The Hangover: K-State is Kansas’ premier football program — again

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(Graphic by Sarah Unruh | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas football is in a state of disrepair. That is the analysis from Kansas State’s 35-10 shellacking of its in-state rival on Saturday in Lawrence.

On a more serious note, K-State dominated on both sides of the ball, as K-State fans have come to expect. The Wildcats were able to out-talent and out-scheme the Jayhawks in the 111th consecutive meeting of the Sunflower State’s two Power Five football programs.

K-State put the game out of reach early with a Deuce Vaughn-powered touchdown drive on the Wildcats’ first possession of the game after showing KU they were not going to move the ball easily.

Quarterback Skylar Thompson connected on a deep play-action passing touchdown the next time K-State had the ball. The K-State coaching staff seems to love those play-action roll-outs, and they have been hitting them for huge gains this season. It has added an explosive element to the offense that had been missing over the years.

Vaughn will rightfully get a lot of the attention and credit for the offensive output — he ran the ball 11 times for 162 yards and three TDs — but Thompson was once again the best version of himself.

He completed 19 of 24 passes for 244 yards and the aforementioned 68-yard touchdown to Malik Knowles. Thompson is quietly having the best season of an already strong career. He’s the 10th most efficient passer in the country per the NCAA’s passing efficiency stat, 19th in ESPN’s QBR and fifth in yards per pass attempt. He’s completing over 71 percent of passes this season, too.

On defense, the Wildcats seem to have ironed out some issues and continued to show that this past weekend. Since halftime of the Texas Tech game, K-State’s defense has allowed its opponent to see the end zone just twice. One of those was a very late strike against K-State’s second string at the end of the Wildcat’s blowout of TCU.

K-State’s defense previously struggled on third down this year but gave KU a whole lot of trouble. The Jayhawks only got three of thirteen third downs.

The Wildcats also kept KU under 100 yards rushing and held them to only 2.9 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per throw.

KEY MATCH-UPS

In the weekly Know Your Opponent preview, I identified three key areas that will decide the game for K-State. Let’s take a look at how the Wildcats did.

Kansas Kids:

K-State’s roster has 54 kids from the state of Kansas — KU only has 19. The Wildcats seem to feed off that in their motivation for the week, getting the non-Kansas kids energetic about the rivalry as well.

The Wildcats had key contributions from some of their in-state guys. Louisburg’s Austin Moore had five tackles, Lawrence’s Ekow Boye-Doe was a lockdown corner and had four tackles and Basehor’s Jahron McPherson had the second-most tackles on the team with seven.

On offense, Hutchinson’s Josh Rivas, Lawrence’s Jax Dineen and Kansas City, Kansas’ Cooper Beebe each had key blocks to set up rushing TDs. Beebe managed to block two guys at once, setting up Vaughn’s 80-yard TD to start the third quarter.

Dominate both sides of the ball:

Part of the key to K-State’s relative success over the last 30 years in this rivalry is the continued dominance of its rival in head-to-head match-ups. K-State had 504 total yards to just 274 for Kansas on the same number of rushes (30) and two fewer pass attempts. Enough said.

Superior coaching:

K-State has built its program on consistent coaching. Kansas’ coaches since its last win against K-State in 2008 include Mark Mangino, Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, Clint Bowen, David Beaty, Les Miles and Lance Leipold. K-State has had just Bill Snyder and Chris Klieman.

To show how well K-State’s coaches outclassed Kansas’, I want to focus on one specific play: the touchdown to open up the second half.

K-State lined up in the shotgun with Vaughn on Thompson’s right, two receivers and an h-back to the left and a receiver spread out to the right at the numbers. The Wildcats got the snap off, and you could see the play developing: a sweep to the left with a pulling guard, offensive linemen getting up to the linebackers and the left tackle hooking the end to set the edge.

The problem was that K-State jumped early and got penalized five yards for a false start. Kansas got a chance to see what K-State was going to do. K-State dialed up what appears to be exactly the same play, complete with the same motion of Vaughn from Thompson’s left hip to his right hip and the same blocking scheme.

Vaughn housed it from 80 yards out.

Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham must have seen something he was so confident in that he was willing to call the exact same play on first and fifteen after already showing his metaphorical hand.

My prediction of 42-17 was a touchdown short for both teams — pretty darn good considering K-State pulled its starters early after former Wildcat commit Gavin Potter took a cheap shot at Thompson three steps out of bounds.

K-State managed to reach bowl eligibility with the win and could end up with nine wins, matching its best win total since 2016 if the team wins out. The quest for nine wins continues when West Virginia comes to town for an 11 a.m. kick-off at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

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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.