ANALYSIS: Freshmen Howard, Vaughn step up to beat Texas Tech

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Freshman quarterback Will Howard shined in the Oct. 3 football game against Texas Tech. Starting senior quarterback Skylar Thompson was unable to finish the first half or the rest of the game due to an injury. The Wildcats beat the Raiders 31-21 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Dalton Wainscott | Collegian Media Group).

The Wildcats’ starting quarterback, senior Skylar Thompson, lay on the field late in the second quarter. He briefly tried to get up, but laid back down and waited on the trainers. His back-up — true freshman Will Howard — led the Wildcats down the field in what would be a 97-yard touchdown drive.

“My job is the back up and I need to always be ready to go. Coach [Collin] Klein always talks about that, ‘You’re one play away,’” Howard said. “I try to prepare like I am the starter and Skylar does a great job of helping me. We go up there and watch film together, he’s a great mentor to have.”

The former four-star recruit from Pennsylvania, who did not have spring practice or a full fall camp, managed to lead Kansas State to a 31-21 win over Texas Tech in the first meaningful playing time of his college career.

“[Howard] did a great job for us. We didn’t open up everything for him, but Will can handle a ton for a true freshman,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “They pressured him and we knew they were going to pressure him. … He’s a competitor. He’s a winner. He wants the stage and it wasn’t too big for him.”

Some big plays helped Howard, who looked shaky at times early, to come up big when it counted.

“When you get the ball to guys like that and they make plays like they did, that’s special,” Howard said. “As a quarterback, I’m spoiled to have guys like that who can make those kinds of plays. That definitely got us fired up and feeling good.”

Texas Tech had just taken their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter when Howard rolled out on second and five. He hit senior tight end Briley Moore, who was rolling with him.

Moore slipped a tackle and took the ball 66 yards all the way down to the four-yard line. Senior running back Harry Trotter would power the ball on the next play to take back the lead.

“I’ve seen [Moore make big plays]. He had one of about 70 [yards] against me a few years back, so I’ve seen it plenty of times with Briley,” Klieman said.

With a three-point lead and Texas Tech threatening, senior Jahron McPherson intercepted Red Raider backup quarterback Henry Columbi in the end zone. The two teams traded punts before Howard got another opportunity to get a speedy Wildcat the ball in space.

Freshman running back Deuce Vaughn was lined up over a linebacker. He found a little space, made the catch and then did what he does best.

“They wanted to blitz, and I ended up hopping out wide and they got jumbled up and put a linebacker on me,” Vaughn said. “Right then, I kind of looked at Will and Will kind of looked at me and beamed across his face.”

He stepped out of a tackle around midfield but nearly came to a complete stop to do so. For a second, it looked like he would be tracked down from behind. Vaughn flipped it into another gear and won a footrace to the end zone for a 70-yard, game-sealing touchdown.

“When you’ve got Deuce one-on-one with a linebacker, I’m going to take that every day of the week,” Howard said. “He’s a great player, great playmaker and he just did what Deuce does and he made a great play. All I had to do was get it in his hands.”

Vaughn finished the game with 16 rushes for 113 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 81 yards and another touchdown. He led K-State in both categories for the second game in a row.

Thompson spent the second half of the game in street clothes on the sideline. Klieman did not have an update on his condition after the game.

The Wildcats will travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to play the TCU Horned Frogs at 3 p.m. on Oct. 10 on FOX.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.