louisiana-Monroe 68-0 to begin September, and crushed Tony Romo’s Eastern Illinois Panthers 63-13 in the rain to finish out the cupcake portion of their schedule. Those performances were enough to elevate K-State into the rankings at No. 25.

That ranking was predicted to to be short-lived, with the No. 11 USC Trojans and media darling Carson Palmer coming to Manhattan. But as we chronicled on Friday, the 2002 K-State team was a good one, and the Cats were not having it.

Hotshot junior college transfer Marc Dunn had beaten out Ell Roberson in Fall practice and started at quarterback for K-State in the first three games. He would start against the Trojans, as well. But lack of production brought Roberson off the bench in the second quarter. Ell would ignite the offense with a rushing touchdown and a scoring strike to James Terrry to stake the Cats to a seemingly insurmountable 25-6 lead just as the 4th quarter started. USC’s only score to that point had come off a fumble return.

But Palmer threw a touchdown pass to Keary Colbert, and Sultan McCullough scored on a 25-yard run to pull within a touchdown, at 27-20 with over six minutes remaining in the game.

Roberson led a drive to the 12-yard line, and it appeared the Cats would ice the contest without further drama. But he fumbled into the end zone. Palmer marched his offense to the K-State 33, but after a Tank Reese sack and an incomplete pass, the Wildcats were finally able to get into victory formation to close out the win.

Some notes of interest:

  • K-State had traveled to southern California the previous year as the No. 12 team in the country and escaped with a 10-6 win.
  • K-State’s lone touchdown in that game was scored in unconventional fashion. Near the goal line, running back Josh Scobey fumbled. It was picked up and advanced a yard for the touchdown by offensive lineman Nick Leckey.
  • Also in that 2001 game, then- and future media darling Troy Polamalu executed—and celebrated—one of the dirtiest hits you’ll ever see, running down and flattening Aaron Locket with a shoulder under his chin while he was still waiting for the punt to come down. You can watch two clips of that nonsense and hear what Greg Sharpe and Stan Weber thought about it on this aptly named YouTube post.
  • After the 2002 game, Coach Snyder was unwilling to anoint Roberson the starter for the following week’s game at Colorado, saying, “As of right now, he’s one of our quarterbacks” and grading Roberson’s performance “somewhere between average and C-minus.” Snyder 1.0 was strict!
  • Carson Palmer entered the contest averaging 273 yards per game. The K-State defense held him to 186 yards on 18-for-47 accuracy. Palmer would go on to complete 63% of his passes on the season for 3,942 yards to win the Heisman Trophy.
  • The win vaulted K-State to No. 13. Unfortunately, they stumbled in a shootout at Colorado the following week. Ah, what could have been!

Links to watch

Join us at 1:00 CDT to rewatch the Wildcats frustrate the mighty men of Troy.

The link to have us all watching at the same time: https://www.watch2gether.com/rooms/p7mhzkumn87eyixwwe?lang=en

Link for those who want to watch the game on their own later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UntCuW581s4

Go Cats!