The Kansas State football team had a tough task ahead of them Saturday afternoon, taking on a tough Nevada football team headlined by star quarterback Carson Strong, a potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick come April.
However, K-State took care of business on Saturday, taking down the Wolf Pack 38-17 in a dominant defensive performance from Daniel Green and a solid offensive performance from sophomores Will Howard and Deuce Vaughn.
“What a win. We challenged the guys early in the week that we needed to take the next step as a football team,” head coach Chris Klieman said in his postgame press conference. “We’ve been prepared for it, we’re kind of built for this, we knew the non-con schedule was going to be extremely difficult. We knew adversity had struck losing Skylar, and we challenged the guys to rise up, get their game to the next level and show that we can play with a really quality team like Nevada and I was so pleased with how we played throughout the game.”
Getting off to a hot start, Howard hit senior tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe in stride for a 68-yard touchdown with just 14:16 left on the clock in the first quarter. The play — with just 44 seconds gone in the first quarter — is tied for the ninth-quickest score in school history.
Howard finished the game completing 7-of-10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 56 yards and two scores.
“At the end of the day it’s O-line, running backs,” Howard said. “We were pounding the ball. I don’t know how many times I threw the ball but it probably wasn’t a lot . . . Our defense played really well, [they] shut down a really good quarterback, and a really good offense. It’s really easy when you’re dominating the line of scrimmage like that.”
Vaughn put on another impressive performance this season, rushing for 100+ yards for the third straight game, this time going for 127 yards and one touchdown. Vaughn also cracked into the K-State record books with his performance today, now sitting at fifth all-time in school history in the fastest number of games to reach 1,000 career rushing yards.
“That [record is] pretty big,” Vaughn said. “That’s actually crazy . . . But that’s just a testament to my O-line upfront. They did their thing today and all week dating back to last year. I love those boys upfront, the tight ends, fullbacks. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in without them.”
Vaughn already has 371 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the season, showing that a sophomore slump isn’t in the books for the running back.
“He’s a special player and a special talent and a humble player,” Klieman said. “He would tell you the same thing I want to tell you. Let’s credit the offensive line and tight ends and fullbacks because they blocked really well.”
Klieman said in his postgame press conference that the defense was crucial in this game for the Wildcats.
“The best defense for us was our offense on the field,” coach Klieman said.
Daniel Green led the team defensively with nine tackles, one sack and one tackle-for-loss on the day. K-State held Nevada to just 25-yards on the ground but gave up 306-yards through the air.
“It’s always fun going out and competing,” Green said. “As a defense, we talk about a mob mentality, so when we have a challenge in front of us, we take that personally like we gotta go out there and execute. I think the coaches came out with a great game plan and we played it well.”
Sophomore defensive back Tee Denson made a game-changing play in the second quarter, intercepting Nevada quarterback Carson Strong and returning it 26-yards to set up the Wildcats in good field position with 6:45 until halftime. The interception led to a field goal and gave the Wildcats a 17-7 lead going into the break.
“It was a huge play,” Klieman said. “That guy doesn’t throw many interceptions. I thought we should have had two more that we undercut and didn’t quite make but it was a critical play.”
That play was Denson’s second career interception and his most important — coming from the arm of a projected first-round draft pick.
“I’m truly just really proud of the defense,” Denson said. “We think that we have a really solid football team. The offense is always going to do their part and the defense, the mob, we’re always going to show up so you can count on us no matter what.”
K-State wasn’t injury-free, unfortunately, as defensive end Khalid Duke went down with a leg injury, forcing younger players like Nate Matlack and Spencer Trussell into the game to make big-time plays.
Team captain and transfer defensive tackle Timmy Horne emphasized keeping the “job’s not finished” mentality when an impactful player gets hurt.
“It sucks whenever you have a player down, but you always have to have the mentality that you’ll finish the job and to finish it for Khalid,” Horne said. “That’s what we were thinking about and to make sure we keep pushing and pressing through because you can’t bring the whole team down.”
K-State opens Big 12 play against Oklahoma State next week in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. kickoff and will be streamed live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, with radio coverage through the K-State Sports Network.