Kansas State football ushered in a new season with a relentless and balanced offensive attack against Southeast Missouri State.
For the first time in three seasons, K-State is moving on without the star power of Deuce Vaughn in the backfield. With such a loss of talent on the offensive end, speculation emerged about how far the offense would succeed.
While the emergence of quarterback Will Howard sparked positive signs for the program entering the 2023 season, unanswered questions remained at critical positions. Would running backs DJ Giddens and Treshaun Ward fill Vaughn’s shoes? Who will replace the veteran receivers from last season? Will the offense need to compensate for the loss of defensive stars in the offseason?
All of those questions were partially answered in the first game of the Wildcats’ season. With only a small sample size, Collin Klein displayed how efficient the offense could be.
While the loss of Vaughn is undoubtedly a great loss of talent, it could actually make the offense more efficient. This is due to two main factors: it makes the offense less predictable and it allows Howard to command the offensive attack.
The offense ran through Vaughn last year. His production was unparalleled and he excelled at both running and catching the ball. The Wildcat offense didn’t find that next level until Howard got the start.
This allowed Klein to open up the playbook, using more passing calls as defenses looked to stop the run. Keeping the defense guessing is key to having an effective offense. Entering this season, the loss of Vaughn may leave defensive coordinators guessing on what to limit week-to-week.
An apt comparison could be drawn to the Kansas City Chiefs last season, which lost its star wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs went on to not only have a Top 5 offense overall but actually have the most efficient offense in the league.
The similarities between the Chiefs and K-State are striking. Both have top offensive lines in their respective leagues, both have proven quarterbacks to man the offense, both have multiple running backs to help carry the run game and both have quality tight ends and talented receiving options for the quarterback to throw to.
The X-factor for K-State offense is the offensive line. Having a stable pocket for Howard to operate will lead to receivers getting open. A dominant performance in the trenches allows the offense to pick apart any part of a defense.
Giddens and Ward bring different skill sets at running back that complement each other. Ward fills more of the Vaughn profile, running and catching the ball effectively, while Giddens is a more physical downhill runner who can play through contact.
Against SEMO they combined for 184 yards, one rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown. Ward split carries with Giddens and was effective at running gadget plays, including the touchdown pass to Howard.
For wide receivers, the Wildcats have a collection of unproven receiving options. Wide receivers RJ Garcia and Jadon Jackson and tight end Ben Sinnott all had standout performances in Week 1, with Garcia and Sinnott recording over 100 yards.
Jackson, a senior transfer from Ole Miss, had a couple explosive plays, recording 38 yards and a touchdown. Jackson was in place of Iowa transfer Keagan Johnson, who sat out because of injury.
Johnson is a talented player who will look to play an important role in the passing offense. With the presence of hybrid fullback-tight end Sinnott, they may be a two-headed monster in the passing game.
Sinnott is the most proven and consistent offensive weapon for the Wildcats, connecting with Howard since the championship run last season. Sinnott’s versatility at fullback and tight end makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in the offense.
Howard’s progression is the most important factor for the Wildcat’s offense this season. If Howard can take his game to the next level consistently week-to-week, there is no limit on where the team can go.
On top of a stable quarterback, the Wildcats have a bright future in local prospect quarterback Avery Johnson, who played an entire quarter in the opening game to show K-State fans why he is such an exciting prospect.
Through one quarter of football, Johnson was able to make elusive plays with his legs and one or two impressive throws to show his talents. Still, it’s too early to tell how he will develop as a passing prospect.
Klein will have plenty of time to develop and elevate K-State’s offense for as long as he wants to remain a coordinator. Klein was in consideration for a head coaching job last year and other offensive coordinator positions. If he can continue success with K-State, his name may be one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates if he decides to leave.
One thing is for sure this season — the Wildcats offense will be exciting to watch as long as Klein is the coordinator.