KSU Wins Sunflower Showdown!

It was a cold, rain sodden evening.  The Sunflower Showdown was aired on prime-time network television for the first time in the history of the rivalry.  It was also the first time since 1995 that both teams had six or more wins.  In recent history, Kansas State has dominated this rivalry.  Yet, Kansas has been making a resurgence.  Coach Lance Leipold has the Jayhawks competitive once again.  Tonight’s game was not predicted to be a walk in the park.


The Stage

The Jayhawk quarterback, Jalon Daniels was on the Heisman watch after his first four games this season.  Then he got hurt, dashing the Jayhawks chances at a potential run for glory.  Still, the Jayhawks remained competitive and came into tonight’s showdown with a respectable record of 6 and 5.


Explosive First Quarter

The Jayhawks won the toss and deferred.  Coach Leipold likely thought this game was going to be a track meet and he wanted a chance to either pull even or pull ahead early in the second half.  At first it seemed that his plan might just work out as the Jayhawk defense held the Wildcats to a three and out their first possession of the game.  Then the Jayhawk returner muffed the punt on the one-yard line and the Wildcat dominance in the game began.  Malik Knowles had the honor of scoring the first touchdown of the night, on a jet sweep to the right.

During the Jayhawks first possession, they decided to play ball control.  KU executed a methodical drive, chewing up five minutes on the clock and scoring on a Torry Locklin 12-yard gashing run.  KU showed they could be methodical and explosive in this drive.  It looked like the Wildcats were in for a long night.

The Wildcats didn’t waste any time scoring.  Six plays into their next drive, Will Howard found Sammy Wheeler sitting alone in the endzone.  It was a 42-yard bomb.  Howard was flushed to the right.  As he slid right, Howard kept his eyes down field, spotted Wheeler all alone and uncorked a laser into Wheelers waiting hands as he stood quietly in the endzone.

KU’s next possession was disastrous thanks to great Wildcat special teams and KU mistakes.  Ty Zenter boomed the kickoff and Jayhawk returner only managed to get 9 yards on the return.  However, the Jayhawks were penalized for an illegal block and the ball was placed on the Jayhawk three-yard line.  On a third and nine, the defense put so much pressure on Jalon Daniels that one of the offensive linemen held.  The problem was that the hold occurred in the endzone causing a safety and Kansas had to punt the ball back to the hungry, hungry Wildcats.

The Wildcats were not going to squander awesome field position.  Starting on their own 39-yard line, Deuce got loose for 32 yards.  On third and ten, Howard found Kade Warner for 13 yards and a first down.  Then, a few plays later and Malik Knowles took another jet sweep in for a touchdown.  The Wildcats were up 23 to 7 and it the first quarter hadn’t finished yet!


Second Quarter Slow Down

Undeterred, the Jayhawks went back to work, scoring a touchdown on an 11-play drive.  It looked like the Jayhawks were going to make a move and position themselves to come within striking distance of the Wildcats.  Kansas State started their next drive on their own eight yard-line.  On third and twelve, Howard connected with Deuce Vaughn on a middle of the field screen.  Deuce was loose again, but this time for 80 yards.  He side-stepped a defender and took off and was finally tackled at the Kansas fourteen-yard line.  Two plays later Howard found Phillip Brooks for a fourteen-yard touchdown reception.

Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn (22) rushes for a first down as Kansas defensive end Lonnie Phelps (47) gives chase during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

With the score 30 to 14, the Jayhawks were still undeterred.  They punched back and put the pressure on the Wildcat defense scoring on a seven-play drive.  Once again, it looked like the Wildcats were going to score on their next possession.  Brooks caught a 24-yard pass putting the Wildcats on the Jayhawks 29-yard line.  However, on the next play, Howard suffered a sack/fumble, and the Jayhawks secured the ball.  Still, the Wildcat defense held strong forcing another three and out to basically end the half.


The Third Quarter Snooze…

The second half was not as explosive as the first.  Both squads traded punts to start the third quarter, negating Coach Leipold’s plan to score first in the third quarter.  The Wildcats forced a fumble during the Jayhawk’s next possession putting them in prime field position.  Kansas State opted to be more methodical this drive, scoring in nine plays on a fourth down Deuce Vaughn rush.  The Jayhawks next drive took sixteen plays and nine minutes off the clock.  They scored but failed to convert on the two-point attempt.  The score was now 37 to 27 in favor of the Wildcats.


The Fourth and Done

Malik Knowles executed an absolutely electric 69-yard kickoff return.  Unfortunately, the Wildcats rewarded his efforts with only a field goal.  The Jayhawks went three and out their next possession and the Wildcats took over once again.  With nine minutes left in the game, the Wildcats only needed to salt the clock away with a nice long methodical drive.  The Wildcats really tried.  On first down, Malik Knowles took off for 29 yards.  Then after three, six-yard gains in a row, Deuce got loose for another 25-yard gain setting up a DJ Giddens touchdown run two plays later.  This effectively iced the game though there was still five minutes left to go.


In Review

The Jayhawks are a tough out.  They consistently pressured Will Howard, while putting together good coverage packages.  This forced Howard to routinely come off his first read to find an outlet or an open receiver.  Will Howard rose to the challenge once again.  His numbers are not eye popping, but they are efficient.  His one and only turnover was not entirely his fault and it cost the Wildcats nothing.  Deuce Vaughn was the star of game rushing 25 times for 147 yards and a touchdown while collecting two receptions for 82 yards.  Everyone else was a role player and they played their roles extremely well.

Felix Anudike-Uzomah had consistent pressure into the backfield and the Kansas State defense played well enough to win despite being down two starting safeties.  Julius Brents had several key stops, including one that won’t be recorded in the stat books because the Jayhawks committed a holding penalty in the endzone.  During that play, Brents had successfully defended the pass which would have forced a punt anyway.  Lastly Ty Zenter had a special night kicking off, and punting, setting the Wildcats up for routine success.  Zenter also made a field goal.  All in all, this was a classic Wildcat team effort.


A Look Ahead 

Kansas State heads to their first Big 12 Championship since 2003.  I vividly remember that game at Arrowhead Stadium.  Kansas State wasn’t given much of a chance.  Kansas State was 10 and 3 and the Sooners were a perfect 12 and 0 and number one in the nation.  It was master versus student.  Bill Snyder versus Bob Stoops.  The Wildcats destroyed the Sooners 35 – 7.  Darren Sproles almost won that game single handedly rushing for 235 yards while collecting over 60 receiving yards.

Kansas State running back Darren Sproles (43) runs the ball for a long gain as Oklahoma defensive back Derrick Strait (2) trails behind during the fourth quarter of the Big 12 Championship Saturday, Dec. 6, 2003 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Kansas State won the game 35-7. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Texas Christian University is undefeated and currently sitting in a playoff spot.  They are 12 and 0 while the Wildcats are 9 and 3.  The game will be played in Arlington, at the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium.  It will not be a neutral site.  Kansas State isn’t expected to win this game.  TCU already beat the Wildcats once.  However, they beat a wounded and confused Wildcat squad.  Three different quarterbacks played for the Wildcats that day.  Will Howard hadn’t even prepared to start, and he was knocked out of the game for two possessions in the second half.  Jake Rubley could not get the offense moving and the whole defense keyed on Deuce Vaughn.  After scoring 28 first half points, the Wildcats did not score in the second half.  While the site isn’t neutral, Kansas State has already made this trip once.  They have already played in multiple hostile environments and won.  Before Howard was knocked out of the game, he was playing very well.  This game will not be too big for the Wildcats.  Expect them to come into Arlington with a mindset to win.


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