K-State Football has an identity in 2020.
It doesn’t fit the Big 12 mold. It doesn’t buy into the idea that true freshmen need four or five stars to contribute right away.
What K-State’s defense-driven, special teams-powered and freshman-heavy identity does is win football games.
With a 21-14 win over TCU (1-2) in Fort Worth on Saturday, K-State (3-1) remains undefeated in the Big 12.
“Battling through the adversity that we faced, we brought a freshman quarterback into a tough environment,” Chris Klieman said. “I thought Will did a great job…And then what do you say about the defense? Credit to Coach Klanderman and the defensive staff for a phenomenal game plan, executed almost to perfection.”
Despite outgaining K-State on Saturday, the Horned Frogs couldn’t overcome a second and third quarter when the Wildcats dominated on both sides of the ball.
All afternoon, the K-State defense was relentless.
“We’re hungrier and way more disciplined for sure. We just have a team full of guys who really want to win,” Justin Gardner said. “We have this [saying] in our locker room, ‘You just got to play the full 60.’ That’s what we put our heads into after week one. Play the full 60 because the game isn’t over until that fourth quarter whistle is blown.”
No. 3 Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU came into their matchup with the Wildcats after scoring 48, 56 and 33 points respectively in their previous game. Since halftime of their win over the Sooners, K-State is giving up about 4.9 points a quarter.
That dominant stretch is a big reason why the Wildcats remain undefeated in conference play.
On Saturday, the Wildcats made life miserable for TCU quarterback Max Duggan, limiting the sophomore to 154 passing yards, easily the talented sophomore’s worst game of the season.
The Wildcats sacked Duggan three times and held TCU to just 7 points after halftime.
“It’s our ability to rush the passer, for starters,” Klieman said. “We did a nice job defending the run today and that allowed us to get after the quarterback. We’re breaking on balls better and making a lot of 50-50 plays.”
The Horned Frogs jumped out to an early lead in Fort Worth, with Blake Lynch keeping K-State close with a pair of 25 and 53-yard field goals.
The 53-yarder was a new career high for Lynch, who jumpstarted another dominant performance from the Wildcats on special teams. K-State also blocked a second-quarter TCU field goal attempt, the fourth game in a row where the Wildcats have blocked a punt or kick.
The Wildcats currently lead the nation in both categories.
On offense, K-State was led by true freshman Will Howard, who stepped in for the injured Skylar Thompson.
Just the fourth true freshman in K-State history to start a football game, Howard became the only true freshman QB in the history of the program to win his first career start on the road.
“It’s crazy to think where I was a year ago and where I’m at now,” Howard said. “I came here because I thought there would be an opportunity to play early and compete. I didn’t expect it to be this early. It stinks how it happened with Skylar but we’re hoping he’s going to get better.”
Howard’s 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave K-State the lead for good. It came on the final play of a drive when Howard found Deuce Vaughn and Briley Moore for big plays.
Vaughn led K-State with 45 receiving yards and 43 rushing yards on the afternoon.
He now sits among the top five true freshman rushers and receivers in K-State history, after just four games.
It was all the offense K-State would need on Saturday afternoon.
The turning point in the second half came when AJ Parker grabbed a pick six for the Wildcats, adding a 36-yard touchdown return to his first interception of the season.
“He did a really job and he’s learning a bunch,” Klieman said. “Will [Jones] came in and did some good things too, but it was so fun to have those two guys making some plays.”
After a TCU comeback attempt ended with a Hail Mary that was batted away in the endzone, the Wildcats left Fort Worth tied for first place in the Big 12 with No. 24 Iowa State.
“We continue to try and get better every day,” Klieman said. “Are we going to be perfect every day? No. But it’s hard to beat a team that refuses to lose. Those guys, right now, believe they have an opportunity to win every game.”
After a bye week, K-State returns to Manhattan for the 118th edition of the Sunflower Showdown on Oct. 24, when they host the Kansas Jayhawks on Homecoming.