K-State football grades: Here’s what went right for the Wildcats in 31-27 win at KU

If this is what the Sunflower Showdown is going to look like from now on, football fans in this state are in for a treat.

The atmosphere was electric on Saturday night in Lawrence as a sellout crowd of both blue and purple cheered on their teams in the most meaningful game this rivalry has seen in quite some time.

Kansas State clawed its way to a 31-27 victory and extended its winning streak over Kansas to 15 games, but the Jayhawks have clearly closed the gap that once separated these teams like an ocean.

Unlike previous seasons when K-State won simply by showing up, this was a thrilling game.

If Chris Klieman and Lance Leipold remain at their current jobs for the long haul there is no reason why this can’t become one of the best football rivalries in the conference, similar to what Bedlam has been for years for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

K-State quarterback Will Howard did a nice job of summing up the makings of a more competitive rivalry on Saturday night.

“All my respect to those guys,” Howard said. “I have got to give it to them. From when I first played them in 2020 to where they are now it’s a completely different program. That’s a credit to Coach Leipold and what he’s done here. I think he’s done a heck of a job.”

But he made sure to sneak in a jab at his rivals when he was done giving them their flowers.

“There is no better feeling,” he said, “than beating little brother.”

Now, it’s time to analyze the game and look ahead to an important game against Iowa State ...

Play of the game

K-State pulled away in the second half of this game thanks to several important plays, including a touchdown run from Will Howard that put the Wildcats ahead for good. Marques Sigle also came up with a massive interception in the end zone.

But the biggest play of all belonged to Treshaun Ward. His 52-yard run in the third quarter is what gave K-State a spark and allowed it to come back from a 27-16 deficit. Without that play, who knows how the rest of the game plays out. Ward came up big in an important moment.

Player of the game

Devin Neal deserves this honor, even in a losing effort. The KU running back gained 138 yards and scored three touchdowns even with the K-State defense loading up to stop him while the Jayhawks were limited with a third-string quarterback.

But DJ Giddens also deserves a game ball for K-State as he rushed for 102 yards and a score. His physical running was a difference maker.

Stat of the game

Both teams scored four touchdowns and didn’t attempt a field goal. And yet, the final score was somehow 31-27.

A blocked kick and subsequent two-point return from K-State defensive back Keenan Garber made a huge difference in this game.

Quote to note

“Nobody ever panicked for a second. There was no doubt for one second that we weren’t going to come back and win that football game.” - Will Howard

K-State football grades

Offense: B. Will Howard had another strong game for the Wildcats with 165 yards and two touchdowns passing to go along with a clutch rushing score in the fourth quarter. DJ Giddens and Treshaun Ward also moved the ball effectively on the ground when they had to. But this was not a vintage performance from the K-State offense. It punted four times and only averaged 5.4 yards per play while the Jayhawks were at 6.9.

Defense: C. Give credit to the Wildcats for holding the Jayhawks scoreless after they took a 27-16 lead, but K-State looked out of sorts before that point. It was surprising to see KU amass 396 yards and score four touchdowns with a third-string quarterback. Marques Sigle and Kobe Savage both had big interceptions.

Special Teams: C. The Wildcats weren’t good on punts or kickoffs, but Keenan Garber’s two-point conversion on a blocked PAT attempt was one of the biggest plays of the day.

Coaching: B. Both K-State and KU had opportunities to make winning plays in the fourth quarter. Only the Wildcats took advantage, which is why they remain ahead of the Jayhawks in this rivalry. Chris Klieman deserves credit for that. But the best coach in this game was KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. His play-calling was off the charts and had K-State’s defense all kinds of confused for much of the evening.

Next up: Iowa State

The Wildcats are about to go from one rivalry game to another.

K-State will host Iowa State at 7 p.m. on Saturday inside Bill Snyder Family Stadium for what will be a meaningful Farmageddon game.

Iowa State (6-5, 5-3 Big 12) is coming off a 26-16 loss to Texas that leaves the Cyclones needing a win and chaos across the rest of the league to have a shot at reaching the Big 12 championship game.

K-State (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) is in a better position. The Wildcats can advance to to Arlington, Texas with a win over Iowa State and losses by both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

There is also a scenario in which the Wildcats could make the title game if they finish in a three-way tie for first place with both Texas and Oklahoma. It is also possible that K-State could move on with a loss if there is a huge logjam of teams that end up tied for second place.

But nobody knows for sure how the Big 12 tiebreaker rules will work out given all the uncertainty that has surrounded them over the past week.

The best approach for K-State is to simply focus on beating Iowa State and then see what happens.