Defense shines as Wildcats strike down the Trojans

With two third-down sacks in the third quarter, defensive end Khalid Duke celebrates after taking down Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson. The defense held the Trojans to 13 points in the 29-point victory. (Reece Bachta | Collegian Media Group)

A day with some up-and-down moments still led to a blowout victory by Kansas State football. The Wildcats took down Troy 42-13 to go to 2-0 on the season.

“It does not at all,” head coach Chris Klieman said about the score reflecting the difficulty of playing Troy. “They were really really good on defense, and I thought they did a great job of trying to make us one dimensional and not allowing us to run the ball.”

Troy fell under the same issue SEMO did early on in the first Wildcat drive. Wide receiver Jadon Jackson again scored a receiving touchdown from quarterback Will Howard to go up 7-0. Wide receiver Phillip Brooks began his great day on the first drive by catching the first three completions for 32 yards.

The two defenses went back and forth until the early second quarter. Aided by a 24-yard third down completion to Jackson, the Wildcats went up 14-0 with a Brooks rushing touchdown.

Cornerback Will Lee made his presence known in the second quarter. First, he initially pressured Trojan quarterback Gunnar Watson to end up in the arms of defensive end Nate Matlack. Next play, defensive end Brendan Mott initiated the early pressure and helped an inaccurate pass end in the hands of Lee.

A Howard interception gave Troy the ball back but Lee again shined, recording a tackle for loss. Even so, multiple big time conversions allowed Troy to score its first points to go down 14-3.

“I feel like my defensive rush game was good,” Lee said. “I was really locked in on my keys. When I got down by the tight ends I was squeezing it. I was just really focusing, locked in on the lowkey details.”

A Wildcat three-and-out gave the Trojans a chance to bring the game to one score. Using two K-State defensive penalties to move down the field, Troy ended up in the end zone with a 25-yard pass from Watson to Chris Lewis for his second highlight-reel catch of the day.

With just 49 seconds left in the first half, K-State had a chance to expand on the lead that dwindled to four. The Wildcats did not take this chance for granted. Brooks continued his noteworthy play with a 39-yard touchdown reception on an in-route to go up 21-10 with no time for Troy to score.

“I was so happy for Phil,” Klieman said. “We went to him a number of times, and we’re putting a lot on him: returning punts, returning kicks as well as what he’s doing in the receiving group.”

The second half began slowly with five straight punts as K-State struggled to run the ball inside with left guard Cooper Beebe playing at right tackle. A sack from defensive end Khalid Duke, one of two, gave the Wildcats the ball with a chance to break the streak. An eight play drive that featured wide receiver Keagan Johnson in his debut ended with a QB power run from Will Howard to go up 28-10.

“He’s a terror and he’s a good player,” Klieman said. “Duke is just so difficult to try to block.”

K-State continued to control the second half, allowing just a field goal and scoring two more touchdowns. Howard scored both as he ended with five total touchdowns — three in the air, two on the ground — with 283 total yards (250 passing). 

“I wasn’t perfect by any stretch,” Howard said. “I think we had some rough moments, really in that second quarter there, but I think we needed this.”

Brooks led the receiving core with 94 yards and two total touchdowns as Jackson scored a touchdown with 77 yards. Running backs Treshaun Ward and DJ Giddens combined for over 100 rushing yards but averaged less than four yards per carry.

“I was getting open so he’s [Howard] giving the ball early,” Brooks said. “Last week he fed the ball to everybody. I feel like this week, he shared the ball again. So he’s just doing his thing.”

On the other side, the Wildcat rush defense excelled again against talented runner Kimani Vidal, limiting him heavily outside of a 46-yard run.

“We’re doing a really good job of fitting the run,” Klieman said. “That’s the thing I’m probably most excited about.”

K-State enters the last non-conference game next Saturday on the road against former Big 12 rival Missouri.