Kansas State's 'Revenge Tour' keeps rolling in 38-17 victory over Nevada: 'We're sending a message'
MANHATTAN — Kansas State's Revenge Tour is turning into the Respect Tour, and everybody is onboard.
The Wildcats, two-point underdogs at home against Nevada, got contributions from two quarterbacks, dominated in the running game and turned in yet another solid defensive effort Saturday as they pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 38-17 victory over the Wolf Pack.
And they're not looking back.
"I feel like we're sending a message," said senior safety Reggie Stubblefield, a graduate transfer who made his first start and finished with three tackles, including a quarterback sack. "We're not even scratching the surface yet. That's the scary part."
This was supposed to be the big test for sophomore quarterback Will Howard, who for a second year in a row was thrust into the starting lineup after an injury to senior Skylar Thompson. Not only was Howard up for the challenge, but sophomore Jaren Lewis contributed a pair of second-quarter scoring drives in relief.
Of course, it helped that they were backed by a rushing attack that racked up 269 yards and four touchdowns, and a defense that for the most part held Nevada standout quarterback Carson Strong, who has first-round NFL Draft hype, in check.
At 3-0, K-State now carries its momentum into next week's Big 12 opener at No. 22-ranked Oklahoma State.
"Against a really, really good football team in Nevada, that was a heck of a win and a heck of a momentum and we're keeping this bus rolling, this 'Revenge Tour,'" said Howard, who led the Wildcats to three fourth-quarter touchdowns after Nevada had come back to tie the game at 17 in the third. "It's far from over.
"We'll take this momentum, but we say the bus doesn't have a rearview mirror, as Noah (Johnson) said today, so we're going to put it behind us and keep rolling and use this momentum and just keep working our butts off and get ready for a good Okie State team next week."
It was Johnson, K-State's super-senior center, who came up with the Revenge Tour idea after the Wildcats lost five straight games to close last season at 4-6.
After passing their three nonconference tests against Stanford, Southern Illinois and now as an underdog against Nevada, K-State is even playing the respect card.
"Just our team in general," sophomore cornerback Tee Denson said of the perceived lack of respect. "They had us on (subscription streaming service) ESPN+ this week, ESPN+ next week and that's conference play and we're both 3-0.
"We just take it with a grain of salt and keep a chip on our shoulder and just show them K-State is really like that."
The Wildcats got off to a dream start against Nevada, taking the opening kickoff and scoring in just two plays — a 7-yard Howard run, followed by a 68-yard completion down the middle to tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe on which Howard checked the play at the line of scrimmage. With the game tied at 7-7 after one quarter, Lewis made his college debut and led the offense to 10 points.
"The decision was made on Sunday or Monday when coach Mess (offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham) and coach (Collin) Klein and I talked, that we were going to play both guys," K-State coach Chris Klieman said. "Both guys deserved an opportunity.
"Collin (Klein, quarterbacks coach) brought both of the two players in and said, 'Will, you're the starter, and Jaren, you're going to play.' Not because of anything Will's done, but because of the body of work that Jaren has shown us in the spring, the summer and the fall, that he deserved that opportunity."
Lewis threw just three passes, completing two for 6 yards, but like Howard played a clean game with no turnovers.
Howard, who played the entire second half, was 7 of 10 passing for 123 yards and a touchdown, plus ran the ball 12 times for 60 yards and two scores.
With running backs Deuce Vaughn and Joe Ervin picking up chunks of yards — K-State averaged 5.6 yards per carry — the Wildcats didn't need much else. Vaughn eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fifth straight game, picking up 127 on 23 carries, while Ervin ran 11 times for 82 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown.
And then there was the defense. The Wildcats gave up a season-high 331 yards, including pass plays of 55 and 44 yards — the latter on trick play with wide receiver Tory Horton hitting Melquan Stovall — but came up with numerous big stops.
The biggest stop came on fourth down early in the fourth quarter after an 11-yard Vaughn touchdown run had put the Wildcats in front, 24-17. Strong kept the ball but was brought down a yard short of the first down marker by defensive end Nate Matlack at the K-State 38.
From there, the offense took six-plus minutes off the clock and scored again on a 2-yard run by Howard.
"I feel on defense everybody holds each other to a standard and having, we call it a mob mentality," said middle linebacker Daniel Green, who led the Wildcats with nine tackles, including a sack. "I just told one of our o-linemen, Noah Johnson, that I feel you all are the best o-line in the Big 12. You all make us better.
"So it's more of even a team thing — everybody pushing each other."