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Final: Kansas State welcomes UCF to the Big 12 in a 44-31 win

DJ Giddens ran wild, and Will Howard slung guns, and that was enough to bail out the defense

Sep 23, 2023; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back DJ Giddens (31) breaks free for a big gain during the first quarter against the UCF Knights at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.
DJ Giddens, take a bow
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

DJ Giddens finally put an end to the “who’s going to replace Deuce Vaughn” talk with a 207-yard, four touchdown performance along with 86 yards receiving, and Kansas State needed all of it to overcome defensive miscues in a 37-24 win over Central Florida tonight at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Giddens was so prominent that he had 38 touches while the rest of the team only had 29, and personally accounted for 55% of the Wildcat offense. The game puts him at 418 yards on the year, well on pace for a 1000-yard campaign.

The Cats came out hard, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive for the fourth time in four games. Howard completed 13-yard passes to Ben Sinnott and Jadon Jackson, and DJ Giddens broke off a 36-yard run. After Howard scared everyone with a 7-yard keeper, then Giddens took it in the final yard.

UCF punched right back, gaining 64 yards on the ground on three plays, including a 48-yard scamper by Johnny Richardson. But the defense stood up in the red zone, forcing the Knights to settle for a 29-yarder by the perfectly-named Colton Boomer and keeping a 7-3 lead.

A nice kickoff return by Seth Porter was pulled back due to a holding penalty, forcing K-State to start from its own 15. As the Cats passed midfield, Howard threw his weekly interception, Corey Thornton jumping the route on a pass intended for Keagan Johnson.

A Nate Matlack sack pushed UCF back on the edge of the red zone, but Timmy McClain dumped the ball off as he was about to eat another loss of yardage, and found RJ Harvey for a 27-yard catch-and-run to make it 10-7 Knights.

Porter returned the kickoff again, but got upended at the 15 all on his own this time. The Cats chunked yardage downfield, the biggest play being a 24-yard screen pass to Giddens, before he ran it in from nine yards out to regain a 14-10 lead. The defense looked good on the ensuing drive, despite a desperate heave into nowhere by McClain that was somehow hauled in by Javon Baker to extend the drive; three plays later, Desmond Purnell stripped Harvey and VJ Payne recovered to give the Cats the ball back at their own 38.

A nine-yard run by Howard was doubled up by a defensive holding penalty, and a quick pass to Anthony Frias resulted in a 4th-and-1 at the UCF 32. The Cats were stopped, but an encroachment penalty gave K-State the first down. Howard ate a sack, but then Giddens picked up 15, 10 of it with UCF defenders dangling off his body. Then he rambled 18 yards for his third touchdown of the half, and the Cats suddenly had a 21-10 advantage.

A great pass break-up on third down by Keenan Garber forced the first 3-and-out, and indeed the first punt, of the night. K-State was called for holding, turning a 17-yard return by Phillip Brooks into seven, and the Cats went 3-and-out themselves. Jack Blumer blasted a 69-yard punt, flipping the field nicely.

Then stupidity struck. K-State bit on a flea-flicker, and Kobe Hudson scored on a 69-yard touchdown pass from McClain to close the gap to 21-17. The Cats were stopped on 4th-and-1, but on the first play McLain, under pressure from Jake Clifton, threw a strike... right to Jacob Parrish. The Cats moved downfield, getting inside the 10, but with 13 seconds left on 4th-and-6, Chris Tennant doinked a 26-yarder off the left upright. UCF knelt to end the half.

Bad special teams gave UCF the ball in Wildcat territory to start the half, and after stopping the Knights for nothing twice, McClain aired it out to Hudson again for a 46-yard score and the lead.

Giddens broke runs of 18 and 31 to get deep into Knight territory and get himself over 150 yards rushing and 200 in total offense. The drive stalled, though, and Tennant came on to kick a 30-yarder to tie things up. K-State forced a 3-and-out.

UCF looked like they were going to hold the Cats up, but a late hit on Howard and a personal foul two plays later pushed K-State down to the 25. Giddens drove into the red zone, and then turned what should have been a five-yard completion into 16. Howard ran it in himself from the 2, and K-State was back on top 31-24.

A holding call on 3nd down when Khalid Duke was flat-out tackled in the backfield left UCF facing 3rd-and-21 from their own 15 as the quarter came to a close.

The linebackers lined up 10 yards deep, and the outcome was so obvious we called it before the snap. UCF ran for 23 yards and a first down. Next play, an 8-yard completion turned into 23 when Jake Clifton roughed the passer. Jacob Parrish got called for a very questionable pass interference on a play where the pass hit Parrish in the helmet, extending the drive again. The Knights ate a delay penalty then lost 12 on a sack when McClain let Duke run him out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away, then the Cats blew him up after a short gain; BSFS Noise created another delay penalty to set up 3rd-and-24. UCF tried to run the ball with a mile to gain and for once that didn’t work at all. Boomer tried a 53-yarder, and missed wide right.

