It was a cold and drizzly night inside of Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, but the energy on the field from both Kansas and Kansas State was intense and electric for 60 minutes as the Wildcats secured a 47-27 victory on Saturday night.
While the margin of victory was large, the game itself was a closely contested battle for most of the night.
Kansas State began the night with a 3 and out on their opening possession, but Kansas muffed the ensuing punt and the Wildcats scored a touchdown on the very next play on a Malik Knowles 5-yard jet sweep.
The Jayhawks responded in kind, marching down the field for a 9 play 75 yard drive that ended with a Torry Locklin 12-yard touchdown run.
Kansas went cold the rest of the first quarter and found themselves trailing 23-7 at the end of the opening quarter.
KU held the edge in the second quarter, outscoring Kansas State 14-7 which led to a 30-21 halftime deficit.
The Wildcats held firm the rest of the way, riding a great ground performance from junior running back Deuce Vaughn to a 17-6 advantage on the scoreboard in the second half.
Vaughn and the ground game was the key to Kansas State’s victory on the offensive side of the football. Deuce ran for 147 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries while also adding 82 yards through the air.
Redshirt freshman DJ Giddens was an excellent complement to Vaughn as Giddens ran for 44 yards of his own on nine carries and a touchdown. Overall on the night the Wildcats ran for 230 yards as a team on 42 attempts.
Speaking after the game Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman noted that running the football was going to be key to a strong second half performance.
“We had talked about it, we needed to find ways to rush the football,” Klieman said. “Adding the jet sweep series with Malik (Knowles) really helped us…as well as DJ (Giddens) runs for 5 yards a carry. Everybody got involved today for sure.”
With the win Kansas State has clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday in Arlington, Texas. The Wildcats will face off with undefeated TCU for the Big 12 title and a shot in the Sugar Bowl.
On the Kansas side of the matchup, the Jayhawks were locked in offensively in the first half partly due to junior quarterback Jalon Daniels seeming like his old self again.
This was just the second start for Daniels since returning from his shoulder injury he suffered against TCU in week 6. Daniels completed 20 of 32 passes for 168 yards, but more importantly he added 51 yards on the ground on eight carries with a touchdown.
That ground threat is what was lacking last week against Texas, and so it is a good sign going forward that Daniels appears to be able to take on his full workload in the offense.
Sophomore running back Devin Neal had a strong start on the ground for Kansas, but the Wildcats were able to keep him in check for the most part.
Neal finished the night with 59 rushing yards on 16 carries, but he was able to find the end zone twice on the night. As a team Kansas finished the game with 127 rushing yards on 30 carries and all four of their touchdowns came via the ground.
For Kansas the loss wraps up a 6-6 regular season that will see the team head to their first bowl game since 2008. The 6 wins for the team are also their highest since that 2008 season that saw the Jayhawks finish 8-5 with victory over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl.
As the season winds down, head coach Lance Leipold is very understanding of the progress his team has made in such a short time under his leadership.
“I’m proud of this group, proud of the staff,” Leipold said. “I think we’re still ahead of schedule. Every time we go on the road, it’s a good learning experience and a lot of different ways for our program and where we need to be and how we got to get there.”
Kansas won’t know their bowl assignment until after conference championship weekend, but nonetheless the team is excited to get to play one more matchup this season whenever that might be.