Logic suggested that No. 20 Kansas State wouldn’t have any issues dispatching Kansas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday.
The Jayhawks entered winless on the season, on an 11-game losing streak in the Sunflower Showdown rivalry and owning an FBS-record 51-game skid in Big 12 road games.
On this day, logic was right.
The final score: Kansas State 55, KU 14.
“Proud of the guys. What a great effort today,” said K-State head coach Chris Klieman, who improved to 2-0 against the Jayhawks. “Great effort through the entire week. This is a big game for us, a big game for our kids from Kansas and Missouri. To be able to dominate the football game like we did, really pleased.”
Domination is all the Wildcats have known in the Sunflower Showdown the past dozen years.
Saturday was K-State’s 12th straight victory over Kansas, the longest win streak by either team in the history of the series. (The Wildcats also won 11 in a row from 1993 through 2003.) The only opponent K-State has had a longer run of success against is former conference rival Missouri, which it topped 13 straight times from 1993 through 2005. Saturday’s win also gave the Wildcats a 28-27-3 edge over the Jayhawks in games held in Manhattan.
“It’s always a tough week, because there is so much outside noise that everybody listens too, as well as alumni and stuff,” Klieman said. “It’s a big game for everybody across the state. I was trying to tell the guys, ‘Block out the outside noise and focus on the task at hand of us learning and understanding the game plans, and then executing those game plans.’ I’m excited, because those kids worked hard this week and were able to get the benefit with the big win in blowout fashion.”
The early returns, however, didn’t indicate Saturday would be another K-State demolition of its in-state rival.
At the end of the first quarter, the Wildcats (4-1, 4-0 Big 12) led just 7-0. They had 55 penalty yards — nearly as many yards as they had offensively (63). But the good news was their defense had held the Jayhawks to only 51 yards in the period, which included a pair of three-and-outs.
One of those led to the game’s first touchdown — courtesy of the player who arguably was the most valuable on the field for the Wildcats on Saturday, Phillip Brooks.
A sophomore from Lee’s Summit, Mo., Brooks returned a first-quarter punt 55 yards for a touchdown. He capped the first half with another, this one from 52 yards, to give the Wildcats a 34-7 lead at the end of the first 30 minutes.
“I thought the special teams were the highlight of the day,” Klieman said. “We’re really good on special teams, and we knew we needed to be really good today, and we were. We were really good in all phases, and (did a) great job of blocking on punt returns.”
Brooks finished the day with 189 punt-return yards, setting a single-game school record; David Allen previously held the mark with 172 yards versus Texas in 1998.
Yet it wasn’t just Brooks who the Wildcats leaned on in the first half with the offense struggling. Another one of K-State’s first-half touchdowns came on defense: Justin Gardner had a 25-yard pick-six in the second quarter, marking the second straight game a K-State defensive back returned an interception for a touchdown. (AJ Parker had a 37-yard pick-six at TCU on Oct. 7.)
Gardner, who also had a pass breakup, said the touchdown wasn’t a breeze.
“I just saw two linemen coming out late,” he said. “I saw the running back peeking out from behind them, and as soon as I saw that, I knew something tricky was coming. I just triggered and shot it and ended up getting a pick.”
By the time K-State’s offense finally found its footing at the start of the second half, victory was well in hand.
The Wildcats kept scoring anyway, reaching the end zone on all three of its third-quarter drives: a 1-yard touchdown runs from Deuce Vaughn and Harry Trotter, respectively, and a 13-yard pass from Will Howard to Briley Moore.
K-State ended with 381 yards of offense, edging out KU’s 320 — though much of the latter total came with the Wildcats’ starting defenders watching from the sideline.
“I started feeling like I was fitting in and the offense really was really flowing for me and for us,” said K-State freshman quarterback Will Howard, who completed 70.8% (17-for-24) of his passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns — with no interceptions. “In the first half, there were some plays there for us to make. We had some penalties and missed opportunities. We were kind of shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Giving up a late touchdown to KU quarterback Jalon Daniels — who had two scores on the ground for the Jayhawks (0-5, 0-4), the only occasions the visitors crossed the goal line Saturday — irritated Klieman. Though it came against the Wildcats’ most inexperienced defenders, Klieman said it wasn’t a legitimate excuse.
“We’ll have to evaluate the film, but they are all young guys who are athletic and talented, but sometimes don’t know exactly what the defense is or where to go or what to read and keys and stuff,” he said. “So it’s a great learning experience for them. That’s the hard thing: We’re practicing those guys, but they need to have some live reps under fire to see how they do.”
After a win that kept them undefeated in conference play — the only other unbeaten team in the Big 12 is Oklahoma State, which improved to 3-0 in the conference after holding off Iowa State at home Saturday — Klieman said the Wildcats will celebrate for roughly 24 hours. He hopes that some of the positives the team showed in every phase Saturday continues, starting with next week’s game at West Virginia.
“We’re on to the next week — (that’s) all we really can do,” he said. “We have a really tough opponent in West Virginia, and we just need to continue to get better and improve in all three areas.”