The Kansas State football team got back to its winning ways thanks to a sensational game from running back DJ Giddens on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
K-State pulled away from UCF for a 44-31 victory that left head coach Chris Klieman more fired up than usual about the result.
“What a win by our guys and our team coming off a difficult loss last week,” Klieman said. “We couldn’t let Missouri beat us twice, and our kids rose up and our captains and our leaders rose up and we played an excellent football team. UCF is really talented.”
Giddens was the main reason K-State won. He wasn’t a one-man wrecking crew for the Wildcats, but he was close.
The sophomore from Junction City bludgeoned the Knights with 293 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
With quarterback Will Howard also throwing for 255 yards, the Wildcats simply had too much offense for UCF, which was playing in its first Big 12 game since joining the conference earlier this year.
K-State (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) played so well against UCF (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) that it may move back into top 25 rankings later this weekend.
The Wildcats are off next week before they will play their next game at Oklahoma State on October 6. Until then, here are five takeaways from Saturday’s action:
DJ Giddens had himself a day
If you search for highlight plays from DJ Giddens in the near future you are bound to find more than a few videos dedicated entirely to the big plays he delivered against UCF.
Every time the Wildcats possessed the ball it seemed like Giddens was doing something special. The sophomore running back from Junction City torched the Knights for 207 yards and four touchdowns as a runner on 30 carries. Not bad, especially when you consider he also had eight catches for 86 yards.
K-State ran 82 plays and he was the focal point on 40 of them.
He nearly scored as many points as UCF by himself. At one point in the first half, he had 18 and the Knights only had 10.
“I think I proved that I’m versatile,” Giddens said. “I can catch the ball and I can run the ball.”
Giddens has more than enough talent to follow in the footsteps of former running back Deuce Vaughn, and he proved it on Saturday. He showed terrific versatility by gaining yards between the tackles while also making defenders miss on the outside and moving the chains as a receiver.
To put his impressive stat line in perspective, only Darren Sproles has been able to gain more total yards in a game for the Wildcats. He did so twice in his college career, posting a school record 323 total yards in the 2003 Big 12 championship game.
This was the third most yards a K-State running back had ever produced in a game. Not even Vaughn had a game like this.
“He wasn’t coming down with first contact,” Klieman said, “and he made people miss in the open field. He ran through arm tackles. He caught the ball out of the backfield. They were doing some things (on defense) that (meant) our running back had to be able to make plays.”
Mission accomplished for Giddens.
K-State has struggled at times to move the ball on the ground this season, but that wasn’t an issue against UCF. The Wildcats looked more physical up front with Christian Duffie making his season debut at right tackle. But they also had a hot hand at running back to block for.
This was by far the best game that Giddens has played in a purple uniform. K-State hopes he can build off that moving forward.
There is no need to panic in Manhattan
Turns out, losing on the road to a SEC opponent on the final play of the game wasn’t a sign of terrible things to come for the Wildcats.
K-State bounced back from its first loss of the season with a convincing victory over UCF, and the team’s rest-of-season outlook suddenly appears bright again.
Fans can return to thinking positively about what might come next. The Wildcats will now have an opportunity to get healthy during the off week before they head to Oklahoma State for their next game.
Beyond that, the next two opponents on their schedule are struggling at the moment. Oklahoma State has lost back-to-back games to South Alabama and Iowa State. Texas Tech is off to a 1-3 start and quarterback Tyler Shough is out with an injury. The Wildcats may be favored in both of those games, which would put them on track to start 5-1 despite suffering a loss in non-conference play.
Most fans would have taken that scenario in the preseason.
K-State struggled mightily to prevent explosive plays
Whenever K-State has made a mistake on defense this season the other team has tended to make the Wildcats pay by gaining big yardage via an explosive play.
That trend continued against the Knights.
Several of their biggest gains came when they had special pass plays ready to go against an aggressive look from the Wildcats.
The first came on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Timmy McClain to running back RJ Harvey. K-State defensive coordinator Joe Klanderman sent a blitz on third down and UCF responded with a perfectly designed screen pass that the Wildcats were ill-prepared to defend.
Later, UCF easily scored when it caught K-State completely off guard with a flea-flicker pass from McClain to Kobe Hudson. The Wildcats were far too eager to help defend against the run and let Hudson get way behind their safeties.
The Knights also scored on a 46-yard pass from McClain to Hudson early in the third quarter in which he got behind both Will Lee and Kobe Savage.
That is a problem that the Wildcats need to shore up in a hurry before they get into the heart of their Big 12 schedule.
Another game, another interception for Will Howard
Will Howard didn’t look hobbled or limited in any way after suffering a leg injury last week during a 30-27 loss against Missouri.
The K-State quarterback started the game and put up a nice stat line that featured 255 passing yards to go along with 64 yards and two touchdowns as a rusher.
All signs point to him being completely healthy when the Wildcats play their next game against Oklahoma State in two weeks.
That’s the good news.
But it was far from a perfect day for Howard. He kept a turnover streak alive that he would very much like to kill.
Howard has played in four games for K-State this season, and he has thrown an interception in all four of them.
The latest pick came while he was trying to connect with Keagan Johnson on a slant route. He apparently didn’t notice that he was well covered by UCF defender Corey Thornton and made a bad throw that resulted in a turnover.
It’s been a good start to the season for Howard, but he can still improve when it comes to protecting the ball.
UCF committed way too many penalties
Gus Malzahn is a good football coach, especially when it comes to calling plays for his offense.
That was evident during this game when he continually schemed up ways for UCF to get the ball to players who were wide open and in perfect position to move the chains. But the Knights also lacked discipline in front of a rowdy sellout crowd on the road.
K-State players credited their fans for many of those penalties.
Still, UCF shot itself in the foot throughout the game by committing 10 penalties for 80 yards. The Knights were called for roughing the passer on a key third down in the third quarter after they came up with a stop on the play. They were also flagged for a number of delay penalties that prevented their offense from reaching their full potential.
It is going to be a struggle for UCF to win consistently in this conference if it continues to make that many mistakes.