It was a great Saturday for football in Manhattan. Even though the weather was hot and a bit muggy, K-State fans were back to tailgating five hours before kickoff and packing Bill Snyder Family Stadium like it was in the days before any of us knew about Covid-19. With K-State leading 7-0, fans were giddy when Skylar Thompson completed a 50-yard pass to Malik Knowles to give the Wildcats a first and ten on the Southern Illinois 12-yard line. On the next play, Thompson handed the ball off to Deuce Vaughn and ran out to the right in the open field to block for him and collapsed onto the field with what looked like a non-contact serious knee injury. A loud, boisterous crowd went completely silent. You could hear a pin drop.
The K-State athletic trainers ran out onto the field to tend to Skylar Thompson, and Chris Klieman ran out right behind them and kneeled on the field right beside him. If you have not seen the picture of Klieman, it looked like he had just lost a close family member. It appeared to me that he was sobbing and praying. My first thought was that Thompson suffered a season-ending injury, which would mean the end of his career. He did not return to the game.
Since the game on Saturday, we have received word that the injury is not as serious as initially thought and that Thompson may be back in two to four weeks. The reaction of Klieman and almost 50,000 K-State fans at the stadium should be enough to show how important Skylar Thompson is to the success of the Kansas State Wildcats football team in 2021. If Thompson is only out two weeks, as rumored, that would mean he would miss the game this weekend against Nevada and the following week at Oklahoma State and would be back in time for the Oklahoma game on October 2nd. However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It is time to analyze what the Wildcats have to do Saturday to win against a very good Nevada team.
Nevada Comes to Town
Nevada quarterback Carson Strong will likely be the first or second quarterback selected in the NFL draft next spring, and the Wolf Pack have some NFL talent at the receiver position for Strong to throw the ball to. It will be a big test for the K-State defense.
But, did you know after two games that the K-State defense is ranked number 15 in the country in total defense? They have given up 254 yards per game on average. Nevada has the 32nd ranked offense, averaging 479 yards per game, so something has got to give on Saturday. We will find out if the K-State defense is truly improved or if the ranking is competition-based.
The K-State offense led by Will Howard is my main concern on Saturday. Howard led K-State on a few scoring drives on Saturday, but he was mostly awful in relief of Thompson. I hate to bash the players, but it is time for Klieman to quit telling us how great Will Howard is. I would like to see it on the field.
When Howard came into the game for Skylar Thomspon, the Wildcats rushed three times in a row to score a touchdown to go up 14-3. On their next possession, another touchdown drive, they ran the ball eight times and passed it three times. The last seven plays of the drive were running plays. Then the wheels fell off the wagon. Deuce Vaughn fumbled the ball on the next possession, resulting in a touchdown for Southern Illinois and Howard threw a pick-six on the next possession. K-State gave the ball back to Southern Illinois again on the following possession when Howard was sacked and fumbled the ball away. Luckily halftime came for a chance to regroup. I have never been so happy for halftime.
The Wildcats had two scoring drives in the second half. In the 3rd quarter, they had a field goal drive in which they ran the ball 12 times and passed it once. In the 4th quarter, they had a touchdown drive where they ran the ball five times and threw two passes. The Wildcat defense shut out Nevada in the second half, and K-State won the game by eight.
What is the point of all this? K-State needs to run the ball to be successful with Will Howard at quarterback. Can they do it on Saturday? The numbers so far early in the season suggest so. K-State has been rushing for 204 yards per game, which ranks 38th in the country. Nevada has given up 146 yards rushing a game thus far, which ranks 79th. Nevada’s rush defense seems to be their Achilles Heel, while K-State’s rushing offense is their strength. If K-State can run the ball effectively and Howard can get enough done through the air without turning the ball over, they will be successful against Nevada.
Deuce Vaughn had 26 carries for 135 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, and he mentioned in his post-game presser that he was very sore. I am bewildered that the other running backs on the roster are not being utilized more. Deuce is great and is absolutely the number one back, but every time Jacardia Wright gets the ball he makes positive plays. Wright had three carries last week for 24 yards. On his final carry, which was a great run, my son and I joked that he’ll probably get up and sprint to the sideline and be replaced. That is exactly what happened. It was mind-boggling. I’m worried that Deuce may get too banged up this season if he gets too many carries week in and week out, especially in an offense that will rely a lot on the run for at least a few more weeks.
It should be a great game on Saturday. I think K-State’s improved defense will slow down Nevada just enough, and the Wildcats will run the ball effectively and win a close game. If you want to watch it, get your ESPN Plus subscription bought if you haven’t already. The next two K-State games are streaming exclusively on that platform!
*If you like what you’ve read from Joe Mathieu, find more on his personal K-State site: https://www.kstatejoe.com/*