With injuries keeping quarterback Will Howard out of practice and running back Treshaun Ward out of uniform heading into Kansas State‘s Big 12 Conference opener against UCF on Saturday night, the Wildcats turned to DJ Giddens to carry the load out of the backfield. The Junction City High School product proved to be more than up for the task.
Giddens piled up 293 yards of total offense, including a career-high 207 rushing yards on 30 carries, and scored four touchdowns as the Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) welcomed the Knights (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) to their new conference with a 44-31 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“We challenged DJ,” Wildcats head coach Chris Klieman said after the game. “We said… we believe in you and we’re gonna give it to you and keep giving it to you.”
The 207 yards on the ground made Giddens the first Wildcat to rush for 200 yards in a game since Alex Barnes accomplished the feat against Baylor in 2018. His eight receptions and 86 receiving yards were also career bests.
Howard added two rushing touchdowns, 64 rushing yards, and 255 passing yards on a night where his status was uncertain coming in. The senior QB had not practiced all week after being injured during last Saturday’s loss at Missouri. If he had any ill effects from those injuries, he didn’t show them.
“We told Will he absolutely had to run the football for us to win this game,” Klieman said of his signal-caller. “We challenged him a couple times and he responded.”
Setting the tone for the evening, Giddens capped off a surgical eight-play, 75-yard opening drive with a one-yard scoring run as the Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead. His second score came on a nine-yard run early in the second quarter and restored K-State to the lead 14-10 after UCF had pulled in front with ten straight points. The sophomore completed the first-half hat trick with an 18-yard run that made it a 21-10 Wildcat advantage with 6:20 left in the first half.
UCF responded immediately to the third Giddens TD with a 69-yard pass on a flea-flicker to a wide open Kobe Hudson from Timmy McLain that cut it to 21-17. A frenetic final two minutes of the half saw K-State turn the ball over on downs, Jacob Parrish taking the ball right back for K-State by intercepting McClain, and Chris Tennant clanking a 26-yard field goal off the left upright in the final seconds to keep the Wildcats from adding to their four-point halftime edge.
The visitors hit K-State with a haymaker out of the locker room to start the third quarter. McLain found Hudson on a 46-yard bomb on third down to give UCF a 24-21 lead less than two minutes into the half. The Wildcats responded by driving for a field goal, and Tennant converted the 30-yarder to tie the game. After a UCF punt, K-State went 85 yards in 11 plays, with help from a pair of UCF personal foul penalties, and re-took the lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Howard with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
UCF picked up two third-and-long plays on the next drive, but stalled at the K-State 35, and Colton Boomer’s 53-yard field goal attempt missed wide right. K-State took over at their own 35 after the miss and went on a methodical 13-play, 65-yard drive that took 6:05 off the clock. Giddens capped it off with a three-yard run on an option pitch to make it 37-24, Cats.
After a UCF turnover on downs, Howard put icing on the K-State cake with a 31-yard sprint to the end zone with 2:01 remaining. UCF added a cosmetic touchdown with 0:02 to play to account for the 44-31 final score.
The Wildcats piled up 536 yards of total offense on 82 plays and converted nine of their fifteen third-down attempts. UCF accumulated 407 total yards, with McClain throwing for 264 yards on just 14 completions and three touchdowns. Hudson caught five of those passes for 138 yards and two scores.
“Our kids rose up. Our captains, our leaders, rose up,” Klieman said. “We knew this was going to be the type of game it was. We had to be able to rush the football to keep their play count down and we had to get some negative plays (defensively).”
K-State is off next week before trekking to Stillwater to play at Oklahoma State on Friday, October 6.