A third-down pass to Sinnott got the Cats past midfield. Another would have been a first down, but Sinnott dropped it. A third-down pass to Brooks was two feet short of the line to gain, but field position pretty much dictated a conversion attempt. Howard found Sinnott to move the chains, then ran it himself for 16 to get into the red zone. Giddens, and an end-around to Brooks, got the Cats to the 3, and then Giddens slammed home his fourth touchdown and surpassed the 200 yard mark to extend the lead to 37-24. Only 37, because Tennant missed the point after.

After one first down, a great pass breakup by Parrish and a huge sack by Brendan Mott was followed by massive pressure and an incompletion. On 4th-and-20, the Cats held McClain to ten and took over at the UCF 36 to salt the game away.

Except they didn’t. Howard, on a keeper which was intended to just burn clock, found nothing but grass in front of him and really had no choice but to scamper in for a 31-yard touchdown run and a 20-point lead with under two minutes to play.

After that, UCF did scrabble together a cheap meaningless touchdown to make the final score 44-31, but the game truly ended on the fourth down stop.

Howard was 27-42 for 255 yards, one pick and no touchdowns. He added 64 yards on seven carries and two scores with his gimpy leg.

Giddens, we’ve covered. He led the team in receiving yards and receptions, too, but he wasn’t alone. Brooks had 6 catches for 42, Sinnott had 5-64, and five others hauled in 8 passes for 63 yards.

The Cats outgained the Knights 536-407; the Knights had more passing yards, barely, at 264-255. After a disastrous first drive in which the Cats allowed 63 yards, UCF was held to just 70 the rest of the game. The Wildcats are still allowing under 75 yards a game on the ground as a result.

For the Knights, McClain was 14-24 for 264 and three touchdowns, with an interception. Hudson caught five passes for 138 yards. Johnny Richardson managed 76 yards on 6 carries, and over half of that was on one run; everyone else combined eked out 69 yards on 27 touches, which is just a hair over 2.5 yards per carry.

Penalties were problematic for both teams. K-State was only penalized five times, but it was for 63 yards. UCF was dinged 10 times for only 80, but UCF’s miscues extended key Wildcat drives and had a large part in breaking up the game in the fourth quarter. The Cats won the time of possession battle 34:20-25:40, doing a lot of that damage in the final period as they chewed up the clock.

WHAT WE LEARNED

1) DJ Giddens is a stud.

Look, some of us already knew this. We’ve been stanning DJ since Deuce announced he was entering the draft. We recognized he actually led the team in yards per carry last year even with Deuce here. And we’ve sat here listening to people talk about how losing Deuce was going to be terrible.

Yeah, well. Take that, media.

Giddens also served as Howard’s outlet tonight, giving him someone to dump the ball to and limit his potential for further injury. That he was able to turn eight catches into 86 yards was gravy.

2) Losing Daniel Green for the year is bad.

Austin Romaine did an okay job replacing the all-planet linebacker, who is the heart and soul of the defense. But Green’s lack of presence is felt in ways beyond whether or not the guy who replaces him is competent. This was the first game of the year in which the opposition was able to run the ball with any consistency at all, and Green’s absence was a big part of that.

3) Will Howard’s got guts.

Howard played hurt tonight. Whether he’d play at all was questionable. He not only threw for 255 yards, he ran for 64. Props.

4) The offensive line, faced with a hurt quarterback, stepped up.

Tonight was the best performance by the Wildcat line thus far this season. Howard was sacked once, but he had all day to throw when needed and obviously Giddens isn’t running for two bills unless they’re doing their job. Whether it’s just getting three games of being in an unexpected and new alignment finally gelling, or because they spent the week getting tough love from the coaching staff, they improved a great deal. The only real damage the UCF defensive line did was tipping a ton of Howard’s passes at the line, and that’s just being really tall.

5) The secondary still needs a lot of work.

Both of UCF’s long passing touchdowns involved the safeties completely getting lost. On Hudson’s 69-yard score, the only purple jersey that was even visible in the Wildcat half of the field as Hudson raced to the goal line was Will Lee’s, and even he blew his own coverage on that play. Interestingly, on television Devin Gardner had observed two drives previously that Lee is very quick to convert from coverage to run defense, but that this leaves him vulnerable to misdirection and double moves. He got eaten by both on this play.

(Don’t misunderstand; Lee is the best corner on this team, and he is good. This is just a flaw which needs attention.)

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

On defense, our staff has elected to give the nod to Brendan Mott, despite the stat sheet only showing three tackles and a sack. Duke had two sacks, and Desmond Purnell had two tackles including a TFL and a forced fumble, but the thing is... Mott was chasing McClain around the backfield the entire game. He was persistent and annoying. We like that.

On offense... look, if we have to tell you who the offensive player of the game is at this point, why are you even reading this? DJ Giddens is almost certainly going to be the conference’s offensive player of the week.

NEXT

Remember last year when an allegedly decent Oklahoma State team came to town and got absolutely destroyed? Well, we’re going there next Friday night, and they are bad this year. Get ready for fireworks.