The Kansas State Wildcats won their first Big 12 game under new coach Chris Klieman when they defeated the TCU Horned Frogs 24-17.
It was a pivotal victory for K-State (4-2, 1-2 Big 12) that keeps the Wildcats on track for a bowl game and added much-needed confidence into the locker room.
Here are grades from the game and a look at next week’s game against Oklahoma:
Player of the game
Skylar Thompson gets the game ball this week for his fourth-quarter heroics. He stepped up when the Wildcats needed him the most, breaking free for three crucial runs on the game’s decisive drive. Thompson sprinted 61 yards on a cleverly designed quarterback draw, scrambled for a first down on fourth-and-short and reached the end zone on another keeper to give K-State a 24-17 lead with 2:45 remaining.
He finished the game with 172 yards and two touchdowns passing to go along with 68 yards and one touchdown rushing.
K-State’s offense still has plenty of room to improve, but this was the best it has looked in weeks and Thompson was a big reason why.
Play of the game
You have already read about Thompson’s longest run of the season, so let’s use this space to recall a blocked punt from Jonathan Alexander that set up the opening score of the game. Alexander perfectly timed his rush at TCU punter Jordy Sandy for a block and then recovered the loose ball. K-State took over at the TCU 20 and scored two plays later on a touchdown strike to tight end Nick Lenners.
That sequence gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. They might not have won without that early cushion.
Stat of the game
Explosive plays were few and far between for K-State’s offense in its first two conference games, but that changed against TCU. Though the Wildcats only amassed 266 yards, there best plays were highly productive. Nick Lenners, Dalton Schoen, Wykeen Gill, Malik Knowles and Skylar Thompson all delivered plays that gained 20 or more yards.
Quote to note
“Those are the moments you dream about. You want to be in those situations with the game on the line. We were in the same situation at Mississippi State and rose to the occasion. It shows the mentality of this defense.” — K-State safety Denzel Goolsby on the Wildcats’ late defensive stand.
Offense: C+. Thompson and company made big plays when it mattered most, but there are plenty of concerning numbers to digest after this game. For starters, K-State managed 94 rushing yards on 33 attempts for an average of 2.8 yards per run. Take away Thompson’s long QB draw and those statistics get even uglier. James Gilbert averaged 2.7 yards per carry against the Big 12’s top run defense. K-State receivers and tight ends picked up the slack by catching 11 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, but this team needs an efficient running game to truly click.
Defense: B. Safety Wayne Jones had his best game of the season with 11 tackles, while Jordan Mittie and Wyatt Hubert both came up big on the defensive line. There were some forgettable moments, like a handful of missed tackles against TCU quarterback Max Duggan. The Wildcats were also fortunate the Horned Frogs were unable to complete a pass longer than 18 yards, because the deep ball was open. Still, this was a step in the right direction for Scottie Hazelton’s unit, which allowed 366 yards.
Special Teams: A+. Both teams punted the ball seven times. K-State punter Devin Anctil’s punts traveled 343 yards. TCU punter Jordy Sandy’s punts traveled 216. That is a huge difference, and a big reason why Klieman praised Anctil afterward. Blake Lynch also connected on a 21-yard field goal. Oh, and Alexander blocked a punt.
Coaching: B. It was far from perfect, but Klieman and his coaching staff had the Wildcats ready to play after an awkward month that included two off weeks and two dispiriting losses. This victory makes bowl eligibility very realistic.
K-State will be back in action against Oklahoma on Saturday in Manhattan. The game will begin at 11 a.m. on ABC.
It will undoubtedly be the Wildcats’ most difficult challenge of the season. The high-octane Sooners are off to a 7-0 start and are ranked fifth nationally. They are coming off a 52-14 victory against West Virginia. Lincoln Riley’s team will be heavily favored against K-State. It will be interesting to see what, if any, surprises Klieman might have for Oklahoma. The Wildcats will need to tackle and run the ball at a much higher rate than they did against TCU to keep up with Heisman Trophy contender Jalen Hurts and the Sooners.