Entering Saturday, TCU and Kansas State had two of the top four rushers in the Big 12.
Those two were K-State’s James Gilbert and TCU’s Darius Anderson. The senior running backs combined for 94 yards, fewer than Anderson had averaged alone before that game.
Instead of showcasing their talents, fans saw a game in which the quarterbacks carried the load. K-State won 24-17.
Here is a look at how K-State’s Skylar Thompson and TCU’s Max Duggan combined for 183 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in Manhattan.
The big ones
One of the most viral plays of the 2019 college football season came in the third quarter when Duggan ran a simple zone read on a second-and-5 from the K-State 46 yard-line.
He put the ball in the running back’s stomach and stared at K-State’s Wyatt Hubert, who took a jab step inside. When Duggan saw Hubert step to the running back, he pulled back the ball.
KSU linebacker Daniel Green was slow to fill on the back side. Safety Denzel Goolsby couldn’t get off his block. Fellow safety Wayne Jones tried to go for a big hit on Duggan, and the freshman shrugged it off. Cornerback A.J. Parker took a stiff-arm to the face, and linebacker Da’Quan Patton couldn’t chase Duggan down in time.
Forty-six yards later, Duggan dove for the pylon.
Duggan’s touchdown would have been the biggest play of the game if not for what Thompson did later.
On one of offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham’s best designs of the 2019 season so far, Thompson took the shotgun snap and dropped back to pass, but right guard Tyler Mitchell was already crossing the line of scrimmage.
It was never a pass.
K-State spread the field with a pair of receivers on each side. The inside receivers ran out routes to pull their TCU defenders to the sidelines. The outside receivers ran fades to pull the TCU safeties to the edges of the field, too. The Wildcats took advantage of what TCU does best: blitzing and man coverage.
TCU brought a nickel blitz off the right side. That meant the linebacker, who would have been waiting for Thompson otherwise, vacated the area to replace the blitzing corner in man coverage.
When Thompson saw the free blitzer coming around the right edge of the line, he stepped up and took off. There was no one in the middle of the field.
With 7:11 left in a tie game, K-State picked up 61 yards before killing the clock and scoring with 2:45 to go.
“I knew it was going to be a good play before I ever said ‘Hike,’ ” Thompson said.
Thompson wins it
Over the Cats’ previous two games, K-State hadn’t had an opportunity to score a game-winning touchdown. Games against Oklahoma State and Baylor were decided long before the final whistle.
Not Saturday. This one had a fitting end for a KSU team desperate for a win.
Thompson led the Cats on an 11-play, 95-yard drive that chewed up 5:18. It was a classic K-State drive, and it ended with Thompson’s index finger pointing to the sky after a zone read.
K-State lined up with a pair of backs flanking Thompson in the backfield. Harry Trotter to the right. Jax Dineen to the left.
The play was probably never designed to have Thompson hand off to Trotter as Dineen slipped underneath to block.
The fake got a good suck on the right side of the defensive line, and Thompson cruised in.
Thompson’s game-winner was set up a couple of plays earlier on Klieman’s most aggressive call since coming to K-State.
The Wildcats failed to convert on third down, and the offensive line immediately lined up again and started waving for the coaching staff to go for it.
Thompson took the snap under center and rolled to his right. The tight end slipped out for a route to the flats, but that left the TCU defensive end unblocked with a free shot on Thompson.
Once Thompson got around him, he had to bully his way for the first down.
A field goal might have been enough, but TCU got down to the K-State 37 yard-line on the ensuing drive. It would have been a 54-yard kick. Instead, TCU needed a touchdown.
“I remember talking to Coach Mess and said, ‘Let’s be aggressive,’“ Klieman said. “We’re pinned down to the 5. We could easily run it three times, punt it back to them and take our chances. We said, ‘Let’s be aggressive.’“
Duggan looks like a senior
K-State made TCU’s freshman quarterback look like a star.
The Wildcats missed numerous tackles on Duggan, and it started in the first quarter. K-State defenders said they weren’t expecting the extent to which the Horned Frogs ran Duggan.
Early in the game, Duggan ran a zone read to his right. K-State defensive end Kyle Ball dived to the running back, and Duggan eased around the corner.
A spin on the sideline almost earned a first down as he made Patton and Parker look silly.
Later on in the first quarter, Duggan did the same thing to Ball on the left side.
Duggan broke two tackles for a first down.
Duggan’s 46-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the final straw. K-State defensive tackle Jordan Mittie said it was the turning point after getting shoved around all day.
“It’s probably the first time all season I really challenged those guys on defense, and that’s something I don’t typically do,” Klieman said. “I thought they responded.”